We have never given a toss about education in Pakistan. This is not a blanket statement but a fact pretty easily verified if you look at statistics of literacy in this country or the work done on education in our 65-year history.
The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) puts our literacy at 56 per cent, but also reports that the largest part of our nation, which is rural Pakistan, has more than 70 per cent illiteracy, when our regional neighbours like India and Sri Lanka boast literacy rates of around 75 per cent and 91 per cent, respectively. In fact, education is such a huge priority in Sri Lanka that if schooling is not provided to children, their families may suffer criminal penalties and even jail time.
We are also very fond, in this country, of not attaching any importance to the power of an individual and constantly blaming the system for all our woes. None of us want to take action on our own because we do not believe we can make a difference.
On October 9, 2012, our worst enemies took part in an action, which should be regarded as a watershed moment in Pakistan’s battle against illiteracy; they attacked Malala Yousafzai.
This one individual has become the rallying cry for Pakistan since that day and until now, she is serving as perhaps, the best soft image this country has provided on the international front. She was not, however, taken up by the mainstream media as much as her whole story was told by social media. She was a BBC blogger before she was attacked and her cause instantly became the cause of Pakistan’s social media as people identified and discussed her in both good and bad terms to the extent that the world had to sit up and take notice.
The result, as some people like to theorise in conspiracy (our other national pastime), was not just accolades for her but the change in our national narrative. Time and time again, people in this nation proclaim that social media does not have the numbers to affect any “real change” but they forget the fact that the 22 million minds present on social media are, in fact, the change everyone keeps talking about. They are enabled, powerful and opinionated. They are also the portion of our population, which has the means and the connections to make things happen because it is, in fact, a chunk which helps Pakistan make its major decisions.
The point is that we always knew education was important but this time before elections, through social media, we held our to-be-leaders accountable for education. Alif Ailaan and other online campaigns on education are living proof that the “elected”, who are now in our assemblies, knew that this time they would have to answer if they did not meet the voters’ expectations.
This is why all the provincial budgets being announced have increased their spending on education. Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (K-P) has declared an education emergency with Rs102.4 billion, Sindh has earmarked Rs133.22 billion and Punjab Rs210 billion for the same purpose. Now, what remains to be seen is how these funds will be utilised and what checks and balances can be kept on the ‘elected’, who are to disburse them.
The fact, therefore, is that we can see the drive now and attribution for it will be claimed by various political forces, but the spark which lit all this was one girl and her blog, which may have changed her nation’s future forever.
That, my friends, is the power of one Pakistani. Imagine the power of all Pakistanis working towards something positive.
Published in The Express Tribune, June 23rd, 2013.