We are all aware of the statistics. Nearly 22.8 million children out of school in Pakistan. Juxtapose this figure with the fact that 35 per cent of the population of the country is between 0-14 years of age, and the magnitude of the issue smacks you in the face.
No matter how telling, statistics are cold. To many readers, they are no more than another set of numbers, regardless of the emergency these might be drawing attention to. When Alif Ailaan asked me to help shape an online platform with the elections in mind, we were in agreement that while macro-level issues of total spend on education, devolved now to the provinces under the 18th Amendment, and other measures will feature prominently in the manifestos of all the contesting parties, it was equally important to keep the voter and candidate engaged with problems at the constituency level: never lose sight of the human dimension.
Hence, Taleem Do! was born. Here we will strive to bring voices from the ground, of issues specific to a village or a suburb and try to get the constituency candidates to pledge their timed solutions if they get elected. Whether a student, a parent, a teacher or a concerned citizen, make your voices heard and count. We will also get educators, experts and public figures to share their personal experiences of education not just in Pakistan. There are many inspirational stories to be told.
Broken school walls, missing teachers, poor general infrastructure are definitely one side of the story. The other is the shine in the eyes of the students, mostly from small government schools, I was privileged enough to witness at the Faisalabad Science Fair. The confidence with which these students tackled and explained via their experiments and models complex scientific phenomena lifted my spirits as nothing else has in such a long, long time. I watched these incredible scenes through a mist in my own eyes.
Please feel free to share your own experience or to tell a worthwhile real story that you know can inspire the next generation of our students. You are invited, implored, to take ownership of this multimedia platform if you wish to contribute to providing a level playing field, the opportunity of a quality education to all school-age children. Regardless of rich and poor, urban and rural, in the tribal or settled areas.
We aim to give the statistics a face and a name; we aim to give the poor infrastructure a concrete shape whether it is a missing boundary wall or a classroom ceiling plaster that is cracking and falling, we want to meet Rabia and Haniya who go through the whole school day without clean drinking water or a clean toilet. We´d like to hear from Hanif and Mukhtar about how far they have to walk in the 40C plus heat to get to school.
And finally the most important question: once the students brave whatever they do to finally get to school and reach their classroom, what is the quality of the education they get; whether the education they are given equips them to meet the challenges of the world that awaits beyond? How can we ensure that we are not letting down an entire generation by poor quality education? In my over three decades as a journalist, this must be the most worthwhile challenge I think I have taken up. But I also know I can´t make a difference alone. So, please, please pitch in.
Hopefully, over the coming weeks as the countdown to the elections gains momentum and the campaign gathers heat, education will remain at the centre of the voters´ concern. The voter must make their ballot choice conditional to Taleem Do! Tell your candidate NO education, NO vote. This is where our salvation lies.
A short story drawing attention to a huge problem