While individuals and organisations across the country are working hard to educate our children, some organisations want to make sure that the children who are in school are able to make the best of their school careers.
Revitalising an institution that has suffered neglect for more than half a century is no small task. Like many of the country’s oldest institutions, the University Grants Commission (UGC), established in 1947, was in desperate need of an overhaul.
There are 25 million Pakistani children out of school, mostly as a result of poverty and issues of access and opportunity. But some young people are deprived of schooling not because their families are too poor or living in remote areas but simply because the support they require is not available.
Pakistanis care deeply about education. Rich or poor, educated or unlettered, city dweller or resident of a rural area, no Pakistani will tell you education does not matter. And yet, 67 years into our journey as an independent nation, nearly half of our children receive no education and the majority of those who are in school are not learning enough. How can this happen?
When natural disasters strike, millions of ordinary Pakistanis donate time and money to assist with relief efforts. But public interest begins to wane soon thereafter and affected communities often find no long-term support to revive the local economy and rebuild infrastructure. The situation after the devastating floods of 2010 was no different.
While 25 million Pakistani children are not in school, those who are in school are not learning enough. Nearly half of all children who complete five years of schooling cannot read a simple story in Urdu meant for Class 2 students. For the millions of families who struggle to put their children through school, this brings into question the very purpose of education.
Shabina Mustafa is no stranger to adversity. Widowed at the age of 21 and unable to provide for her child on a meagre government pension, she found a job and worked hard to give her child a good start in life. But if that were the end of her story, Mustafa would be no different from the thousands of single mothers who struggle to support their families. What makes Mustafa unique is that despite her personal misfortune she did not lose the desire to help those less fortunate than herself.
The challenge of achieving universal enrolment is daunting enough for a country with nearly half its children out of school. Meanwhile questions of quality need to be addressed urgently so that children who are in school can make the most of their school careers. For teachers, education managers and policy makers alike, the focus is understandably on improving learning outcomes in reading and mathematics. But some want to go further, to create a generation of scientists, innovators and thinkers.
The solution to the national education crisis calls for wide-ranging structural and systemic reform, a process that requires time, commitment and consensus. Meanwhile millions of children receive no schooling and millions more receive an education of poor quality. But there is hope. Instead of waiting for the government to take action, organisations, communities and individuals across the country are finding local-level solutions. And in some cases government officials are part of this movement to bring better schooling to the children of Pakistan.
The idea of building a model district for quality education may seem like a pipedream in a country where 25 million children are not in school. But the district of Hafizabad in the Punjab is well on its way to making this a reality.