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Education System Destroying the Future in Pakistan

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By Sanchita Bhattacharya
Research Associate, Institute for Conflict Management

Intolerance and hate are crippling the education system in Pakistan as schools are increasingly targeted by terrorist violence, and corruption and political inconsistency deprive the educational infrastructure of much-needed resources, leaving a new generation with diminishing options to secure their own future.

The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), on April 6, 2012, noted that some 20 million Pakistani children, including an estimated 7.3 million of primary school age, were not in school. At least part of the reason is fear.

In the most recent of such incidents, on May 10, 2013, a government school was blown up in Swabi town (Swabi District) of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP). The school’s watchman was injured in the incident. A day earlier, on May 9, at least four schools were blown up in separate incidents in different parts of Balochistan. A primary school was blown up in Ghot Raisani area of Dhadar in Bolan District. Two other schools were blown up in Jaffarabad District, and one school was blown up in the Chah Sar area of Turbat District. Earlier, on May 5, 2013, a boy's high school had been blown up in the Killi Sahibzada area of the Nushki District of Balochistan.  

Nor are these isolated incidents. Partial data compiled by the Institute for Conflict Management (ICM) suggests that since January 28, 2001, till May 26, 2013, at least 370 schools had been destroyed by militants in Pakistan. These attacks resulted in 27 killings (most of these attacks were aimed at destroying the school building and infrastructure, rather than killing people). In one of the recent attacks resulting in a fatality, one civilian was killed and eight were injured when a grenade was hurled at a school in the Ittehad Town of Karachi, the provincial capital of the Sindh Province, on March 30, 2013.

ICM data, however, grossly underestimates the magnitude of the problem. Indeed, on March 26, 2013, Pakistan’s Intelligence agencies informed the Supreme Court that, since the year 2008, 995 schools and 35 colleges had been destroyed in KP and the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) alone. Unsurprisingly, schools in KP and the neighbouring tribal region of FATA have faced the brunt of terrorist attacks, as the extremists have a virtual free run of these areas.  

On February 21, 2013, then KP Education Minister, Sardar Hussain Babak disclosed that militants had destroyed or damaged more than 3,000 schools in KP. He also claimed that 70 per cent of such schools had been ‘reconstructed’ and ‘remaining work’ was to be completed ‘within a year’. According to a March 15, 2013, report, the Centre for Conflict Management, Islamabad, revealed that between 2010 and 2012, a total of 839 schools were destroyed in KP. The worst affected Districts were Swabi, Charsadda and Nowshera. Earlier, on September 12, 2012, a report on The State of Pakistan’s Children – 2011, published by the Society for the Protection of the Rights of the Child (SPARC), Islamabad, claimed that around 600,000 children in KP had missed one or more years of education due to militancy.

On January 14, 2013, FATA’s Assistant Education Officer, Mohammad Rehman stated that Taliban attacks had damaged more than 460 schools throughout FATA’s seven agencies, including 110 in Mohmand, 103 in Bajaur, 70 in Khyber, 55 in Kurram, 65 in Orakzai, 44 in North Waziristan and 16 in South Waziristan (no period was specified). He commented, “Their Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) campaign has left 12,000 children idle, including more than 3,800 girls,” adding, further, that 62,000 children had been displaced by this campaign.

Meanwhile, the TTP argued that it targeted schools because the military was using them as operating bases. Indeed, the Pakistani Army and Frontier Corps do use schools for such purposes, which including their use as firing positions, detention centers etc. Moreover, the TTP rejects the existing system of education as ‘un-Islamic’, and seeks its destruction as an end in itself, demanding its replacement by a system based on the Shariah. Thus, in a June 2012 interview, TTP ‘spokesman’ Ehsanullah Ehsan commented:

Through the current education system, un-Islamic culture and vulgarity are spreading in an Islamic society…we will have an alternative education system that will be good for Muslims and Islam. We consider our activities beneficial because they are good for them in the afterlife.

This orientation is, however, underpinned by a hatred towards literacy, and a desire to demolish any form of government establishment or any fragment of liberal thought, in order to spread terror and ignorance so that the extremists’ twisted vision can percolate into the minds of common people and help create and sustain the social chaos in which out-of school children can easily be recruited for militancy.

