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Pakistan was described as “among the world’s worst performing countries in education,” at the 2015 Oslo Summit on Education and Development. The new government, elected in July 2018, stated in their manifesto that nearly 22.5 million children are out of school. Girls are particularly affected. 32% of primary school age girls are out of school in Pakistan, compared to 21% of boys.
By grade six, 59% of girls are out of school, versus 49% of boys. Only 13% of girls are still in school by ninth grade. Both boys and girls are missing out on education in unacceptable numbers, but girls are worst affected.
It is universally accepted that unless people at large are liberated through education, there is little hope of any social or economic breakthrough. A number of policy measures have been taken by the Government of Pakistan to redress the problem of illiteracy, particularly of girls, but the situation is alarming in most part of the country. Family pressures, socio-cultural obstacles coupled with a defunct schooling system restrict access even to basic education.
Political instability, disproportionate influence on governance by security forces, repression of civil society and the media, violent insurgency, and escalating ethnic and religious tensions all poison Pakistan’s current social landscape. These forces distract from the government’s obligation to deliver essential services like education—and girls lose out the most.
In addition to these factors within the education system, girls are also blocked from attending school by external factors including child labor, gender discrimination, child marriage, sexual harassment, insecurity, and attacks on education.
The Pakistan government has consistently invested far less in education than is recommended by international standards. As of 2017, Pakistan was spending less than 2.8% of its gross domestic product on education – far below the recommended 4 to 6%– leaving the government’s education system severely under-funded.
Government schools are in such short supply that even in Pakistan’s major cities, many children cannot reach a school on foot safely in a reasonable amount of time. The situation is far worse in rural areas. And there are many more schools for boys than for girls.
There are high numbers of out-of-school children, and significant gender disparities in education, across the entire country, but some areas are much worse than others.
Nationwide statistics indicate that the most marginalized group is the poor rural girl of illiterate parents. Traditionally women are not active in work involving financial transactions and usually men negotiate all outside business.
In various parts of rural Pakistan, there is resistance to women visibly undertaking remunerative work. Though women contribute towards economic activities as working in agricultural fields, taking care of livestock and farming but this is nowhere reflected in the national statistics.
In Balochistan, the province with the lowest percentage of educated women, as of 2014-15, 81% of women had not completed primary school, compared to 52% of men. Seventy-five percent of women had never attended school at all, compared to 40% of men.
According to this data, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa had higher rates of education but similarly huge gender disparities. Sindh and Punjab had higher rates of education and somewhat lower gender disparities, but the gender disparities were still 14 to 21%.
Gender disparity in education is also more pronounced amongst girls living in poverty. Thus, these girls are in double jeopardy, affected by both gender discrimination and poverty. Man’s principal role as “earner” for the family makes parents to invest more on son’s education then daughters. Boys are also expected to take care of their parents once they are old.
Education is regarded as means to improve earning prospects and thereby the ability of the male members of the family to take care of more dependents.
Across all provinces’ generation after generation of children, especially girls, are locked out of education—and into poverty. In interviews for this report, girls talked again and again about their desire for education, their wish to “be someone,” and how these dreams had been crushed by being unable to study.
Lack of access to education for girls is part of a broader landscape of gender inequality in Pakistan. The country has one of Asia’s highest rates of maternal mortality. Violence against women and girls—including rape, so-called “honor” killings and violence, acid attacks, domestic violence, forced marriage and child marriage—is a serious problem, and government responses are inadequate.
Pakistani activists estimate that there are about 1,000 honor killings every year. Twenty-one percent of females marry as children.
Pakistan’s education system has changed significantly in recent years, responding to an abdication by the government of responsibility to provide, through government schools, an adequate standard of education, compulsory and free of charge, to all children.
There has been an explosion of new private schools, largely unregulated, of wildly varying quality. A lack of access to government schools for many poor people has created a booming market for low-cost private schools, which in many areas are the only form of education available to poor families.
While attempting to fill a critical gap, these schools may be compromised by poorly qualified and badly paid teachers, idiosyncratic curricula, and a lack of government quality assurance and oversight.
Secondly, there has been a massive increase in the provision of religious education, ranging from formal madrasas to informal arrangements where children study the Quran in the house of a neighbor.
Religious schools are often the only type of education available to poor families. They are not, however, an adequate replacement, as they generally do not teach non-religious subjects.
Pakistan’s highly decentralized structure of government means that many decisions regarding education policy are made at the subnational level.
The result is a separate planning process in every province, on a different timeline, with varying approaches, levels of effectiveness and commitment to improving access to education for girls. This leads to major differences from one province to the next, including on such basic issues as whether children are charged fees to attend government schools, and how much teachers are paid.
In every province, however, there is a serious gender disparity, a high percentage of both boys and girls who are out of school, and clear flaws in the government’s approach to education.
Social benefits associated with education for women though intangible but certainly increase the economic, social and political opportunities available to them. Education empowers women to take control of their lives. It provides them with greater opportunity and choices to improve the life of also their families. Educated mind is the key to overcome prejudiced customs that neglect need of girls and women and leads to their improved status in society. Educating women is giving them their basic human right.
Newly-elected Prime Minister Imran Khan’s political party’s manifesto promises major reforms to the education system, including for girls’ education. “We will prioritize establishment and upgradation of girls’ schools and provide stipends to girls and women for continuing their education,” the manifesto says. It pledges to “put in place the most ambitious education agenda in Pakistan’s history, spanning reform of primary, secondary, tertiary, vocational, and special education.”
“The government recognizes that education reform is desperately needed and promises to make this a priority, especially for girls – a positive step,” Gerntholtz (researcher) said. “We hope that our findings will help the government to diagnose the problems and identify solutions that will give every Pakistani girl a bright future.”