Pakistan’s Education Crisis

Nadia Bukhari

According to the latest Pakistan Education Statistics Report by AEPAM, Ministry of Education Pakistan, there are 22.84 million children out of school. Unesco´s latest published figures suggest Pakistan has the second highest number of out of school children globally after Nigeria.

It doesn’t get any better in adulthood, as Pakistan also has the highest number of illiterate adults in the world.

These two reports have confirmed and boldly highlighted the fact that Pakistan is currently facing an education crisis.

To top it all off, we have gender inequality issues in education.  Out of the 5.06 million children not going to primary school, 60% are girls.  According to recent country statistics, compared to a girl, a boy in Pakistan has a 15% higher chance of going to primary school.

Unfortunately, the picture at secondary level is even bleaker. Only 612,531 girls are enrolled at higher secondary level with a high dropout rate pre-matric level.

We need to make education a priority in Pakistan.  Education is a basic human right which unfortunately is not being fulfilled. There has been a huge disservice towards the citizens of Pakistan, which has led us to this crisis. This needs immediate attention from the newly elected government in July 2018.

However, all is not lost. NGOs are working tirelessly to, if I may say, ‘put things right’; but this really isn’t just a one organisation task.  The calamity is just too big for one organisation to handle.

Pakistan Alliance for Girls’ Education (PAGE) aims to create a reality of gender equality, one where more women are entering the education system, one where women are earning more qualifications, one where women are participating equally in decision making and one where women are acquiring leadership roles by building more schools, training more teachers, and improving coordination among relevant departments, elected representatives, donors, civil society organizations and communities (including parents).

Girls are particularly challenged in accessing educational opportunities because of the physical, cultural, religious and financial barriers they face. Therefore, we have focused on creating innovative solutions to help the most marginalised and deprived overcome these barriers. We believe that both on-the- ground work to reach out and engage communities and policy-level strategic work are critical to bringing about true change.

PAGE is a strategic organisation working towards creating an enabling environment that ensures gender equity in quality education. PAGE acts as a platform for stakeholders, donors, policymakers and practitioners to come together and address the gender gap in education in Pakistan and to create solutions to overcome the broader challenges the education sector is facing. Being a trustee of PAGE, I have visited some of the schools started up by our organisation in rural Islamabad.

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It was so pleasing to see the girls who are full of hope, dreams and aspirations. In my conversations with some, they were all excited to tell me their career ambitions. One wanted to be a doctor, one a nurse and another a school teacher.

What broke my heart was hearing 11-year-old Farishta’s story.  Her parents, against all odds, allowed her to enrol into one of our schools.  She loves learning and wants to break the poverty cycle. Her dream is to become a pilot and be really successful.  But she spoke to me with grave concern. Her uncle has been trying to poison her father’s mind and wants Farishta to stay home now as she is a girl and she should really be getting married soon. The dreaded “Log kiya kehen gey” was repeated to me by an eleven year old child; only one year older than my own daughter.  I was humbled, grateful and felt heartbroken.

These children are our responsibility, just like our own flesh and blood.  These children are our tomorrow, our future.  We have to strive and advocate to change the status quo.

The people of Pakistan need to remember the wise words of our founder, Mohammed Ali Jinnah, who very rightly said: “There are two powers in the world; one is the sword and the other is the pen. There is a great competition and rivalry between the two. There is a third power stronger than both, that of the women. No nation can rise to the height of glory unless your women are side by side with you”.

We need our women to be educated so that they may educate their families and in turn contribute to educating generations.

I am a pharmacist and naturally have strong foundations in science and am recognised as a ‘woman in STEM’. It was alarming for me to learn that of the Pakistani women who do go on to receive an education, very few receive PhDs compared to men. They are also hugely underrepresented in STEM careers. Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) is important because the world depends on it. The economy — our general well-being — is all supported by science, technology, engineering, and maths.

It is infused in every part of our existence. Science, technology and engineering is everywhere around and is incorporated into every aspect of our lives. Mathematics is in every occupation and merged into every activity we do.

According to the British Council, 100% of girls interviewed for a recent study in Pakistan said that traditional roles and the associated cultural expectations were a reason for not pursuing STEM subjects. Marriage was a large factor, with girls convinced that STEM subjects and higher education might stop them attracting a husband.

In addition to this, STEM-based careers are deemed inappropriate for women in Pakistan as the environment is male dominated.

In today’s changing world, we have to challenge these gender stereotypes and motivate, support, inspire and encourage girls to reach their potential and pursue their career goals.

Solving Pakistan’s education crisis is not a one-organisation job. All organisations with a vision to improve the state of education in Pakistan need to collaborate/partner and work together. This should be a wakeup call for us all- A Call to Action.

Nadia Bukhari, Trustee, Pakistan Alliance for Girls’ Education (PAGE)

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