EDUCATION In the late 1940s through to the early 1970s, Pakistan had a reasonably efficient system of education, not very different from other countries of the South Asian subcontinent It was dominated by the public sector; educational departments in the provinces administered schools and colleges, while a small number of public sector universities provided post-graduate instruction A few schools were run by local governments The public sector also had teacher training schools and colleges The main purpose of the system was to prepare students for government service The government, including the military, was the single largest employer in the country There were not many private schools within the system of education for several decades following the birth of Pakistan Those that existed were run mostly by Christian missionaries and Islamic organizations, each producing graduates for two completely different segments of the society The first set of schools catered mostly to the elite They followed their own curricula, taught from textbooks written mostly by foreign authors, and brought in experienced teachers from outside
The students who graduated from these schools usually sat for examinations administered by Cambridge University in England A significant number of graduates from these schools went abroad for higher education Upon return, or after graduating from institutions such as Lahore’s Government College and Forman Christian College, they joined one of the superior civil services or entered the army There were few opportunities for these people outside the public sectorAt the opposite end of the educational spectrum were religious schools, called dini madrassas, that imparted religious instruction Some of the better institutions belonging to this genre were either imports from India or were patterned after the old madrassas in what was now the Indian state of Uttar Pradesh The best known of these was the Darul Uloom at Deoband, which had developed its own curriculum and taught a highly orthodox or fundamentalist interpretation of Islam The private schooling system of that era imparting Western style education, therefore, produced members of what later came to be known as the Pakistani establishment-the military and the civil services The religious schools, on the other hand, produced imams (preachers) for the mosques, teachers for the madrassa system of education, and political workers in the Islamic political parties These two very different systems, with very different ideologies and pedagogic techniques, produced two very different social classes with very different worldviews and views about the way Pakistan should be managed The two groups began to clash in the political and social arena in the charged political atmosphere generated by the United States’ war against terrorism and the elections of 2002 in which the religious parties did surprisingly well
In between these two active social classes is a large inert group, the product of the public educational system The public school system includes all aspects of the system of education It starts with kindergarten and primary schools, includes secondary and higher schools, and has at its apex semi-autonomous but publicly funded universities For several decades the standard of instruction provided by this system was adequate; the system’s graduates were able to provide a workforce for the large public sector and for the rapidly growing private sector of the economy Those graduates of the system who went abroad for further education, either at their own expense or relying on the funds provided by various donor-supported scholarship schemes, did not have much difficulty in getting adjusted to the foreign systems The Pakistani educational system collapsed slowly over several decades, for basically four reasons The first jolt was given in the early 1970s by the government headed by Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto Bhutto decided to nationalize private schools, in particular those run by various Christian missionary orders His motive was simple He was of the view that private schools encouraged elitism in the society, whereas he wanted equality and equal opportunity for allBhutto was also responsible for delivering the second shock to the system-this time the motive was political expediency
His rise to political power was viewed with great apprehension by the religious forces in the country They considered the socialism that Bhutto espoused as “godless” and were determined to prevent him, and the Pakistan People’s Party founded by him, from gaining ground The two sides-Bhutto and the Islamists-chose to use the college and university campuses to fight the battle for the control of the political mind in the country Both sought to mobilize the student body by establishing student organizations that were representative of their different points of view For a number of years campuses of the publicly run institutions became the battleground for gaining political influence at the expense of providing education It was in this battle, waged in educational institutions, that Pakistan witnessed the birth of another organization-the Muhajir Qaumi Mahaz-that was to use violence to spread its word and make its presence felt The third development to transform the system of education from adequate to dysfunctional occurred in the 1980s when a coalition led by the United States and including Pakistan and Saudi Arabia decided to use the seminaries as training grounds for the mujahideen, who were being taught to battle the Soviet Union’s troops occupying Afghanistan This proved to be a potent mix: the United States was able to recruit highly motivated fighters to battle the occupying forces of the Soviet Union in Afghanistan, Pakistan was able to further its influence in Afghanistan, and Saudi Arabia was able to introduce its extremely conservative interpretation of Islam into a large Muslim country that had hitherto subscribed to a relatively liberal, assimilative form of the religionThe fourth unhappy development was the political confusion that prevailed in the country for more than a decade, from the time of the death of President Zia ul-Haq in August 1988 to the return of the military under General Pervez Musharraf in October 1999 In this period, four elected governments and three interim administrations governed the country Preoccupied with prolonging their stay, the elected governments paid little attention to economic development in general and social development in particular
Under the watch of these administrations, public sector education deteriorated significantly The latest information available for Pakistan suggests an adult literacy rate of only 435 percent for the entire population above the age of 15 years The rates for Sri Lanka and India are considerably higher than for Pakistan; 921 percent and 613 percent, respectively. Of the South Asian countries, only Bangladesh has a slightly lower rate, 41.1 percent. Since the level of literacy has a profound impact on the quality of human development, Pakistan ranks 142 in terms of the United Nations Development Program’s Human Development Index. Sri Lanka ranks at 96, India at 127, and Bangladesh at 138.There are noticeable differences in gender literacy and in the level of literacy in different parts of the country. Some 58 percent of the male population qualifies as literate, while the female literacy rate is estimated at only 32 percent. In other words, two-thirds of the country’s women cannot read or write. There is no significant difference in the rates of literacy among different provinces. Sindh, because of Karachi, has the highest rate at 60 percent, while Balochistan at 53 percent has the lowest rate. However, it is among women living in different parts of the country that literacy rates vary a great deal: in Balochistan the rate is as low as 15 percent, while it is 36 percent for Punjab’s women. In the year 2003, the number of children in the primary school age was 22 million, of which 11.5 million were boys and 10.5 million were girls. According to the Ministry of Education in Islamabad, 9.6 million boys were in school, giving an enrollment rate of 83.4 percent. The number of girls attending primary school was estimated at 6.6 million, giving an enrollment rate of nearly 63 percent. There was in other words a gender gap of almost 20 percentage points. The gap between the rates of enrollment for the top 20 percent and bottom 20 percent of the population is two and half times as large in the urban areas as compared to the rural areas. Applying these numbers to overall literacy rates, it appears that while universal primary education has been achieved for the richest one-fifth of the population for both boys and girls, the enrollment rate for the poorest onefifth is only a shade above 45 percent. As is to be expected, the wellto-do families tend to enroll their children in high performing privately managed schools while the poor are forced into the public sector system. According to a recent survey, while only 27 percent of the children from the richest 20 percent of the households were enrolled in government schools, these schools catered to as much as 75 percent of the children from the poorest 20 percent of the families. This means that the rich have been able to bypass the part of the educational sector managed by the government while the poor have no recourse but to send their children to public schools. This process of selection according to income levels is reducing the quality of the student body in government schools.There is a high drop-out rate in the public system, with the rate increasing as one goes higher up in the system. Barely 10 percent of the school age children complete 12 years of schooling; around 25 percent leave after eight years of schooling, and another 15 percent by grade 10. Such a high drop-out level has serious budgetary implications. In 2004, President Musharraf’s government began a program for reforming the educational sector. Javed Ashraf Kazi, a former threestar general of the army, who had also once headed the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), was appointed as minister of education with the mandate to reform the sector that was directly under the control of the government. Kazi was entrusted with the task of reforming religious schools after the London terrorist attacks in July 2005 in which three young men of Pakistani origin were involved who had attended some madrassas in the country.