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Battle to provide education for Pakistani children remains volatile

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
October 16th, 2012
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

The shooting of 14-year-old activist Malala Yousafzai by the Taliban in the Swat Valley region of Pakistan has thrown an international spotlight on the struggle to bring education to this nation's impoverished child population. The Taliban has long been opposed to education in the region, particularly among female students, as they claim it instills in young minds "western ideals."

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - Yousafzai studied at the Khushhal Secondary School for Girls. The school was established in 1994 in Mingora, her hometown. There are currently 180 students enrolled at the school, where teachers hold classes for girls in grades five and higher. The school also has separate branch for boys.

"She is a very good student, and very well-mannered. There was no hint of pride in her, despite all of her fame," Tariq Ahmed, Yousafzai's social studies teacher, told Al Jazeera. "She was very friendly with all her classmates. She did not ask for, or receive, special treatment."

When the Taliban challenged the state for control of the Swat Valley in 2007, children's education became a flashpoint between fighters and the local populace.

The Tehreek-e-Taliban Swat, led by Maulana Fazlullah, destroyed more than 400 schools through the years between 2007 and 2011. Many of the schools provided education for girls.

Educational institutions were targeted, analysts say because government schools were public vestiges of the state, but were also not as secure as police stations or other government buildings.

The Taliban claimed that public and private schools in the area were providing "Western" and "non-Islamic" education to boys and girls, to which they are sworn enemies.

Following the shooting, Yousafzai's school was closed for two days. Monday was the first normal day of classes since the attack. Attendance has since returned to normal, with only "one or two" girls missing.

Yousafzai's "way of thinking was always a little different from her classmates - she was more mature. She knew about every subject. Often you'll find students who are very good in one area but weak in others. She was exceptional in all," one instructor says.

A model student, the day she was shot, Malala had been returning home from completing an examination in Pakistan Studies. She answered fluently on a range of topics, from recounting the events that led up the partition of the subcontinent to the asserting the need to control illegal logging. She scored a perfect 100 percent.

The Khushhal School is not the only girl's school in the valley: in total, the government runs 571 such schools, out of a total of 1,576 schools for both genders at all levels. There are also approximately 361 private schools operating in the valley.

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