Ibrar Ahmed is relieved to be alive after being stuck on a cable car high over a river in northern Pakistan for 16 hours this week, but now the student wonders how he will make the arduous trek to class each day.
“God willing, I am going to continue with my studies, but the way to our school is so long,” he said after Tuesday’s ordeal, which grabbed global attention.
“Sometimes … I get late for school because it opens at 8:30 a.m. and the road is so perilous,” said Ahmed, in his first year of high school at Batungi Pashto Government School. “The (chair)lift is necessary, but now we are terrified of it.”
Seven children and one man were rescued by Pakistan’s military and civilians from the flimsy cable car after a cable broke, dangling them 183 metres (600 feet) high in mountainous Battagram district north of Islamabad.
The harrowing ordeal highlights a crisis of school accessibility for many in Pakistan, with few high schools, poor roads, poverty and extreme weather hampering students’ ability to get to class.
That is a major reason Pakistan has the world’s second-lowest rate of school attendance. Some 23 million, or 44%, of Pakistani children aged four to 16 are out of school and the situation is worse for girls, according to government figures and the World Bank.
Given Pakistan’s huge youth population, boosting education rates is vital for economic sustainability and to mitigate the security concerns that plague the South Asian country, exacerbated by the lure of militant groups in impoverished rural areas, analysts and economists say.