We don’t need no education

Published: March 14, 2011


When asked “do you believe in human rights?”, everyone will say they believe in them in one form or the other. But, of those who say yes, there will be people who beat their servants or mistreat their women.

Education is a lot like that. Survey after survey shows that Pakistanis believe that education is important, even illiterate parents regard it as a priority for their children. But I don’t take these views at face value, partly because the demand for education has never been articulated with force.

People have managed to get their representatives to build them sewage systems, roads and electrify their constituencies. Education doesn’t merit the same kind of demanding insistence.

There are three main reasons for this. First, we don’t know the scale of the problem and its impact. Second, we think we are just too poor to have universal access to quality education. And third, there is no point in acting now, after losing more than six decades. Each of these arguments is wrong. Believing in these opinions is like saying: We don’t need no education.

According to the Education Emergency report recently released by the Pakistan Education Task Force (conflict of interest disclosure: I am involved with the ‘March for Education’ campaign), the cost of not educating Pakistan is the equivalent of having a major flood every year.

Also, we have the money. There are 26 countries poorer than Pakistan who send more children to school. That includes Uganda, often the butt of jokes in Pakistan as the archetype of an underdeveloped nation. And lastly, if we start spending money on education we can see results in only two years’ time.

I have heard people say, “well all this is good, but what about the poor quality of education, the high dropout rate, the…” and on and on. I totally agree that more needs to be done than to just allocate more money to the sector — existing funds need to be spent more wisely.

Pakistan faces a grave fiscal crisis and past experience suggests that education and other social sectors will lose money by the greatest proportion. As we prepare for this year’s budget, we must ensure all parties come together in a cross-party fashion to ensure the education system doesn’t choke for lack of funds. I say, at least, let’s give a chance to kids to be poorly educated in our public schools, let’s give them the chance to drop out because it’s so ineffective. Right now, many don’t even have the privilege to be miseducated.

We had a Charter of Democracy. Now we need a Charter of Education. A simple one that states whoever is in power at the national or provincial level will spend a certain amount on education and on ensuring all children can read, write and do at least basic arithmetic.

Developing and implementing such a charter will require politicians (and the military establishment, responsible for half the problem, as they have ruled the country since Independence) to develop a bold, new vision. They will also have to accept that education is the one issue that they can all unite around as they attempt to secure the country’s long-term future.

Already, we can see the debate beginning. Hamid Mir’s show “Capital Talk” recently achieved a coup of sorts when he got members of different political parties (including Ahsan Iqbal) to sign the Education Emergency petition, demanding more funds be allocated to education. We don’t know what the follow-up will be, but at least education is now rising up the political agenda.

Education must be put back at the heart of our nation-building mission. The UNHCR, when responding to disasters, immediately starts building schools in the camps they set up. They know that education continuity is of immense importance when responding to the immediate needs of any emergency. We must respond to our own education emergency with the same urgency and force.

Don’t worry; the kids aren’t likely to become another brick in the wall. There are 26,000 public schools in Pakistan with no building at all.

Published in The Express Tribune, March 15th, 2011.

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Reader Comments (46)

  • khan
    Mar 14, 2011 - 11:56PM

    uneducated masses will select same politicians and these politicians will never allow the masses to get educated(that would be threat to their politics)…. uneducated people again…. and again the same politicians… this is recursive phenomenon. so who will do that??? The army???(we always look up to you.. don’t we???).well if you are planning anything. This time, Please, dont take the power. just take the charge of education system, do a massive overhauling, might take 10-15 years to get our entire population educated. then let these politicians come to us and we will teach them what labor it takes to earn genuine votes. Recommend

  • Nadir El-Edroos
    Mar 14, 2011 - 11:57PM

    People want to spend billions developing Thar coal. Like Thar coal our fellow Pakistani’s are our nations resources and the real strategic depth that we seek. Our uneducated children are just like the vast resources of Thar coal that we are found of boasting about. Beneath the ground and unutilized, adding no value to our country or to itself. Recommend

  • Moiz
    Mar 15, 2011 - 12:00AM

    Yes first comment!
    Excellent write up as alwaysRecommend

  • Anwar
    Mar 15, 2011 - 12:05AM

    Education, education, education..! This is the only hope for Pakistan. Primary level education available to all children.Recommend

  • Mar 15, 2011 - 1:42AM

    I would suggests my all fellows please impart some hours for education. At least we can move literacy up to the satisfactory level by doing so. Recommend

  • saleem
    Mar 15, 2011 - 2:54AM

    @Author: Great one. Hope our political leadership has this in mind.
    @Khan: Please keep the Army away from our Education. Education will be the last thing to be left to the Army. Recommend

