Education Crisis | Editorial

Human Rights Watch (HRW) has released a report on the state of education in Pakistan; with particular focus on gender disparities. And it paints a grim picture.
‘Shall I feed my daughter or educate her’: Barriers to girls’ education in Pakistan outlines the education crisis that continues to confront the country. In real terms, this translates into a total of almost 22.5 million children out of school. A breakdown along gender lines finds that some 32 percent of primary school age girls are not in the classroom; as compared to 21 percent of boys. By the time that secondary school comes knocking (grade six): 59 percent of girls will have fallen by the wayside as compared to 49 percent of boys.
HRW makes two things clear. Firstly, that the right to education is a fundamental one in accordance with the Constitution. Secondly, the overwhelming absence of the girl child from the school system is evidence of a fragile national security climate. After all, Balochistan is home to the worst indicators on this front with a whopping 81 percent of women having failed to complete primary school; the figure for men is 52 percent. In addition, 75 percent of women had never set foot inside a classroom as compared to 40 percent of men. Meaning that as the Imran Khan government talks of CPEC bringing development and prosperity to the province it cannot afford to lose sight of the fact that here in Pakistan poverty is overwhelmingly gendered in nature. Therefore the priority must be to get as many girls into school as possible on an urgent basis; while also refusing to let adult women continue to languish below the education safety net. For a literate work force is one that is better able to contribute to the economic uplift of individual families as well as entire communities.
But the clock is ticking. The next five years will be critical. Not only because the PTI focused on education in its election campaign. But, rather, due to the fact that the democratic experiment hinges on the realisation of constitutional rights for all; including that of education. Therefore, aside from the need to build more schools while taking so-called ghost schools off the books — focus must also rest on enforcement. Meaning that those who employ (girl) child labour must face aggressive punitive measures. Especially when it comes to rich households hiring daughters of the poor. For all too often this is articulated as benevolent paternalism; the underlying implication being that by having the girl child do domestic chores wealthy families contribute to her family’s income; or are perhaps saving her from child marriage. Regardless of intentions, true or false, the reality remains that the rights of the child are being violated. Thus federal and provincial governments must take seriously the country’s domestic and international obligations in this regard.
And now that the Prime Minister’s begging bowl runneth over — he must put that money where his election pledges were and increase investment in education above and beyond the limits set by previous governments. For failure in this regard will betray yet another generation of Pakistan’s children. *
Published in Daily Times, November 15th 2018.

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