Pakistan’s education emergency

Published: April 18, 2011
The writer is a member of the National Assembly and media adviser to the president of Pakistan

The writer is a member of the National Assembly and media adviser to the president of Pakistan

Pakistan faces an education emergency — a fact known widely but discussed insufficiently by Pakistan’s political and media elite. The inadequacy of quality education renders our country incapable of dealing with the challenges of the 21st century. Redressing weaknesses of our education sector are a prerequisite for building a progressive, tolerant, enlightened and non-violent society. We can begin by talking candidly about the magnitude of the problem.

The Pakistan Education Task Force’s report, Education Emergency Pakistan 2011, highlights the crisis. This year has been declared education year in the country. But national awareness about the depth of the crisis remains low. Our discourse is focused more on issues of power politics and real, or perceived, flaws of those in public life, than on the disaster that is looming on account of our poverty in education. Those who raise their voice over even the slightest imagined threat to national honour, fail to recognise that having the second largest number of children out of school in the world (next to Afghanistan), probably brings greater dishonour to the country than any other issue.

So let us recall the basic facts: One of every 10 children not in school in the world lives in Pakistan. The country is far from meeting the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) of providing universal education by 2015. Only 23 per cent of our children under the age of 16 attend secondary school and almost one-third of Pakistanis live in extreme educational poverty — having received less than two years of education. It is also distressing that 50 per cent of school children (aged 6-16 years) in Pakistan can neither read nor write. Appointing low qualified teachers at the primary level is among the main reasons for falling standards of education that renders this age group illiterate.

In a recent briefing, President Zardari was informed that out of 11 million school age children in Sindh, only 6.4 million are enrolled — leaving over 4.5 million children out of schools. Twenty per cent of schools have no building at all, 45 per cent encompass only one or two rooms and over 60 per cent schools have just one or two teachers. Sixty per cent of schools in the province of Sindh have no access to safe drinking water.

The 18th Amendment to the Constitution of Pakistan, which received presidential assent on April 19, 2010, states, “The state shall provide free and compulsory education to all children of the age of five to 16 years in such a manner as may be determined by law.” Along with the rest of the world, Pakistan is also pledged to meeting the MDG for education, promising that, by 2015, “children everywhere, boys and girls alike, will be able to complete a full course of primary schooling and that girls and boys will have equal access to all levels of education.” But neither our constitutional obligation nor the MDG objective is within sight of fulfilment.

A swift decrease in dropout rate and boost in enrolment rate is possible through provision of a monthly stipend for students from poor families, along with free books and uniforms. But this would require allocating more money for education in the federal and provincial budgets, possible only if education is accorded the priority it deserves. Once education receives the necessary investment, forcing children to drop out from school could be declared a criminal act and legal action should be taken against those parents who urge their child to work at the expense of attending school.

Education must be made a national priority no less important than national defence. Unfortunately, while most Pakistanis can proudly recount measures taken to protect national security, few know the state of education in Pakistan.

Published in The Express Tribune, April 19th,  2011.

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Reader Comments (17)

  • Farhan kazmi
    Apr 18, 2011 - 11:31PM

    I just hope that our politician and people in power “DO MORE” that just lip service in this sector
    or “Celebration”Recommend

  • Silent Spectator
    Apr 18, 2011 - 11:51PM

    Ms. Ispahani, with due respect, your party has been in power for nearly 3 years and has done nothing to alleviate this problem. If things are so grave as you point out, how come no concrete steps were taken by the Government earlier to rectify the situation? Please don’t say HEC dissolution is the only answer to all educational problems.
    Rather than reiterating these ‘facts and figures’ to further your political cause, you and your party should be ashamed for doing nothing to solve this ‘educational emergency’. The only initiative I have seen from this government in regards to education has been it’s attempt could to protect the fake degree politicians and friends alike.Recommend

  • Apr 19, 2011 - 1:05AM

    as mortenson fiasco shows, it is not all about brick and mortars – where are the able teachers? Recommend

  • John
    Apr 19, 2011 - 6:11AM

    Instead of increasing the defense spending to 18% in this year’s annual budget, a 2-3% diversion from defense to education would have been more prudent.

    Does Pakistan have enough human resources to meet her industrial challenges when her economy grows, say in 10 years?

    Danish, Brits, and US alone can not bea the burden of educating Pakistan youth.

    Understand the problems are complex, and varies between gender and between provinces. Yet, literacy is vital to the nation as food is to an individual.

    Ghana, Tanzania, Kenya, Bangladesh are doing it. Why Pakistan can not do it.

    Education may appear as an immediate non revenue sector, but if it is not fixed early on it will require lot of fiscal resources to revamp it, and tragically local human resources (teachers and staff) to revamp the education will be in short supply.

    All those come here to read this column, buy books to your servants’ children, and teach them one hour a week, at least. Recommend

  • Fool and Rule
    Apr 19, 2011 - 8:38AM

    A vital ingredient is missing from your delivery . . . sincerity of intention. But then that is par for the course for the likes of you and your lot.Recommend

  • Chilli
    Apr 19, 2011 - 10:41AM

    PPP has a gallant record of destroying nation’s education sector by nationalizing educational institutes resulting in total collapse of education in Pakistan. With their intentions to kill HEC no one can trust PPP with bad track record.Recommend

  • Raza
    Apr 19, 2011 - 10:45AM

    Ms Ispahani…It is just an insult to the injury to have an article on this subject come out from the Zardari party formerly known as People’s Party. Do you really think that somebody like Zardari cares how many children are enrolled in school ? I mean really are you serious ???? Its just pure insult..Because I know you know better…Recommend

  • Rana Amjad
    Apr 19, 2011 - 1:13PM

    Test Fire More Missiles! Open More Madrassas Financed by Saudi Arabia. Promote Wahibism & all our problems will melt away. Recommend

  • Ravi
    Apr 19, 2011 - 2:29PM

    @Rana Amjad:
    all our problems will melt away.
    with pakistanRecommend

  • Sverige
    Apr 19, 2011 - 3:38PM

    One can think of different levels of education. One that starts from kid’s parents and its very first surrounding. Relatives and friends play important role. What if the surroundings of a child get this awareness and push him/her to enter into the educational system.

