March 3, 2014
Today I was taken to our two newest—and most remote—schools. The Government Girls’ High School in Bararkot is very close to the Kashmir border. The high mountains around it are beautiful, though Mansehra District suffers from tremendous deforestation. As we drove up the Kashmir Highway there were numerous serious landslides precipitated by the season’s rains. The mountainsides are shockingly steep and, without the trees, there is little to hold them together. Then, too, they are very rocky and visibly lacking in soil. Some of the girls walk a couple of miles straight up or down to get to school, and this is no small trip.
In fact what impressed me the most today was the remarkable dedication of both teachers and students to their high school education. In Bararkot the head teacher is sharp, experienced, confident of her job and most capable. There were 8 students in 10th class and fully 21 in 9th, organized into five groups of four students each. This arrangement is designed so that strong students study together with, and help, those who are weaker academically. They are all studying for their board exams later this month and want to repeat last year’s achievement. That achievement was that, after a two-year gap in their education post-8th grade, every single high schooler passed into the next class.
All 9-10 science students except one want to become doctors, the exception declaring that she would like to do engineering. All the Arts students aspire to become teachers. Most of the girls in high school were out of school for five full years before we expanded this school last April, but they are doing very well academically, according to test records.
In Paras, the Government Girls’ High School is very far up the road, only about a half hour from Muzaffarabad, in Azad Kashmir. One teacher comes from there daily to work at the school. This community, like Bararkot, is committed to education, having petitioned the Dist. Education Office and the Friends Welfare Association, Hoshyar’s partner NGO, to re-open the school. It is about 5 minutes’ walk down from the road to the Kunar River, which was in comparative spate although most of the rivers we have passed in the past two days are almost dry. When the snow begins to melt later in March, or into April, the levels will rise. All the girls except one, who lives about 5 minutes’ walk away, have to walk 30-45 minutes down very steep slopes to get there. The walk back must be “invigorating” at the least, as the altitude at school level is already more than 6,000 ft. I don’t know how they do it, with all that slippery rocky shale, in their poor school shoes.
Only one mother from the parent-teacher committee was able to come today, but she was very forceful in her comments, the gist of which was that Paras was very grateful to us for re-opening classes and that the parents were very satisfied with the way the school was running. All the mothers have committed themselves to making domestic arrangements such that the girls have enough release time from household chores to keep up with their studies, and I absolutely believed them after talking with this woman.