Compounding this direct attack on the educational infrastructure is Pakistan’s progressively worsening socio-political and economic situation, which has undermined educational development. The Failed State Index – 2012 ranks Pakistan ranked 13th out of 177 countries, placing it in the ‘High Alert Group’, only in a better situation in comparison to violence plagued countries such as Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia, Sudan, Yemen, etc. Further, the United Nations Development Programme’s (UNDP’s) Human Development Report – 2013, puts Pakistan at the 146th rank out of 186 countries in the ‘Education’ category, and, overall, in the lowest category of “Low Human Development”.

The existence of large numbers of “Ghost Schools” is another anomaly within the already dwindling educational set-up of the country. According to a report of British Council, Pakistan, titled “Pakistan: The Next Generation”, released in November 2009:

At present, the educational system is failing at all levels. Tellingly, there are now over twelve thousand 'ghost schools' which provide no education at all….There are schools in the rural areas where teachers don't show up for months at a time or they outsource their job to people who know nothing, which drives away the children.

At present, the educational system is failing at all levels. Tellingly, there are now over twelve thousand 'ghost schools' which provide no education at all….There are schools in the rural areas where teachers don't show up for months at a time or they outsource their job to people who know nothing, which drives away the children.

On February 11, 2013, Pakistan’s Chief Justice, Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, ordered a nationwide investigation of hundreds of “ghost schools” where teachers do nothing but draw salaries. Chaudhry observed, “There are animals kept in schools and the buildings have been turned into stables. This is what we are doing to our children when education is a constitutional right… The government has failed to provide any answer or details about the state of ghost and non-functional schools, while apparently funds and salaries were being disbursed as buildings remain abandoned or occupied by animals”.

The Government, it appears, is trying to remedy the situation by passing new laws in a situation where it has little capacity even to implement the most urgent among those that already exist. Thus, on December 19, 2012, President Asif Ali Zardari signed into law “The Right to Free and Compulsory Education Bill 2012” guaranteeing free education to children aged between 5 and 16 years. Earlier, through the 18th Amendment of Pakistan’s Constitution, in April 2010, Article 25A had been added, declaring, “The State shall provide free and compulsory education to all children of the age of five to sixteen years in such manner as may be determined by law.” Pakistan is also a signatory to the International Covenant on Economic, Cultural and Social Rights (ICESCR) and the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which commits the Government to provide for education as a right to all.

The enveloping atmosphere of fear, however, jeopardizes even the possibility of parents sending their children to school for fear of attack. In a worrying development, the Jamaat-e-Islami (JI), which is set to join the new collation Government in KP under the proposed leadership of Pervaiz Khattak of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), has demanded control of the provincial Education Ministry. It is significant that, before the elections, it was JI Ameer (chief) Munawar Hasan who had observed, on May 5, 2013, that those claiming to be liberals in a country made for the supremacy of the Qura'n and Sunnah should register themselves as ‘minorities’. The JI, which has secured seven seats in the KP Assembly elections held on May 11, 2013, announced on May 15, 2013, that it would be joining forces with PTI, the single largest party, with 35 seats, to form a Coalition Government in the Province.

In Punjab, on March 24, 2013, the then Chief Minister, Shahbaz Sharif, who is now set to lead the Provincial Government, had decided to cancel recent reforms in school curricula by re-inserting Islamist chapters in school text-books in a policy u-turn under pressure from the extremist Sunni group, Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan (SSP). Earlier, several Islamist chapters including, including those propagating Sunni ideological positions, had been removed from the Class 10Urdu text book edition published in February 2013. This move once again demonstrated that Provincial parties and Governments in Pakistan have little will or capacity to resist extremist forces – with whom they are often allied – or to rid the education system of radical elements.

As the very foundation of Pakistan’s educational system is paralysed or corrupted by extremist ideologies and intent, there can be little hope that the country will be able to extract itself from the destructive cycles of radicalization and terrorist violence. The absence of political will and state capacity to address this enduring pathology is a compounding problem that threatens the very edifice of the state and the future of Pakistan’s children, in perpetuity

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