It is bad enough that nearly half of this country’s children—25 million boys and girls between the ages of 5 and 16—are out of school. What is worse is that at least 3 million Pakistani children below the age of 14 are labourers, many of whom are trapped in the system of debt slavery.
The province of Sindh lags far behind the rest of the country on many key education indicators including enrolment, literacy and learning outcomes. There are many reasons for the abysmal state of education in the province and many myths surrounding the issue.
I used to think that teaching was just a job,” says Naheed Parween, a kindergarten teacher at the Baba-e-Urdu Maulvi Abdul Haq Boys Elementary School in Karachi. “I would go to work and I felt that as long as I showed up, it was enough. I never felt a responsibility towards the children.” Despite 10 years as a teacher, Parween had failed to recognise the potential in herself and in her students. The Teachers’ Resource Centre (TRC) changed that.
In a country where just 55 per cent of the population can read and write, and even cities like Islamabad and Karachi are nowhere close to achieving universal literacy, one village in southern Punjab has managed to ensure that every man, woman and child is educated.
When citizens are unaware of their rights, it is easy for the state to renege on its responsibilities. This simple idea is the driving force behind the Roshan Pakistan Foundation, which aims to break the cycle of poverty and generational debt endemic in the country’s most remote areas.
There are many reasons why 25 million children in Pakistan are out of school. From difficulties of access and poor learning outcomes to social pressures and extreme poverty, many of the factors that have led to the education emergency require long-term structural reform. But sometimes the answer is as simple as helping communities know their rights and enabling them to hold government officials to account.
In 1986, Mohammad Ayub left his village in Mandi Bahauddin to seek employment in Islamabad. After a few false starts he eventually found a job as a civil defence worker, becoming a fireman. The year 1988 marked the Ojhri Camp disaster in which an ammunitions depot in Rawalpindi exploded, killing more than 1,300 people. As a fireman, Ayub saw the human face of this tragedy and his view of the world was changed forever.
The challenge of providing quality schooling to all of Pakistan’s children is daunting enough, and not a goal that can be achieved overnight. Meanwhile, young men and women who successfully complete their schooling have few options to pursue higher education close to home. Most of the country’s colleges and universities are situated in and around large towns and cities, making access to university difficult for those who live at a distance from the country’s urban centres. One institution hopes to change that, offering world-class higher education on the outskirts of a small town in rural Punjab.
The state of education in Pakistan is in crisis, with 25 million children not in school and most of those who are in school not learning enough. For young people with disabilities, access to quality education is even more difficult. The Ida Rieu Welfare Association aims to address this problem, providing high-quality education and vocational skills training to blind and deaf students.
Thousands of government schools across the country operate without adequate infrastructure or basic facilities and thousands more have been built but lie vacant. The Government Maktab Primary School in Sham Baba, Swat, is different: it has no building and no facilities but a dedicated teacher and more than 100 students.