Unfortunately, education in Pakistan is fast becoming a contentious issue. Decades of hate taught in our curriculum coupled with nepotism, bribery and corruption have all worked to cripple access to quality education for the Pakistani children and youth.
Through this piece, I specifically want to speak on the underlying causes plaguing Pakistan’s education system and how our indifference is failing millions of children across the country.
Corruption, Jobbery and Nepotism
State run institutions providing low-cost or free education are extremely important for low-income countries such as Pakistan where 39% of the population continues to live in poverty. However, much like other state institutions, the education sector too is plagued with corruption, jobbery and nepotism.
This inevitably makes it difficult for children and young people belonging to impoverished families to access state-run institutes and acquire education that is the key to breaking the vicious cycle of poverty that they have been trapped in for generations.
The most deprived among the marginalized are of course the girls. The few perks that our frail education system does allow its “subjects” are often exhausted before girls and young women can benefit from them.
Even in the 21st century, when the world unanimously agrees on the paramount importance of education, we, in certain pockets of Pakistan continue to debate the value of educating a girl child! It is then a little wonder that 53% of all out-of-school children in Pakistan are girls.
Commercialization of the Education System
A lot has already been said about the commercialization of the education system. However, it is not just the private schools that are at blame here. Both the government and the citizens themselves must also share the blame.
Inefficiency plaguing the governance of our education system is a huge cause for the mushroom growth of private schools. Quite naturally, parents want their children to receive quality education in an environment that is safe and healthy. However, when 49% schools in Pakistan remain without electricity, 37% schools without drinking water, 35% schools without toilets and 33% schools without boundary walls, what option do parents have but turn to private schools?
On the flip side, parents are to be blamed because they believe that their only responsibility towards their child’s education is the payment of hefty fees. A much greater degree of involvement is required from the parents’ end to hold private schools accountable vis-à-vis quality of education and the learning curve of their child(ren).
The Rise of Extremism
The reflection of extremist narratives in our curriculum is an issue often ignored but one that is extremely important if we truly want Pakistan to become a peaceful and stable state.
From romanticizing honor crime to preaching un-Islamic, extremist values our curriculum is becoming a doctrine of hate and intolerance.
This indoctrination is now fast making itself visible in our daily lives with extremism on the rise among our young people.
As the sister of Mishal Khan shaheed, my family and I are living examples of how extremism in our educational institutes is coming after the very social fabric that holds us together.
Because extremism understands no logic, because it is entirely blinded by hate, my brother was lynched by an angry mob for a rumor that was later proved entirely false and one that was spread to silence my brother’s fight against rampant corruption in his university.
The government needs to take a moment to reflect if this is the sort of environment that it wants the Pakistani children and youth to acquire education in? How many Mishal Khans will be martyred by misguided, extremist mobs before the intolerance in our curriculum will finally be trashed?
So Much can be Done to Improve Pakistan’s Education System
My entire piece is based on the dismal state of affairs ruling our education sector. However, I refuse to believe that these issues cannot be resolved. In fact I believe that with just a little political will and collective resolve, Pakistan’s education sector can be entirely revamped for better.
As a first step, there’s an urgent need to address the corrupt practices that are responsible for limiting access to education on one hand and preventing rapid infrastructural development to ensure greater number of institutes to cater for Pakistan’s overwhelmingly young population. Excellent laws and systems are already in place. There is however, need to ensure that these wonderfully crafted laws and policies are also implemented.
Greater number of schools, colleges and universities for girls are direly needed to facilitate their access to education at all levels. For instance, in all of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa there are only 722 girls’ secondary schools. This is then a huge factor hindering girls from acquiring sustainable education beyond primary level. Funds need to be urgently directed towards infrastructural development of educational institutes to bridge the prevalent gender gap.
Similarly, the government, civil society and media need to initiate programs that counter ill-informed cultural practices that restrict a girl within the four walls of the house.
Finally, at a very personal level I request the federal as well as the provincial governments to critically review the curriculum that we are teaching our children. Anecdotes, stories and lessons that promote intolerance – whether against a religion, an ethnicity or gender – need to be immediately removed from the text books.
We can’t keep talking about a prosperous Pakistan without correcting the mistakes that have been allowed to linger for far too long. I pray that I live to witness a Pakistan that’s literate, tolerant, peaceful and hence, prosperous.