Education, Development, and Change
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Friday, March 12, 2010

Education in Hunza

Dr Shahid Siddiqui
Monday, 17 Aug, 2009,  published in Dawn
No doubt Hunza, known for its fruit orchards, lofty mountains, panoramic meadows and breathtaking beauty, is a major tourist attraction, but it is equally interesting to explore the educational initiatives that have empowered the local community there and set an example for other areas.

Hunza’s success story shows that difficulties can be overcome if the leadership has political will.
Those who are familiar with the difficult terrain and relatively scarce resources in Hunza would be pleasantly surprised to know that the literacy rate in Hunza is around 77 per cent. This must have been unthinkable when the first primary school was established there in 1913 by the British in India. The single-most important factor that transformed the educational scene in Hunza was the contribution of Aga Khan III, Sir Sultan Muhammad Shah, who convinced the then Mirs of Hunza state to place greater emphasis on education.
It was in 1946 that some 16 schools were established. They were called the Diamond Jubilee schools and they set the right momentum for bringing changes to education in Hunza.

The second important initiative came when the Pakistan government started opening public schools in the Northern Areas, including Hunza. The demand for education grew but the number of schools did not meet educational requirements. With people finding that schooling was accessible two more problems were becoming visible: the quality of education and education for girls.

The third important initiative in Hunza was the establishment of a quality school for girls whose sole criterion of admission was merit. The Academy, with hostel facilities, was founded in 1983 when Karim Aga Khan laid the foundation of the academy. He said he hoped that the Academy would, 'provide a genuine foundation for self-generating progress in the future'. The establishment of the Academy was a strong motivation for the opening of private schools focusing on the quality of education.

The fourth initiative to have an impact on educational life in Hunza was the establishment of community schools. These schools were a welcome addition as they gave the local community a sense of participation and ownership. In 1991 a model community school, Al-Amyn Model School, was established in Gulmit, a beautiful village of Hunza. This school helped re-establish the broken linkage between school and home. Here parents and grandparents are invited to share their wisdom with the younger generation. Parents come to know that their knowledge is not obsolete and that the younger generation can benefit from it. The success of Al-Amyn heralded the establishment of a number of community schools over the years.

The fifth initiative was the establishment of the Karakoram University in Gilgit. A number of students of Hunza are benefiting. The university may also create jobs for the local population.

The sixth factor contributing to the quality of education is the role of the different Aga Khan organisations that have played an effective role in the improvement of education by establishing schools and empowering them through capacity-building measures, and by facilitating students through scholarship. One initiative was the establishment of the Professional Development Centre in Gilgit. The centre helped train a number of teachers from Hunza by offering short- and long-term courses.

The seventh factor is the rising awareness among the local people who have come to view education as the passport to enhanced opportunities in life. There seems to be urgency in terms of acquiring education. Parents in Hunza are convinced that the best thing they can do for their children is to help them get a good education. There is a growing interest in higher education for girls. Parents are willing to send their daughters to distant cities e.g. Karachi, Lahore, Peshawar etc. for quality education. It is an approach that distinguishes Hunza from the rest of the Northern Areas.

Lastly, there is a cordial relationship among the different stakeholders. There seems to be a good working relationship between the directorate of education, the Aga Khan organisations, the local community and foreign funding agencies. It is this collaborative approach that makes things happen.
Hunza’s educational story has many lessons for other areas of Pakistan where talent is not properly exploited. It shows us that difficulties and challenges can be overcome if the leadership has political will and if the community is trusted and involved in planning and the execution of educational plans.
The writer is director of Centre for Humanities and Social Sciences at the Lahore School of Economics and author of Rethinking Education in Pakistan.


  1. Dr. Shaid Siddiqui presented a true picture of education of Hunza. Such like encouragement gives strength to the people who are working in this field and situation. The people of Hunza are really helping hand of Government to improve education. Government and academician must recognize such like effort for further such like investment and development in education all over the country.

    Rahim Khan

  2. Infact Dr. saab has sketched a true picture regarding Hunza, further to it, now people of Hunza need to think abt establising instiuitions for diverse professional education sectors.

  3. Rahim: Thanks for your feedback. I agree with you that education is the best investment and this realization should grow to other regions as well.

  4. Anonymous: Thanks for your your very useful remarks. I wish you had written your name as well. Best wishes. shahid

  5. muhammad yar beig misgarianApril 15, 2010 at 4:23 AM

    At this mediatic age of communication Dr Siddidui had shown a versitaly image of the education in hunza but I want to add that our inclination should be towards the quality not the quantity. Yes we have the highest litracy rate in country but what about the rank of one and only institution of higher education in the area. Just being at the middle of this extanza one cannot forget the struugle of student of our area in other institution in country.

  6. Muhammad Yar Baig, Thanks for your comments. The journey of positive change and improvement should never stop but we should at least celebrate some important initiatives.

  7. thank you sir for highlighting the key role of different instituation in initiating and bringing change in education is true that the key factor is the collaboration of different stakeholders along with their investments and realization.

  8. Thanks Salma for your comments. I am so glad that you are also engaged in the efforts of qualitative improvement of education in GB. My best wishes for you.