Educational Opportunities in Pakistan

Access Makes the Difference

Pakistan's educational system is among the least developed in the region. Many schools don't offer running water or even chairs, but one of the most pressing problems is the socio-economic status of teachers. Abdul Hafeez and Peter Koppen report

photo: Markus Kirchgessner
Even officials admit that the literacy rate in Pakistan is "disappointing"

​​Classes start at a state-run school in Terai Payan, just a few kilometres from Peshawar, the capital of the Northwest Frontier Province. The students rush inside and make themselves comfortable – on the floor. There are no benches or chairs to sit on.

The teacher gives an English lesson, students from both class four and five repeat the sentences. Most of them are wearing shabby school uniforms, textbooks are shared by two and three. Ishtiaq Hamid, a teacher at the school, is dissatisfied with the situation.

"We, the teachers, are trying to improve the standard, but the problem is the people who live in the village. The parents don't care about how their children are doing in school, they don't even come here once in a year. So how are we going to improve if there is no feed-back?"

Students enjoy going to school

His students, however, enjoy going to school because life at home for them seems to be harder.

"When I come to school, I feel very happy, and we learn our lessons. Whatever the teacher tells us, we try to apply it in our daily life," says one of Ishtiaq Hamid's students who also instructs his students in things hygiene. "We feel very good when our teacher gives us a lesson, and we stay clean."

Another student explains that he would have to beg the family's neighbours for food, if he stayed at home. "I like going to school in neat and clean uniform, because if I stay at home, my parents give me a bowl to collect rice from our neighbours. So it is better to be in school."

High level of illiteracy

These children have the opportunity to go to school. Many don't. Half of the Pakistani population is illiterate. The main reasons: Lack of awareness and poverty. The consequence: A class-system of education, laments Syed Mazhar Ali Shah, Managing Director of the Frontier Education Foundation in Peshawar.

"There are two classes, at one level those people living below poverty line who can't afford getting their children in good education institutions. The second class is that of moneyed people who can afford to send their children to big institutions. This dichotomy still remains in this country and we have to finish it off, we have to bring it to a par, so that every soul of this country, every child in this country should have the same opportunity of equal quality education. This problem exists right from the creation of this country, every government is trying to reduce this bridge between the two segments of society, but unfortunately, we haven't achieved satisfying results."

The Pakistan government is currently running an education campaign. "We want to read – Education for all. Let's go and make it possible," is the message spread nation-wide.

Hardly any success in promoting education so far

photo: Markus Kirchgessner
In Pakistan, many children have never even been inside a school

​​Previous efforts to improve the educational indicators were without much success. On the United Nations Human Development Index which measures factors like poverty, life expectancy and education, Pakistan still ranks way behind other countries of the region.

In the busy city of Lahore the rush hour never ends. Eight million residents have to face daily pollution. In the midst, a few young guys are struggling to make their living. Most of them never went to school.

"I never thought of education and I just grew older without going to school," says Gulzada, a 17-year-old shoe-polisher. "My parents never did anything for my education."

"There is no need for me to get educated anymore because I'm old enough," tells us Kashif, a sanitary worker who says he's either 15 or 16 years old – he doesn't know his exact birthday.

"I went up to class eight," says 15-year-old Idris. "Now I work in a juice-shop. We are twelve brothers and sisters, but only 3 of them go to school."

The provincial government of Punjab has installed a Literacy and Non-Formal Education Department in 2002 to improve the literacy rate. Abid Safeed is secretary of the department in Lahore and knows much is to do.

Formal school drop-out rate of 50 per cent

"The literacy rate in Pakistan is very disappointing," says Safeed. "Keeping in view the developing countries around us, the literacy rate in a country like us should have been much higher. One reason I may point out is that the population growth is one factor. But there are also economic factors and the drop-out rate from the formal schools. And the drop-out rate is quite alarming – around 50 per cent. Drop-out has various factors: Economic factors, the socio-economic prevailing our country, the societal attitudes and the most alarming thing is that the literacy rate among the females is very discouraging."

