In a recently published guest post on Haq’s Musings, the author and Teach For India Fellow Rakesh Mani talks about his experience of volunteering with India’s primary and secondary schools during the last six months.
Mani argues that “there has to be something wrong with Indian society for it to allow its children to be among the most deprived and malnourished in the world”.
Mani laments the fact that “young kids are forced to submit to rote learning” and “they lose the critical consciousness they will need to intervene and transform their country in the years to come.”
The author questions the wisdom of focusing exclusively on producing more scientists, doctors and engineers at the expense of focus on primary and secondary education in India, and asks “how can we sustain these specialized programs without building sturdy foundations at school? Or rather, what quality of engineers and scientists must we be producing at these institutes of excellence? Excluding the IITs, what percentage of Indian graduates are able to compete effectively in the global economy?”
This article focuses on the state of India’s children, and raises fundamental questions about society’s values. However, I find Mr. Mani’s thoughts to be equally, if not more, applicable to Pakistan as well.
Under former President Musharraf, Pakistan followed India’s lead by focusing on tertiary education with the higher education budget rising 10-15 fold in a short period of time.
Unfortunately, there was no commensurate increase or focus on primary or secondary education, where the rates of return are known to be higher. As a result of the long neglect, Pakistan’s primary and secondary public education is in shambles with insufficient funds, rampant corruption and ghost schools that exist only on paper with fictitious staff drawing salaries and perks.
Ranked at 141 on a list of 177 countries, Pakistan’s human development ranking remains very low. Particularly alarming is the low primary school enrollment for girls which stands at about 30% in rural areas, where the majority of Pakistanis live. In fact, the South Asia average of primary school enrollment is pulled down by Pakistan, the only country in all of Asia and the Pacific with the lowest primary enrollment rate of 68 per cent in 2005. This is 12 percentage points lower than that of Maldives, which, at 80 per cent, has the second lowest rate in Asia and the Pacific. Low primary enrollment rate and poor health of children in Pakistan raise serious concerns about the future of the nation in terms of the continuing impact of low human development on its economic, social and political well-being.
This lack of focus on access and quality of children’s education has resulted in the proliferation of madrassahs, some of which are highly radicalized, that fill the vacuum by offering a one-stop shop for poor children needing food, clothing, shelter, healthcare and basic education. Parents simply drop their children off at these madrassas, and essentially let these institutions raise their children, and brainwash the children in some cases.
As Pakistan now fights an existential battle against extremely violent radicals, many from the radical madrassas, the nation is now paying a heavy price for years of neglect.
Upon the urging of saner elements in Pakistan, and pressure from the alarmed world, a new education policy has recently been announced that will more than double education spending in Pakistan from about 3% of the GDP to 7%. If it is done correctly, instills proper values, and with transparency, then there can be hope for light at end of the tunnel for Pakistan’s younger generation.
As a volunteer for “Teach For India“, Mr. Mani is inspiring others by personal example. Teach For India is a nationwide movement of outstanding college graduates and young professionals who will commit two-years to teach full-time in under resourced schools and who will become lifelong leaders working from within various sectors toward the pursuit of equity in education.
While there is no Pakistani equivalent of “Teach For India”, there are a number of organizations such Human Development Foundation (HDF), Development in Literacy (DIL), Greg Mortenson’s Central Asia Institute, and The Citizens Foundation which are focusing on improving primary education and promoting literacy in Pakistan.
Here’s a video report about Pakistan’s decrepit public education:
Here is a video about global child slavery: