Dis­mal num­bers

The Pak Banker - - Front Page - Bina Shah

IN my pre­vi­ous ar­ti­cle (‘On build­ing char­ac­ter’, Oct 1, 2012) on these pages, I men­tioned that I was in­volved with an ed­u­ca­tion project in Sindh that tar­gets pri­mary school-age chil­dren who are cur­rently out of school.

Our project, Ed­u­ca­tion for Sindh, aims to bring these chil­dren into the class­room us­ing a com­bi­na­tion of grants to in­ter­me­di­ary schools and a voucher pro­gramme for the most dis­ad­van­taged of fam­i­lies in se­lected dis­tricts of ur­ban Karachi and ru­ral Sindh.

Some sober­ing facts need to be men­tioned here: cur­rently, seven mil­lion chil­dren in Pak­istan are not in school, in­clud­ing 2.3 mil­lion be­tween the ages of five to nine. Of the to­tal, 2.5 mil­lion are in Karachi alone. The num­bers for all of Sindh are equally dis­mal: our pri­mary schools have only a 53 per cent en­rol­ment rate, and only half these chil­dren com­plete their pri­mary school ed­u­ca­tion, ac­cord­ing to the British gov­ern­ment’s Depart­ment for In­ter­na­tional De­vel­op­ment.

Not only are these num­bers dis­mal in and of them­selves, but they sig­nal dis­as­ter for the fu­ture of Sindh’s econ­omy, sta­bil­ity and se­cu­rity, be­cause the lack of an ed­u­cated work­force means higher un­em­ploy­ment, less so­cial co­he­sion, and more and more young peo­ple drawn to­wards ex­trem­ism as the an­swer to their woes.

If this sit­u­a­tion isn’t bad enough, imag­ine how much worse the num­bers look for Sindh’s (and Pak­istan’s) girls. Only 40 per cent of the coun­try’s girls un­der the age of 15 are lit­er­ate, ac­cord­ing to the United Nations. Only 50 per cent of them are en­rolled in school. These girls who strug­gle to get an ed­u­ca­tion face a myr­iad of chal­lenges: so­cial op­po­si­tion, phys­i­cal ob­sta­cles, a lack of fa­cil­i­ties (in­clud­ing no toi- lets), and as so sharply il­lus­trated by the shoot­ing of Malala Yousufzai, the wrath of mil­i­tant ex­trem­ists who do not be­lieve in girls’ ed­u­ca­tion.

A lot of at­ten­tion has been given over the years to the par­tic­u­lar risks for girls in the tribal ar­eas of north­ern Pak­istan, but even in the vil­lages of Sindh, con­ser­va­tive at­ti­tudes and tra­di­tions as con­strict­ing as the ones en­coun­tered by their coun­ter­parts in the north dis­cour­age count­less Sindhi girls from pur­su­ing an ed­u­ca­tion.

Gov­ern­ment mis­man­age­ment of both pol­icy and funds has de­prived Sindh’s girls of ed­u­ca­tion by not en­sur­ing that they have ac­cess to schools near their com­mu­ni­ties or that there are enough fe­male teach­ers to teach them. Poverty re­mains the main rea­son, how­ever, that Sindhi girls drop out of school at early ages, and the lives that they lead with­out ed­u­ca­tion are not lives that any­one could envy.

It seems amaz­ing that we have to keep go­ing over the rea­sons, in this mod­ern time, why girls’ ed­u­ca­tion is vi­tal. But there are still peo­ple in Pak­istan who aren’t con­vinced that it is. A sim­ple ques­tion needs to be posed to them: does it make sense to only ed­u­cate half the na­tion?

Our coun­try suf­fers from huge dis­par­i­ties on ev­ery level: so­cioe­co­nomic, in­ter- and in­tra-pro­vin­cial and eth­nic. But gen­der dis­par­ity is the one that de­stroys a na­tion quicker than any of the oth­ers.

Deny­ing girls an ed­u­ca­tion cre­ates a slave class where these girls grow up into women who are to­tally de­pen­dent on men for not just their eco­nomic sur­vival, but for their ac­cess to all lev­els of func­tion­ing so­ci­ety.

Il­lit­er­ate women don’t know how to read, they don’t know how to vote, they don’t know how to ed­u­cate their chil­dren. But they also don’t know how to ob­tain an ID card, a pass­port, any other of­fi­cial docu- men­ta­tion that proves they ex­ist. They have no sense of their own value and worth as cit­i­zens, or as hu­man be­ings. By keep­ing girls il­lit­er­ate, or barely lit­er­ate, you might as well keep them in prison.

On the other hand, a so­ci­ety where girls are ed­u­cated will see sky­rock­et­ing lev­els of eco­nomic growth and de­vel­op­ment, which trans­lates into a more ad­vanced so­ci­ety and na­tion. Ac­cord­ing to the World Bank’s stud­ies on the im­por­tance of girls’ ed­u­ca­tion, coun­tries where girls are highly ed­u­cated gain gen­der equal­ity — which re­sults in a more ed­u­cated work­force, an ef­fi­cient al­lo­ca­tion of labour, greater pro­duc­tiv­ity, and higher lev­els of eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment.

For Pak­istan, it makes huge eco­nomic sense to make ed­u­cat­ing our girls a high pri­or­ity. We have to think of girls’ ed­u­ca­tion not as a right, or a priv­i­lege (though it is both, and so much more), but as a sound eco­nomic in­vest­ment in the fu­ture of the coun­try.

Go­ing back to the project, we have de­ter­mined that girls’ ed­u­ca­tion is a pri­or­ity; to this end, we’ve set some stan­dards to pro­mote it. In the voucher sys­tem, we will in­sist that any fam­ily who wants to par­tic­i­pate must in­clude a daugh­ter in the scheme, as well as their sons.

In the part of the pro­gramme where we will sup­port a school, we will in­sist that they build proper toi­let fa­cil­i­ties for girls as well as their teach­ers, who will most likely be women. We will also in­sist on ad­e­quate se­cu­rity and safety for the girls once they are on the school premises. These may seem like small ad­just­ments, but they are prac­ti­cal steps to en­cour­ag­ing girls onto the path of ed­u­ca­tion. And in a coun­try like Pak­istan, where we’re run­ning on neg­a­tive time, ev­ery small step on the path is in fact a gi­ant leap for wo­mankind.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Pakistan

© PressReader. All rights reserved.