What Pakistan needs to do to get all children into school

Education is an important aspect of socio-economic development for any country in the world. An educated society has more chances of development. Unfortunately in Pakistan, this fact is largely ignored and little or less attention is paid on improving this situation.

Pakistan is the sixth most populated country in the world and is counted amongst the least literate nations in the world, where almost 5.5 million children are out of school and only one in four is able to make it to the 10th standard.

Pakistan is ranked 180th in the list of literate nations by UNESCO. Countries in Africa such as Ghana and Mali are even better placed compared to Pakistan.

Education is considered a root cause of other major problems in society like street crime, poverty, unemployment and even terrorism. It is evident from the fact that Pakistan is a country which has high rates of poverty, unemployment and terrorism.

The major problem facing the education sector in Pakistan is the widening gap between the public and private schools. The quality of education received at private schools is far greater to that received in public schools – however there is only a tiny minority who can afford private education.

I have often heard people complaining that there are very few government-run schools in the country. The problem is not the quantity of schools but the quality of education being received by the students there. The infrastructure of public schools in terrible and often students don’t have a chair to sit or a desk to write on.

Mostly teachers are absent or running their own tuition centres or doing other jobs. Many schools have become ghost schools. They are present on the rosters of the government but are providing no services to students. The teachers and headmasters continue to receive salaries from the taxpayers’ hard-earned money. There isa  high level of corruption and bureaucracy which is damaging the education sector.

Girl students at a school in Pakistan

I have seen many public schools, especially in the rural areas, where the occupancy rate is less than 25%. Parents are reluctant to send their children to schools because of several reasons:

  • Inferior quality of education at public schools
  • Lack of sanitation facilities for girls
  • Terrorism
  • Some people consider education un-Islamic
  • Lack of awareness (don’t see merits of education)
  • Children are source of income (child labour)

The most common reason is that parents think that their children could be better utilised working in their farms or elsewhere earning bread and butter for their families. Extreme poverty is becoming a hindrance in education.

There are 19 million children who are not able to afford education, out of which 10.5 million children are forced to work as child labourers. This is where charity schools run by organisations like Zindagi Trust and The Citizens Foundation are playing a crucial role and are a ray of hope in the difficult times.

A few years back when I was in Pakistan, I got the opportunity to volunteer for Zindagi Trust. It is a non-profit organisation run by a celebrity pop singer in Pakistan, Shehzad Roy. The Zindagi Trust schools have an innovative “Paid to Learn” program where they give children money to learn. Everyday students are assigned homework; those students who do the homework and are present in class are paid money. This way they are earning for their family as well as learning at the same time.

The government, under the article 25-A of the Constitution of Pakistan, is obligated to provide free and compulsory quality education to children between the ages of five and 16. However, we don’t see this happening.

In the other countries, education is considered a basic right while in Pakistan it is still considered a privilege. This problem can only be solved if the government pays full attention to this important issue and tries to eliminate the corruption and bureaucracy existing in the education system.

Civil society, particularly the elite class, also has to step up and help in overcoming this huge problem. Pakistan is in dire need of more organisations like Zindagi Trust and The Citizens Foundation.

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