Heritage: A journey of academic excellence
The Anglo Vernacular Middle School at Thana Malakand protected area was set up by the British back in 1912 in order to equip the people of the rugged terrain and snow-capped mountains of Malakand with modern education. At the time it drew only 113 students from Malakand, Dir, Swat and Bunir. Qazi Mir Ahmed was its first headmaster. The school had 12 teachers initially.
The step of starting the school in the area was strongly opposed at that time by the rulers of the states of Dir and Chitral, religious clerics and tribal elders. However, the ruler of the Swat state had quietly allowed the move.
Spread over a large area, the Government High School Thana (GHST) of today now has 50 teachers, 1,050 students and 32 classrooms. During its illustrious century it has successfully produced countless talented people in various fields.
Though this historic school has been around for 100 years now, its administration celebrated its platinum jubilee some six months ago with a variety of literary and cultural activities. Malala Youafzai had inaugurated a beautiful photo and paintings exhibitions featuring local artists and students. On the occasion, Fazle Sattar, the deputy post master general, an old student of the school, on behalf of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa postal department issued a postal ticket worth Rs8 carrying the beautiful school insignia. It was distributed locally as well as sent abroad.
This first-ever school in the area was supposed to impart modern education at the time of the popular anti-modern education poetical Pashto slogan ‘Sabaq da madrasay waye / da para da paisay waye / Janat ke baye zai nawee / pa dozakh ke ba ghupay wahee’. Roughly translated, it means ‘Going to school means to get involved in worldly affairs. Those attending school will therefore, have no place in paradise and hell will be their ultimate destination’.
According to the local elders, the family which had donated a piece of land for the construction of this school was also intimidated and threatened while the teachers also faced threats from religious clerics and those who were against modern education in 1912. But despite all odds, and staying within its meagre sources, the historic school maintained its high academic standards and discipline while imparting quality education.
Some of the school’s old students who were able to make a name for themselves in their respective fields include Akhunzada Bahrawar Saeed, Dr Asadullah, Dr Hameed, former federal minister Lal Mohammad Khan, Justice (retd) Safdar Ali Shah and noted writer and former director of the Pashto Academy, University of Peshawar, Prof Mohammad Nawaz Tair.
To motivate its students, the school used to stage plays, hold sports events and literary functions. During World War II, patriotic songs and action films used to be played on a projector in the school. The witty dialogues from the two Urdu stage plays presented by the school administration Jungle me Mungal and Qudrat ka Intiqaam written by Major Ghulam Hussain during its earlier days are still fondly recalled by the locals.
“It was for the fifth time that an Urdu play was staged when I was student of the school in the 10th grade. The school even today is playing an important role in spreading education in the backward area. Most local parents prefer to send their children here as it offers quality education, the teachers are fully motivated and devoted to their profession,” says Rustam Khan, an old student.
A top ENT specialist in Peshawar, Dr Mohibullah Khan, who is also an old student of the Government High School Thana while sharing his views says, “I cherish those moments when I was student at this historic school. In fact a majority of my family members and close relatives have studied here, and most of them have been serving on key positions. Had this institution not been built in Malakand, people of the area would still be living in ignorance.”
Principal of the Government High School Thana Prof Gul Nawaz proudly says that his school has maintained high academic standards and claimed that his students obtained high positions both in curricular and co-curricular activities in the area. He said, “The main hall of the school needs complete renovation and a water tank is also to be constucted there to provide clean drinking water for the students. It will be more than enough if the provincial government meets these genuine demands,” Mr Nawaz added.
A senior teacher while requesting anonymity however complained that the education department in KP did not announce any special package for the school during its platinum jubilee celebrations despite its meritorious services. “Two years ago the education department here had devised a policy of ‘award and punishment’ on the basis of academic performance of the teachers and schools for KP but our school and faculty members have been totally neglected, we expected a special package on the completion of our successful 100 years but they didn’t do anything for us,” he regretted.
Hamza, a brilliant ninth-grade student of the school said that he found his historic school ahead in all respects of the so-called English-medium schools in the locality. The teachers he said are up-to-date and well-equipped with the modern techniques of teaching.
Another old student of the school, former senior minister KP and JI leader Sirajul Haq told Dawn, “Recalling the good old days is like scratching on stone. I have always deemed Government High School, Thana, as my second mother because it was here that I received my early education and also launched my political career. I feel proud to be a product of this grand institution.”
The writer teaches English at a public school and college in Peshawar