Sunday, August 26, 2007

The State of Pakistan’s Children 2006

EXCERPT: An elusive goal
By Irfan Raza

The State of Pakistan’s Children 2006
SPARC (Society for the Protection of the Rights of the Child)
Edited by Fazila Gulrez

Education is the key to development. It opens the mind to the world that exists both inside the human being and outside. It helps people to dream and the ability to realise those dreams. It provides every individual a chance to live his/her life to the fullest. It gives a society the values of tolerance, honesty, integrity and brotherhood. It gives a nation an opportunity to become a power to reckon with. The Quaid’s words clearly state the obvious that ‘without education a nation will not only be left behind but wiped out altogether’.

Owing to the deteriorating standards of education in Pakistan, it has been labelled as ‘home to world’s most illiterates’ in Global Monitoring Report for Education 2007. Education in Pakistan suffers from the worst forms of negligence, indifference and apathy. It serves the government to keep huge chunks of its population illiterate so that strong voices are not raised to challenge its weak governance. Illiteracy of the masses is a useful tool for the weak and corrupt governments to remain in power. According to the figures by UNESCO, almost 50 million of adult population in Pakistan is illiterate, while the drop out rate in primary schools is the highest in the world… again 50 per cent.

The greatest challenge facing Pakistan today is creating an environment where every child goes to school. First Education Census 2006, though a flawed exercise also gives an extremely depressing view of the state of education in Pakistan. The system of education has divided the children in Pakistan between the haves and the have-nots. To bridge the gap, not only is it important to provide education to every child but also it should be free, uniform and quality education that opens up equal opportunities for progress and prosperity for everyone. There is no doubt that only education can liberate children from poverty and deprivation and Pakistan from fundamentalism, intolerance, corruption and terrorism and herald an era of progress, enlightened moderation and justice.

‘Pakistan’s education system is regularly cited as one of the most serious impediments preventing the country from achieving its potential. This United Nations Development Program’s Human Development Report gives Pakistan the lowest education index score for any country outside Africa. According to the International Crisis Group, Pakistan is one of only 12 countries in the world that spends less than 2 per cent of its GDP on education. The adult literacy rate in Pakistan is under 50 per cent, while less than one-third of adult women have a functional reading ability. Even a short list of the problems Pakistan’s education system faces today would include inadequate government investment, a shortage of qualified teachers and poor teacher training, curricula that promotes intolerance and violence, insufficient number and poor quality of textbooks and other teaching materials, fraud and corruption, and weak institutional capacity at both the central and local levels.’

The population of Pakistan makes it the sixth most populous nation and almost half of its total population of over 160 million comprises children less than 18 years of age and women make up almost 50 per cent. An estimated 25 million children are not going to school and approximately 10 million are in child labour. About 20 per cent children go to private English medium schools, whereas the huge chunk almost, three quarters of the remaining child population study in public schools. Consequently the rest of the children, who are not attending either the private or the public schools are in the madrassah. There is no data quoting the exact number of children attending the madaris. But it is no doubt a substantial number.

In addition, Pakistan also suffers from the malady of serious gender imbalance, which is getting worse with the continued burning and arsonist activities being carried out in some of the areas of North West Frontier Province (NWFP). A number of girls’ schools have been bombed, closed down or threatened with dire consequences. In some schools, girls are being forced to wear burqas if they want to continue schooling. The situation has gotten even worse, since the Taliban style extremists threatened the private co-ed schools to either close down or face the consequences.

Shahid Javed Burki, a well known writer and economist, estimates that in Balochistan, only 15 per cent of adult women are literate. Using data from the ministry of education, he notes that while more than 83 per cent of primary school-age boys attend school, the enrolment rate for girls is less than 63 per cent clearly identifying the obvious gender gap. The issue raised by these disparities is not one just of fairness; study after study has shown that gender discrimination retards development and exacts a large toll on both present and future generations.’

The ills that plague education in Pakistan are numerous beginning from the basic flaw of different types of education for children from different economic strata. In addition to a number of problems cited above, education in Pakistan suffers from poor infrastructure i.e. lack of facilities in schools such as clean drinking water, furniture, dilapidated schools, shortage of educational staff and teachers, outdated traditional teaching methods and assessment system, teacher absenteeism and irregularity, no or ineffective teacher trainings, teacher’s low salary package and harsh behaviour, and low level of parent and community involvement and participation in education system. All this act as push factors and drive the children away from the school.

Meanwhile, successive governments continue to pay tokenistic attention to the improvement of education in Pakistan under international pressure. In 1990, Pakistan participated in the Education For All (EFA) Conference in Jomtien, Thailand and committed to the goal of Universal Primary Education (UPE) by the year 2000. The target was not achieved as is obvious in the ten years period. In the EFA Conference, held in Dakar in 2000, Pakistan moved the target and committed to achieve the UPE goals by 2015. Pakistan is lagging behind in achieving all its targets committed in the international conferences, be it Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), or Universal Primary Education (UPE) or Education for All (EFA). This is, despite the fact that a large amount of American and World Bank aid has been flowing in to improve educational and literacy numbers. What is the current situation, as we enter 2007? Pakistan has already consumed 50 per cent of the allocated time as well as funds to achieve 100 per cent UPE by the year 2015. The current education scenario does not appear very promising either, this report will discuss and shed light on the situation as it existed in 2006 and the steps and measures taken by the state to achieve the pledges made in international conferences and more importantly for the well being of children in Pakistan.

Gender disparity in education is a major concern, which has been pointed out in all international donor reports as well underscored by the civil society and human rights activists nationally. Girls lags far behind the boys where fulfilment of their right to education is concerned. Even the government accepts that gender disparity in literacy and enrolment is one of the key concerns. Unfortunately, Pakistan’s overall record in promoting and delivering gender equality has been weak.