    The factor could create a harmful effect for a child when he will be grown up in a company where everyone is talking bla bla about politics. I think person’s company teaches him a lot and gives him motivation to search the literature about his topics of interest. Internet could play important role.
    Child movies complement both, kid’s interest and his potential to learn new things. Recommend

  • Ali
    Apr 19, 2011 - 5:52PM

    The PPP dominated parlianment spends 3 billion ruppes on lodges for the NA members, is looking to spend 1 billion on bullet proof cars.
    How much money is spent on foreign trips by the cabinet? The list goes on.

    If you are so concerned about education, make this speech in parliament.
    Get every member of parliament to stand up and tell us the literacy rates in their region. Do the PPP have any shame, when the literacy rates in some parts of Sindh are so dismal yet they have been in power for 3 years and have not been able to do anything about it? The likes of Shah Mahmood Qureshi from Multan is from a famously learned family, yet he seems not even to care when southern Punjab fares so badly in terms of education.

    Fro once can the parliament come together and do something practical.
    All they ever do is pass motions condeming this or that, making amendments to the constitution that they do not even follow and have no practical effect. Recommend

  • Ali
    Apr 19, 2011 - 7:50PM

    More money must be ploughed into education, corruption eliminated.
    More money can come from forceing everyone, including large land owners, industrial rich to pay taxes. The money raised should be ring fenced for education.
    Our NA members not only lie about their qualifications, they also lie about their earnings, wealth. (Assuming it’s not in Dubai, America!!!!)
    So encouraging all NA members to pay their tax returns is a good start.

    Secondly, publish every bit of government spending. This way ghost schools/teachers will be eliminated because the general public will be able to crack down on fraud/corruption.
    Hand over spare land to trusts for schools. That way schools will be self sufficient in terms of earnings.Recommend

  • parvez
    Apr 19, 2011 - 7:57PM

    You could not have said it better. The author should be ashamed.Recommend

  • ba ha
    Apr 20, 2011 - 11:33AM

    Pakistanis can never change because they were raised to believe in” Ali Baba”. It starts very early in their life. Children perhaps as young as 4 years old, in both “well-to-do” and “poor” families alike are handed over to “Ali Baba No. 1” – the Home/madressa Qari Sahib. They start by destroying the mind. Human history and the collective learning experience of mankind are “trashed” as work of infidels and anti-Islamic elements. Then, a systematic building of a myth starts. “Ali Baba No. 2” starts the reinforcement process. A misinformed uneducated mother will teach her children that whatever the Ali Baba No 1 is saying is the divine truth direct from God. This brainwashing goes on next stage as Ali baba No 3 – the School Qari starts the foreign language basics. The poor kid has to make noises like an Arab but is not allowed to understand any of it and more important why? The child is told that he is just too young as more reinforcement to seal his learning abilities continues. Ali baba No 4- the Qari in the Minarets is by far the most deadly. His job is to shut down all human activity, including cerebral activity for 20 minutes, five times a day. By now the child is a teenager and “reverence” and “servitude” is taught through coercion and terror. The AliBaba No. 5 (Qaris of the media) assists to keep this atmosphere intact for the rest of their natural lives. I have worked in 8 different countries of the world and everyone has a derogatory name for us. Lately, I worked with the XXXXXXXX and they have the best name for us. They call us Ali-Babas. We are “Ali Baba and the 40 thieves”, alive, reincarnated and happly ignorant. We live in Pakistan but our thieves live in Islamabad. So to all those parents who are concerned that their child a rebellious and doing badly in school there is good news. Your child is the only hope this God-forsaken country has. If your child is trying to get out of Pakistan, help him. He has survived the “Qari bug” and this wonderful skepticism about everything is his guarantee of success in the world beyond the Qari. -Way to Go Son! Recommend

  • Mawali
    Apr 20, 2011 - 7:13PM

    The return of the living dead! Lady you are preaching to the choir? You ought to be talking and “advising to the individual you are adviser to; el presidente on the wonders of education! What gives?

    I sit and wait with bated breath!Recommend

  • Fahad Raza
    Apr 20, 2011 - 7:30PM

    Respected MNA. Please do one thing at a time. Now since the government is so concerned to “REVAMP” the education sector, why is it you guys are just trying to legitimize the fake degrees of government official and the organisation you mentioned in your article “Pakistan education task force”‘s web link as mentioned below
    States its policy as
    The task force will not:
    Provide additional funds
    Interfere in or duplicate existing donor-government arrangements
    Establish parallel or alternative structures and process
    Dictate recommendations

    I think as rightly feared by the comment of Farhan kazmi
    just “celebrate” the Education yearRecommend

  • Apr 21, 2011 - 6:11AM

    As Farahnaz Ispahani talks about the importance of education, she must also acknowledge that the govt she represents is part of the problem. Her boss Zardari’s govt has cut education spending from 2.5 percent of gdp in 2007 to 1.5% of gdp today. What is even more shocking is the fact that the govt subsidies to the state-owned enterprises like the PIA, headed by incompetent and corrupt cronies of the PPP politicians, are now larger than the entire education budget in Pakistan. This is a very sad story of priorities gone horribly awry.

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