Especially in the remote areas schooling is a problem for girls. They are the first to stay at home. "The girls drop out because of the various socio-economic reasons," Abid Safeed goes on to explain.

"One is, they help their mothers at home, help their mothers bring up the children, help the mother in the household affairs, and secondly the conservatism prevailing in some of our far-flung areas leads to such a thing that the girls, when they grow up, they should not be outside their houses, should not go to the schools or it is not safe for them to travel a longer distance. And thirdly, some of these girls even work on the field with their parents."

Educating Pakistan's females

photo: Markus Kirchgessner
Pakistani females play an important part in starting family traditions

​​Hence Shabbir Shah, Chairman of the Viqarun Nisa Girls School in Rawalpindi, wants the society to focus on educating the females in Pakistan.

"Unless you teach the mother, the rest of the family in our culture will remain illiterate. So it must start with the girls who are the future mothers, and once you teach the mother you will find the family as the whole, all her siblings and so, they will become educated, or at least literate.

Poor facilities is another cause for low enrolment rates, says Muhammad Zameer, principal of a small government school near Rawalpindi.

"I am the only teacher here for five classes," says Muhammad Zameer. "There is no electricity, no water, no furniture, the students have to sit on the floor. I have applied for further staff for this school to the ministry of education, but haven't received any reply at all."

The citizens are taking action

The barriers for children having access to schools are multi-facetted. But an increasing number of concerned parents is not willing to wait for government help anymore. They are taking things into their hands to provide quality education for their children.

Communities open free or low-cost schools in areas where there are none or few. In Kot Radha Kishen, a less-developed community one hour's drive from Lahore, this was the birth of a citizen school.

Dr. Noor Ahmed Akhtar, manager of the development trust, explains how the trust works:

"This trust has been formulated for the improvement and the development. So we thought that there is need of education for this area because many families began migrating from this small town to Lahore and the big cities. There was no quality standard education around here. So we thought that there should be a good institution that could cater the quality education at a minimum affordable price to the inhabitants of the area."

A qualified staff, scholarships – and a ride to school

Like Noor Ahmed Akhtar many parents decided to stay after the school was established. Coasters pick and drop students from surrounding villages within the range of 15 kilometres, scholarships are given to students from poor class families, the teachers are highly qualified. A father of two kids in Kot Radha Kishen is happy he stayed.

"I was just planning to shift to Lahore for the studies of my kids when this school opened. I think it is good for us. We now have a nearby school of that standard, a standard that is delivered in Lahore. The other schools are not delivering that education that can change our generation. We have to give our generation a modern education, a progressive education to change our next generation. But the governmental schools and the small traditional private schools in our little towns, they are just delivering the formal education, just formalities that doesn't change our next generation."

So lack of adequate resources often leave parents with no opportunities but to rely on private schooling. In the past 20 years, private institutions have mushroomed in Pakistan, offering foreign curriculum and English instead of Urdu as the medium of instruction.

Their number has increased from about 3,300 in 1983 to over 36,000 some 19 years later. Rainhard Sauer from the German Agency for Technical Cooperation, GTZ, has the reasons for this growth.

Efficiency of private schools

"The private school sector over the past years has developed deeply into the middle class and even the upper section of the lower classes," says Sauer.

"The current estimate is that approximately 25per cent of the overall primary school enrolment is in private schools and this shows that this caters for a growing middle class. The difference between the private schools and the government ones is that there is more discipline. Whereas at the government schools, there are a lot of problems of quality, the teachers may not be in school punctually, they are posted in places where they are not resident, and the small private school entity organises that better."

English as key to economic success

One of the really big private educational institutions in Pakistan is Kinnaird College for Women in Lahore. It's an upper-class college, with English naturally being the medium of instruction. Maha Farooq, a 22-year-old student, is doing her masters in mass communication. She thinks profound English knowledge is essential if one wants to play a role as a global player.