The factors that keep girls out of schools are more cultural than religious. Islam does not preach illiteracy or unequal treatment in any aspect of life, for girls. It is the male dominated and patriarchal bent of mind that has lead to the belief that girls should not go to school and educate themselves. This is more a clash of power and control. It is a common belief that if a girl is educated she will write letters to her boyfriend.

The situation has worsened in the NWFP with the fundamentalists taking control and extending their own brand of Islam. There has been string of incidents in the Northern Areas of girls’ schools being vandalised, attacked or closed down under threat of dire consequences. Girl students and teachers have been threatened with acid attacks if orders are disobeyed. In early 2007, leading private schools were targeted not only in the NWFP but even in the capital Islamabad, to either discontinue co-education or face the consequences. The situation is frustrating, especially taking into account that millions of dollars are being spent in food for education program, free education etc. to attract parents to send their girls to schools. If such a situation is allowed to gain ground in Pakistan, it will result in a gaping difference between the number of boys and girls accessing education and also have far reaching impact on literacy rate, and Pakistan’s ability to achieve its MDGs and EFA goals despite pledging internationally to give its children their right to education.

In addition to this very serious problem impeding girls’ education, parents in rural areas are reluctant to send their daughters to schools located far away from their homes for safety reasons and therefore the drop out is quite high in rural areas. Besides, parents also avoid sending their daughters to schools after they reach puberty because they fear for their safety. Another hurdle to increasing gender disparity is lack of facilities in school, especially non-existence of latrines, especially for girls.

In the year 2000, data compiled by UNICEF, UNESCO and the World Bank indicated that only around 40 per cent of Pakistani girls are enrolled in schools for elementary education. The situation is much the same even in 2006 as it has been mentioned above. This is by far the lowest amongst all South Asian nations, with India maintaining a rate of around 76 per cent, Sri Lanka 100 per cent, Maldives 100 per cent Nepal 46 per cent and Bhutan 47 per cent respectively according to data from the same independent sources.

‘If you want to make a plan for one year, cultivate rice. If you want to make a plan for ten years, plant a tree and if you want to make a plan for hundred years, establish a school’, so said Aristotle. Education has emerged as a force and the vehicle for socio-economic development of a country. Investment in education contributes towards the accumulation of human capital resulting into shift to knowledge-based economy.

Education is instrumental in poverty reduction by increasing the productivity of the poor, efficiency of labor, reducing fertility and improving health. This enables people to participate fully in the economic and social development of the country. It also enhances the capacity of nation’s institutions resulting in good governance for planning and implementing national policies.

Pakistan: world’s most illiterate

Pakistan is at serious risk of not attaining the goal of adult literacy by 2015, warns Education for All Global Monitoring Report 2007. The theme of this year’s report is Literacy for Life. Pakistan having over five million illiterates is one of the countries where global illiteracy is concentrated.

According to the report, the Gender Parity Index (GPI) of Pakistan is one of the world’s lowest GPI (0.73); India and Nepal have made much progress since 1998 and nearly reached gender parity in 2002 (India’s GPI increased from 0.84 to 0.96 and Nepal’s from 0.78 to 0.92); Bangladesh, the Islamic Republic of Iran, the Maldives and Sri Lanka had already reached parity by 1998.

The UNESCO data shows that the number of illiterates is increasing in Pakistan. According to the census reports 18.64 million people were illiterate in 1951. In 1961, the number increased to 22.08 million, in 1972 it was 33.59 million, in 1981 it was 42.69 and in 1998 it increased to 50.38 million.

Likewise, the percentage of GDP spending on education continued to decline. It was 2.62 percent in 1996-97, 2.34 percent in 1997-98, 2.40 percent in 1998-99. 1.7 percent in 1999-00, 1.6 percent in 2000-01, 1.9 percent in 2001-02, 1.7 percent in 2002-03. 2.1 percent in 2003-04, 2.2 percent in 2004-05 and 2.1 percent in 2005-06; the UNESCO figures said quoting the census of Pakistan.

Pakistan is one of those countries where distance to school is a greater deterrent to schooling for girls than for boys. Economic crises affect education systems. Pakistan along with India and Bangladesh also has the notoriety of being one of the 19 countries that have more than one million out-of-primary schoolchildren.

The report said that literacy was a right denied to over 50 million people in Pakistan and had been neglected in the policy agenda of the country. The report proposed a three-pronged strategy to enhance literacy that included universal quality basic education for girls and boys, scaling up youth and adult literacy programs and development of environments conducive to the meaningful use of literacy.

Source: SPARC Newsletter issue No 48, September 2006

Why children do not go to school

• Parents indifference: it is a common practice that parents do not accord adequate importance to education and take little or no interest in visiting schools to learn how the child is doing, ensuring that homework is done, or even going to school regularly.

• Poor economic status of parents: poverty, adult unemployment, big family is among the major factors that keep children out of school.

• Location of schools: in many areas (both urban and rural) of Pakistan schools are located very far from homes and particularly girls are not allowed to attend.

• Boring education: unfortunately for children the syllabus as well as the teaching techniques used in public schools is obsolete and rote-oriented. It does not encourage children to ask questions and give opinions and views. In addition, extra-curricular activities are non-existent.

• Poor quality teaching staff: Incompetent and unqualified teachers, low pay scales, poor working environment, over populated classrooms, corporal punishment push children out of school.

• Working in fields, houses for money: In rural areas it is quite common for parents to make their children work in the fields or in the homes, instead of sending them to schools. Children pick cotton, potatoes, tomatoes, and other seasonal vegetables. In urban areas a large number of little girls accompany the mothers who work in the homes as domestic help. The child does not go to school, but at a young age is ready to work as domestic help.

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