Education, Development, and Change
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Sunday, May 23, 2010

Hunza Disaster and Schools

Dr Shahid Siddiqui

Hunza has been a role model for the rest of Pakistan in terms of its high literacy rate and school enrolment figures. According to one estimate, the literacy rate of Hunza is around 90 per cent, which becomes even more impressive when we consider the geographical location and complex terrain of the area.
Despite the fact that schools are difficult to approach and meagre resources are available, it is remarkable that the literacy rate is far higher than the national literacy rate which, according to the Pakistan Social and Living Standards Survey 2007-8, is 56 per cent.

One of the primary reasons for this is people’s tremendous interest in education. The education of children is considered a prime investment by the people of Hunza. That is why, instead of spending money on better living, they prefer to spend on educating their children. There is equal emphasis on the education of girls and parents encourage their daughter to go to schools, colleges and universities.
A number of analysts believe that the large-scale disaster could have been averted had there been faster rescues. The authorities either did not realize the enormity of the challenge and its potential repercussions or deliberately downplayed the magnitude of the calamity. The result, however, is an uncertain situation that can lead to huge losses.
In the Hunza region there are 53 primary schools, 37 middle schools, 35 high schools, seven higher secondary schools and four degree colleges. Given the limited chances of higher education, the boys and girls of Hunza go to main cities such as Karachi, Lahore, Peshawar and Islamabad for higher education.The educational structure of Hunza-Nagar and Gilgit is a blend of public schools, non-formal schools, Social Action Programme (SAP) schools, Aga Khan Education Services-Pakistan (AKES-P) schools, AKES-P supported schools, private schools and madressahs. There are 344 primary schools of which 96 are public-sector schools. There are an estimated 141 middle schools of which 53 are public-sector schools, and 113 high schools of which 47 are in the public sector.

The total number of higher secondary schools is six of which one is public. There are 598 schools in total in Gilgit and Hunza-Nagar of which 196 are public schools. The current enrolment of boys is 36,086 while for girls it is 36,017. The Aga Khan network has done exemplary work in terms of providing quality education and setting up an educational structure that is a successful model for other regions of Pakistan.

Unfortunately, this educational scenario has been badly disturbed by the disaster that started in January with the landslide in Attaabad, a village of upper Hunza, and that is worsening with every passing day. As the lake expanded, it engulfed a number of buildings including houses and schools. Four upstream villages — Attaabad, Shishkat, Aeenaba and Gulmit — are badly affected by the artificially created Hunza lake. A number of schools have been either destroyed or identified as potentially dangerous buildings.

Many school buildings have been evacuated. The latest update from Hunza and Gilgit is that all the public schools and colleges have been closed for an indefinite period, although another purpose of closing them might be to use the school buildings to house internally displaced persons.

The closure of schools started on May 15 and may continue for an indefinite period. It is important to keep in mind that these schools had already remained closed for one to two months for the winter vacations. Currently the 72,103 students that are enrolled in schools and colleges of different systems are out of school. Such a long closure will without doubt have a negative impact on their educational performance.

The disaster has also thrown up another problem that has a direct bearing on education. The majority of the parents in the region, whose main source of earning is farming and who rely mainly on the cash crop of potatoes, were unable to cultivate their lands and were deprived of their livelihoods. Other parents who were involved in small-scale business are now idle because the submersion of parts of the Karakoram Highway has meant that trade with China is no longer possible.

This situation is aggravated further since the shortage of goods has pushed prices up. Most people have lost their lands, fruit orchards and means of living, and are finding it difficult to pay the fees and school-related expenditures of their children.A large number of boys and girls from Hunza are acquiring higher education in the large cities of Pakistan. Their parents suddenly find themselves in a difficult position in terms of continuing to bear the children’s educational expenses. Students studying far from their homes are upset: they cannot go back to their homes since the only method of travel — by boat — has also been suspended. In some cases they have been advised by their parents to stay away from the danger zone.

The ordeal that started with the landslide has entered its fifth month now. Twenty-five thousand people of Gojal (upper Hunza) have been stranded, cut off from the rest of the country since there is no land connection and the boat service has been suspended. The educational price of the Hunza disaster can have serious consequences for the local inhabitants whose top priority is the provision of the best possible education for their children. A number of analysts believe that the large-scale disaster could have been averted had there been faster rescues. The authorities either did not realize the enormity of the challenge and its potential repercussions or deliberately downplayed the magnitude of the calamity. The result, however, is an uncertain situation that can lead to huge losses.

The writer is the director of the Centre for Humanities and Social Sciences at the Lahore School of Economics and the author of Rethinking Education in Pakistan.


  1. In fact, the skeleton of educational network in Hunza has been Drawn Dr. Sahab bases on ground realities. Indeed, we have no other option to survive/flourish except education. The history of formal education in the region stems from the initiation of the first primary school in Karimabad, Hunza in 1913, established by the then British India, whose first teacher was from Punjab, thanks to the British India and the teacher who served this isolated area.
    We are extremely gratitude to His Highness Sir Sultan Muhammad Shah Aga Khan -III, who established the 1st Diamond Jubilee School system in Hunza in 1946, which paved / initiated the path to bring change in the social context of Hunza through flourishing the educational grounds.


  2. Yea, the story of Hunza education is interesting one...It has come a long way. Lets pray this love for education continue in generations to come.

  3. The only future asset of Hunza people is education. From access to education now, people are thinking about quality of education. Apart that people have dream to established University in this peaceful land and attract students from all-around the world. But aftermath of the disaster it challenged their dream. Now, there is chance that it may become “Aadhay Adhooray Khwaab”of Hunza people.
    Thanks to highlight the educational issue of Hunza in this article.

  4. Dr.Sahib, thanks for your continuous and selfless support for the people of Hunza in general and upper Hunza in particular, in this circle situation. You are right, people of the area are motivated towards education and they invest their limited available resource on education considering it the only path for bright future of their new generation. No doubt, this situation has posed a big question for them how to move towards their ideals and visions of education. However, I hope that the people will keep continue striving for education by working together and taking benefit from wisdom of other friends like you.

  5. Rahim: Thanks. A university in Hunza. What a dream....I think lets get together and try to realize this dream.

  6. Ali: can we set up a funding for the efforts of edcuation...Think about it.

  7. Hunza do need a university. But we don't need a mediocre university. Mediocre university may cause more harm that help, as currently if you are a good student you go to Karachi, Lahore, Peshawar and Islamabad and try to get admission in top universities. But if a university is created here which is mediocre, it would be comfortable for students to stay here and not go for that top universities. May be in future we will have a branch of University of Central Asia here. A good university in Hunza will help way more students get better and higher education.

    May God save the people of Hunza from the disaster.

  8. Hi, The idea of a univeristy should be carried forward by AK net work and it should a world standard educational institution where foreign faculty should also be welcome to teach at least for initial time.

  9. Dear Sir, thank you very much for highlighting the importnat this important issue. Definetly the people of hunza see their bright future by getting only quality education but unfortunatly the disaster has shrink their hopes and they faces alot of crices to continue the ducation of their siblings. I hope such plateforms play a critical role to highlight this issue up-to high authorities.

    Bashir Ahmed

  10. a very good analysis i realize the strength of my area.

    A very good idea of establishing a university.....especailly the foriegn faculty at the initial years would develop a standard human resource for running the university itself.

  11. Reshma, in the rebuilding phase of Gojal, quality education and opportunities for quality education are going to play a central role. The educated youth of Gojal, like yourself, need to play a crucial part in it.

  12. PEGGY: You and your comments are most welcome here.:)