  • Ronit
    Mar 15, 2011 - 3:20AM

    Thumbs up if u think that Fasi Zaka is Pakistan’s Micheal Moore…”in every way”.Recommend

  • Hamza
    Mar 15, 2011 - 3:34AM

    equally..”We don’t need no thought control”Recommend

  • Sajid I. Barcha
    Mar 15, 2011 - 4:06AM

    Zaka, We don’t need dark sarcasm in the class room either, the curriculum, and whole educational system needs a major revision, which if we look at, demotivates us stead of doing otherwise.
    Those in power are there because of uneducated and illeducated voters, they are not going to change the very soil that is fertile for their seed, who will change it? Army doesn’t want to educate either, if it does, it will beat the purpose of its own massive existence. So Basically, we are caught up in a classic circular situation, we can not get out of this while we try to establish Democracy in the state where your leadership is to be chosen by uneducated and illeducated. A dictatorship with broad vision and no prospective family heir can bring about a change, a change that can actually provide grounds for sustainable democracy in its true meaning. Recommend

  • faraz
    Mar 15, 2011 - 5:11AM

    Not one of the 26 countries that are poorer than Pakistan is an ideological state or a fortress of islam which is under threat from Hindu-Zionist-CIA conspiracies. Education and welfare of the people is not a priority of an ideological state; thats why General Sher Ali of Yahya’s cabinet came up with this idea. Recommend

  • Zahid Afridi
    Mar 15, 2011 - 5:32AM

    Awesome analysis. We all know the problem. What is the solution?

    Rhetorics like Education must be put back at the heart of our nation-building mission are too balloneyRecommend

  • NO
    Mar 15, 2011 - 5:35AM

    If we crawl
    ‘Til we can walk again
    Then we’ll run
    Until we’re strong enough to jump
    Then we’ll fly
    …Until there is no end
    So lets crawl, crawl, crawl

    good one sir, Recommend

  • Arindom
    Mar 15, 2011 - 5:58AM

    Education per se for Pakistan is not good enough. What education do you want?

    First purge the textbooks of all anti-India stories. Included secular teachings in text books and univesal brotherhood – not just muslim brotherhood.

    Only then will education do any good,

    At the current state of affairs, more education will simply result in more qualified ignorants – like the lawyers who showered roses on Qadri for the whole world to see…..Recommend

  • Ahmed
    Mar 15, 2011 - 6:50AM

    Excellent article ! Campaigns like the March for education have been long long overdue in our country !
    ‘People have managed to get their representatives to build them sewage systems, roads and electrify their constituencies.’ An excellent point. Sadly, a lot if not most of the population doesnt seem to realise that we are wrecking the future of our nation and and our future generations by not adressing this critical issue of education. Hope the petitions help and the government starts tackling the issue seriously.Recommend

  • bvindh
    Mar 15, 2011 - 7:48AM

    Assalamu alaikum my brothers,
    The recitation of the Holy Koran is sufficient for all the worldly and spiritual needs of a human being. Investing a small amount will ensure that we will have enough Islamic seminaries to educate entire Pakistan. The money thus saved should be used to double or triple Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal. This is the only way Pakistan will be saved from the present destructive trends.Recommend

  • Hassaan
    Mar 15, 2011 - 9:03AM

    Good article. I think apart from the potential impact that increased spending on public education can have, it might also be important to look at the impact of low-cost, for-profit private schools in Pakistan. (James Tooley discusses the existence and impact of such low-cost private schools in his book, “The Beautiful Tree”.). Such schools are being successfully run and managed in slums of Ghana, Nigeria, Zimbabwe, Kenya, India etc. where the majority of the poor parents are sending their kids to these low-cost private schools. Managed by local entrepreneurs, these schools are funded mostly through school fees which are usually around $2-$4 a month and despite the fact that teachers are paid much less than their government counterparts and the facilities are usually poor, students at these schools are significantly outperforming students at public schools. The fact that teachers in these low-cost private schools are accountable to owners whereas government school teachers are basically appointed for life is a key contributor to this improved performance. I think it might be worthwhile to investigate the existence of such low-cost private schools in Pakistan (if it hasn’t already been done) and to see if they can be assisted in some way by the Pakistani government; who knows, we might find another way to increase access to better quality education for the poor than by pumping more money into public schools. Recommend

  • Yousuf Sajjad
    Mar 15, 2011 - 9:54AM

    at least education is now rising up the political agenda

    Now we’re acheiving some goals; this ought to demonstrate to other Pakistanis that we’re serious. Keep pushing Fasi.Recommend

