Geography and population - The educational system
Chitral valley is situated in
the North-West of
Pakistan, perched between high mountain ranges in the heart of the Hindu
Kush. It covers an area of about one third of that of Belgium. To
the West and to the North, the border with Afghanistan follows ranges with peaks
It is a mountainous desert, with green oasis only where irrigated. The
irrigation channels bring spring water or melting water from glaciers.
When winters are quite dry, the channels may dry up well before the end of
summer, and then the desert reclaims land from the people.
Not long before, the valley was still ruled by a king and his suzerains.
At the time of junction with Pakistan, this system was abolished, but
nevertheless even today many reins of power remain in the hands of the former
From the religious point of view, the population is divided into Sunni and
Ismaeli Muslims (there is of course a small pagan Kalash minority). The
Ismaelis follow their spiritual leader (the Aga Khan, residing in Paris) and
like to portray themselves as progressive. The Sunnis of the area are
indeed quite often more conservative. In the past there have been some
quite violent clashes between the two communities, and of course ignorance and
intolerance is the major reason for this.
The government did not take much interest in developing the area, though
being happy about the interest taken by tourists in the area. Hospitals,
schools, colleges and other government institutions are usually quite
dilapidated and government officials are usually sent here as a punitive
Like this, many NGOs settled down. There is a whole network of Ismaeli
institutions belonging to AKF. These work to benefit the entire population
but still a slight preference is given to people of their own creed. Maybe
this is a factor which increases sectarian disputes from time to time.
As mentioned before, there are 2 types of schools in Pakistan: government
schools and public schools (which are actually private). The first ones
lack resources, especially in remote areas, and are generally of rather poor
quality. Mingled with the curriculum you will find much to engender blind
nationalism and patriotism, spiced with a sauce full of morals. Urdu, the
national language, is used as medium to teach the subjects.
The advantage is that Urdu is generally known (though not in detail) amongst
the majority of the people, since it is closely related to most people's mother
tongue (which is nearly never Urdu). At university level, however, courses
are held in English, which makes government school students log behind.
The unacceptable poverty of the population on one hand, and of the Ministry
of Education on the other hand, result in the (free) government schools to be
overcrowded (sometimes 80 students in a classroom). The inefficient
inspection results in a high level of absenteeism and rare are the teachers who
take their task with heart and joy. Even rarer are motivated pupils,
interested to learn and improve, to find a way out of their misery.
The private institutions are said to be of superior quality, and this
sometimes is the case. Unfortunately though, many of these institutions
have not been established with the sole aim of providing a better education to
the youth. Most of the times, they are also seen as an easy way to reap
benefit and to provide income. Especially in rural areas it is easy to
deceive the common people, and only competition will be able to make these
schools improve the quality of the education they deliver.
Moreover, in the same rural areas many people get their university degrees
through correspondence courses and examinations. Quite understandably many
of these people did not really master the subject matter and only got their
degrees 'with a little help of a friend', but still some are earnest and like
this many girls also manage to get a degree (*).
This makes a teacher training program more than necessary, and several NGOs
are busy in this field. Nevertheless we see daily how difficult it is to
change deep rooted habits in adults. The future lies in the hands of the
kids whom we offer a freer, more complete education, and whom we hope may
transmit their knowledge and way of thinking to the next generation.
(*) The situation is quite different in the metropoles
where many rich people are living. These are quite often educated in
English since their birth, and their education is many times of high standard.