"We should have pride in our national language, it is part of our identity," says Maha Farooq. "But Pakistan is a developing country. Since English is the basic standard in all the world, in order to compete with all the others, we need to learn that (language). After that, once we reached that standard, of course we can emphasise on our own national language. But right now we have to get at equal terms with international standards."

The Virtual University of Pakistan

Knowledge beyond boundaries is the idea of the Virtual University of Pakistan. As the name indicates, this institution delivers education with a modern approach: broadcast television and the internet are the platforms for information and education.

"Welcome to our website. You are watching Lectures 1, Introduction to Computing." Any subject can be studied across the country as well as overseas, explains Dr. Naveed Malik, rector of the newly established university. All students need is a computer, internet access, and the dedication to learn.

"Previously that was the trend – to complete your education and head abroad," explains Naveed Malik.

"But now with the changing world scenario that is getting more and more difficult. In fact, one of the focus areas in our curriculum is to provide an enabling education so that students after graduation not necessarily run out seeking for jobs. Education should enable them to maybe set up an enterprise of their on. So we are teaching them entrepreneur skills. Basically, it is an enabling education, so we hope that our graduates will become job-creators, not job-seekers."

No education for the poor

The Pakistani education system has created a class system: At the heights are private boarding schools, highly expensive and professionally equipped at Western standards. Then there are elite English-medium institutions that prepare pupils for professional colleges and universities. More to the bottom is the Urdu-medium public system, currently creating hordes of Bachelors and Masters who are fit for little but clerkship.

Then there is an increasing number of young Pakistanis coming out of religious seminaries or madressahs, whose knowledge is mostly limited to non-secular education. And for the poor – there is no education at all.

A path Pakistan should not move on, according to Professor Dr. Khalid Alavi from the International Islamic University in Islamabad.

The anger of those left behind

"There is an elite system in Pakistan, in which the educational institutions are catering for the class which is well to do," explains Khalid Alavi. "They have established a private school system. They are beyond the reach of the common man. The public system has comparatively deteriorated. So I believe the public system should be strengthened and if there is a private sector, it should not be decided by the system of wealth but on the basis of intellect and merit. In fact, this elite system is dividing the nation into two groups – the ruling elite and the common man – which is harmful for the solidarity of this country because we are creating permanent division in society. There is anger among the common man that their schools are day by day neglected."

Professor Muhammad Ayyaz, Principal of the Divisional Public School of Rawalpindi, has been in the teaching profession for 36 years. When he took over in 2001, he started restructuring the school, opening two fully equipped computer-labs for boys and girls, installing washrooms and air-conditioners, raising the salary of teachers and awarding scholarships to talented students.

His institution is doing well – the school fees cover all expenses. But he never forgot that his roots lie in a far-flung village where access to schools never was easy.

The responsibility of the government

"Those who can afford it – let them go to public schools. But for the common people, let the government establish schools for them. It should be the responsibility of the government to provide education for each and every child. Those who can afford for other institutions, well, let them go. But let the government provide facilities for the common people."

Mainly in the rural areas, a drop in quality education has to do with low budgetary allocations, meaning teachers are paid low for their work. Thus the frustration rate is high in the teaching profession, says Muhammad Saeed Shahid from the Institute of Education and Research at the Punjab University in Lahore.

"If we want to improve the teaching profession, we have to give more socio-economic status to teachers. It is a tragedy that people with a higher scores and better qualification don't like to join the teaching profession – this is a world-wide problem, not only in Pakistan – because the salaries of the teachers compared to other professions are low. If we want to improve the quality of teachers here, and also teacher education, we have to give more socio-economic status to teachers."

Rubina Zaheer, vice-director of the private City-School chain, agrees. She knows that quality teaching is interlinked with the socio-economic satisfaction of teachers. So whoever wants good teachers has to pay for them – access to quality education in Pakistan is not a bargain.

Peter Koppen/Abdul Hafeez

© Deutsche Welle 2005

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