  • Nabeel Alvi
    Mar 15, 2011 - 11:22AM

    Well thought and the comparision is indeed shocking but nothing new. I believe the issue is of marketing education and stressing the need / benefits of it to the masses like our mobile companies have done. Every rural area of Pakistan has a mobile advert hoarding, wall or tree dedicated for it but nothing for education. If people can buy mobile phones they surely can pursue education provided they know its benefits. We have failed to market which I know is a huge ask especially when it is not profit making especially in the rural areas. Recommend

  • Mar 15, 2011 - 12:08PM

    The followers of the Aga Khan “adopt” poor children from his community in the Northern Areas. These children are educated by their employers and they also do household work. If most Pakistanis similarly employ and educate poor children, the battle against illiteracy can be won easily.Recommend

  • sudhir
    Mar 15, 2011 - 12:10PM

    Education has nothing to do with Islam. Because Kooran is the best education.Recommend

  • Hmmm
    Mar 15, 2011 - 12:14PM


    Can we have different headlines than what Business Recorder Research runs? In an article published on March 10 (check link), BR Research published an article on the same issue with the exact headline. can’t be a coincidence. I expect a man of Fasi’s caliber to do better.Recommend

  • Disgruntled
    Mar 15, 2011 - 12:17PM

    Dude, have u sold out ur originality or what??? A story on this topic was published in the business recorder research section with the SAME heading on 10 March!!! the content was different, but u couldn’t come up with a heading… reallly???

    A link to that story’s shared below


  • sudhir
    Mar 15, 2011 - 12:34PM

    I can’t agree with u moreRecommend

  • sudhir
    Mar 15, 2011 - 2:59PM

    Don’t u see miracle of your education which has produced bumper crops of terrorists,jehadis and suicide bombers who r doing proud to pakistan the world overRecommend

  • salik
    Mar 15, 2011 - 3:27PM

    @Hmmn and @Disgruntled wow, unhappy over the repitition of the most overused cliche in the world, do you guys think BR came up with this for the first time?

    Did Business Recorder steal the title from this article on March 1 (BR took nine days to copy the header?)


    or did BR they steal the title from this article in 2009 on education: http://www.intlalliance.org/ialeimagazine/lifelonglearning/wedontneednoeducation/

    I am sure BR thought they were being original, but sadly you commentators arent well read enough to realise this title is a natural fit on anything in education, and has been for decades. if you read, that is. Recommend

  • Rana Asghar
    Mar 15, 2011 - 3:43PM

    All educational institutions should be closed down in Pakistan with immediate effect since they excercise the minds who are being educated thus developing them to ask questions. In our society, we expect total submission & no question ever asked. If we would have closed down all our educational institutions in 47, we would have been much more advanced than USA.& probably the sole Super Islamic Power in the world.Recommend

  • salik
    Mar 15, 2011 - 4:44PM

    ahhn the future of this initiative is doomed when bvidh’s comment gets 7 recommendations from the readers:

    “Assalamu alaikum my brothers, The recitation of the Holy Koran is sufficient for all the worldly and spiritual needs of a human being. Investing a small amount will ensure that we will have enough Islamic seminaries to educate entire Pakistan. The money thus saved should be used to double or triple Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal. This is the only way Pakistan will be saved from the present destructive trends.”Recommend

  • Mar 15, 2011 - 5:46PM

    you dont need a Michael Moor to understand whats going on in Pakistan all you need is a Cabinet full of idiots which we have to make a disaster out of our systwem.. We are being shred by our own people and the 3rd Party is not sleeping.Recommend

  • Mar 15, 2011 - 5:59PM

    We dont need no thought control no one Kanal box schools or the mind control Mudressas, All we need is a break and determination to set things right. 3rd Party (just about everywhere).Recommend

  • Anonymous
    Mar 15, 2011 - 6:16PM

    Education? What’s that??Recommend

  • NR
    Mar 15, 2011 - 8:00PM

    An excellent piece thought provoking and lesson to the policy makers ,they must wakeupRecommend

  • observer
    Mar 15, 2011 - 9:18PM

    @Fasi Zaka

    Quite heartening to note that Hamid Mir is interested in more funds for education.But, if 10 boys put through the present obscurantist rote add up to 10 Qadri loving ‘Lawyers’ (no less), then 1 million boys going through the same rote adds up to ……..
    I am not sure a lot of money minus syllabi reform is going to do Pakistan any good. And looking at the fate of attempts at detoxification of Pakistan Study textbooks, I do not feel very confident about the outcome.
    As weeding out the venom from the textbooks does not even demand too much of money, let us begin with that.In short put ‘no thought control’ before ‘no education’.Recommend

