Education Emergency in Pakistan [Video]
Corruption. Poverty. Terrorism. Inequality.These are ostensibly the most pressing problems affecting Pakistan today, which can conceivably be alleviated through education. But unfortunately, the country’s beleaguered education system is, in its present state, ill equipped to make profound positive changes to the country and its society.
At a public school in Kasur, a district in the Punjab province, the teacher-student ratio stands at a ridiculous 1:100. Buffalo from neighbouring farms roam and graze on the school grounds, which is also littered with human faeces, syringes and other drug paraphernalia. The school receives little support from the community, and little resources from the provincial governments who are expected to distribute federal and state funds into the education system. This ongoing situation is frustrating both for the teachers, who are passionate about educating their young charges, and the students.
Many problems and issues hamper foreseeable progress in Pakistan’s education system: uneven allocation of resources between schools, rampant absenteeism and lack of accountability within the teaching staff, and the significant income disparity across the population are some of the biggest obstacles to a stable and consistent education system throughout the country.
Pakistan is a nation of about 170 million people, its society deeply fractured on ethnic and linguistic lines, as well as by class and socio-economic status. Literacy rates fluctuate drastically between provinces, often positively corresponding to the affluence of its population; it stands at 87% in the capital territory of Islamabad, but only 20% in the tribal district of Kohlu in Balochistan, Pakistan’s poorest province.
This discrepancy can be attributed to the chasmic income gap between the country’s elite upper class and the general population, epitomized by a tax system that favours those who have the most. A former tax collection official, Riyaz Hussain Naqvi, was quoted by the New York Times as saying, “This is a system of the elite, by the elite and for the elite… It is a skewed system in which the poor man subsidizes the rich man.”[pullquote_right]“This is a system of the elite, by the elite and for the elite… It is a skewed system in which the poor man subsidizes the rich man.”[/pullquote_right]
As of 2009, the average school life expectancy was 8 years for males and 6 years for females. This figure is no doubt reflective mainly of the 100 million or so Pakistanis who do not form the upper or middle classes of society. Another contributing issue here is that many of Pakistan’s rural and tribal areas still subscribe to parochial beliefs about schooling, particularly when it comes to girls. This would make policies instating compulsory education for all—the way Singapore did—difficult to implement and enforce.
However, there are significant long-term benefits and incentives to work hard at changing such outdated mindsets. The United Nations espouses the belief that women, when educated, have the power to alleviate some of the greatest social, environmental and medical problems facing the world today. According to the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), enrolling girls into schools and increasing their school life expectancy will have a “multiplier effect”, in which “educated girls are likely to marry later and have fewer children, who in turn will be more likely to survive and be better nourished and educated.”[pullquote_left]“educated girls are likely to marry later and have fewer children, who in turn will be more likely to survive and be better nourished and educated.”[/pullquote_left]
One need look no further than our very own country to see the benefits of education. Once an economic backwater with a population segregated by race and language, sound education policies such as universal education at the primary level has led to the literacy rate approaching 100% and a robust economy supported by a skilled and productive workforce. The government in Singapore’s early years realised that education was the tool that would pull the country out of the trenches. Now a developed country, Singapore still values the role of education in its continued success, channelling 3.2% of our considerable Gross Domestic Product (GDP) to the education sector.
The situation in Pakistan is not unique; in fact, excepting slight variations, it is the archetype of most developing nations today. A sluggish economy is often unable to provide adequate educational facilities and resources for its people, which in turn causes a lack of skilled and educated citizens to help boost the economy. Without external intervention or drastic policy changes within the country, this vicious cycle will persist indefinitely.