  • Ron(Indian)
    Mar 15, 2011 - 9:40PM

    Refernce for your education system in wikipedia — http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/PakistanEducation_System

    Guys please go through it. Thanks.Recommend

  • saad hafeez
    Mar 15, 2011 - 10:14PM

    @ bvindh and sudhir. i stiil dont understand why indians show so much negativity towards pakistan? we’re trying to do something good for our country at last and here you are doing nothing but giving stupid and ignorant comments. have you ever come across or heard of a terrorist who was educated in a proper school? no. most of them are educated in madrassah’s which are controlled by radicalised people who like to call themselves muslims!Recommend

  • Riz
    Mar 15, 2011 - 10:26PM

    @Admin, you have put a recommend button, where is a dislike one? I hate some of these comments preaching about opening more madrassas and increasing our nuclear arsenals. Are they living under a rock? and the worst part is 12 people have recommended it. This sort of thing ruins my morning coffee.Recommend

  • Mar 15, 2011 - 10:46PM

    @Saad Hafeez

    have you ever come across or heard of a terrorist who was educated in a proper school? no. most of them are educated in madrassah’s which are controlled by radicalised people who like to call themselves muslims!

    David Coleman Headley, urf Dawood Syed Gilani and his friend Tahawwur Hussain Rana of Cadet College Hasan Abdal.
    Feizal Shahzad,aka Times Square failed bomber.
    Khalid Sheikh Omar of Daniel Pearl case fame.
    All the 9/11 bombers.
    All the garlanding lawyers in Qadri case.

    These come readily to mind. I would like to add ISI Chief and operatives like Gen Gul and Col Imam in the same category. And to the best of my knowledge Osama Bin Laden and Ayman Al Zawahiri too hold University degrees.
    Moral of the story: What you learn is more important than where you learn it.Recommend

  • Humanity
    Mar 15, 2011 - 10:53PM

    Each one, teach one!

    While the kleptomaniacs find excuses to not bring education at the top of the priority list, each educated individual can start to make the change one drop at a time. Please take the initiative to volunteer one hour daily to teach a poor kid who probably lives in your servant quarters to learn how to read, write and do basic math. Buy them books and materials, mentor and teach them and in return, enrich your own lives!

    It was my mother’s daily ritual to teach the kids of the household help during the afternoon tea time, which she expected her own children to make, serve, and clean up. Some of those children are now grown up with their own families and are making sure their children get an education.

    This one hour of volunteer effort is called sadaqa-e-jariaa .. a charity that keeps on giving. The children deserve a better future. Please help yourself to become a better person by helping the children. God speed!Recommend

  • Anonymous
    Mar 15, 2011 - 11:19PM

    Please for god’s sake do not give me that crap. As it is I am in a hurry to claim my share of 72 hoors and you are asking me to think? Have education? How dare you!Recommend

  • Babs
    Mar 16, 2011 - 12:24AM

    Spending on defence always trumps spending on social services. Thats the reality not only in Pakistan but the whole of South Asia. People here would rather eat grass than not have a weapon. Recommend

  • Reeba
    Mar 16, 2011 - 12:43AM

    You don’t get it. They are just being sarcastic.Recommend

  • bvindh
    Mar 16, 2011 - 5:32PM

    @saad hafeez:

    “have you ever come across or heard of a terrorist who was educated in a proper school?”

    Mohammed Atta – Qualified architect from Cairo University

    Bin Laden – studied economics and business administration at King Abdulaziz University.Might have studied Civil Engineering too.

    Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh – studied Applied Mathematics and Economics at London School of Economics

    Stop being delusional and start facing the truth.Recommend

  • Subhash
    Mar 17, 2011 - 6:32PM

    That’s great thought, my dear brother.
    Modern taalim to sub ko tabah kar degi, we must aim to send each one of our countrymen to madrassas only for deeni taalim then only our nation will become the promised LAND OF PURE.Recommend

  • Subhash
    Mar 17, 2011 - 6:33PM

    @saad hafeez:
    I will support you on this one.Recommend

  • Talha
    Mar 20, 2011 - 1:07PM

    A very important and ignored topic has been highlighted by Fasi Zaka. In my opinion education is the most important issue of our country which come far before health, electricity and even security to some extent. The only problem is there is no effort being made even by the so called free media and the NGOs. If media actually plays a role in bringing awareness to this issue probably govt will have to take some steps. The first one should be raising the level of respect we give to our teachers and increasing thier pays altleast by 300%. Show the people some path so they can follow.Recommend

  • usman hanif
    Apr 9, 2011 - 10:39AM

    thanks fasi for an enlightening column. I agree to every word of it. yeah,education emergency should b upheld.Recommend

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