If Malala Yousafzai, a teenaged Pakistani girls’ education activist who was shot in the head by the Taliban, wins the Nobel Peace Prize, it would undoubtedly be a huge symbolic victory for her cause. However, the question is; will it make a real difference in a country where literate women are frowned upon by many and a mere pittance of the national budget is dedicated to education?
“Dear brothers and sisters, we want schools and education for every child’s bright future. We will continue our journey to our destination of peace and education. No one can stop us. We will speak up for our rights and we will bring change to our voice,” Malala told the UN General Assembly earlier this year.
Unfortunately, it seems that the government of Pakistan does not share the same determination to spread literacy, whether it is among women or men. According to the UNDP Human Development Report 2013, only seven developing countries spend less on education than Pakistan. Malala is a campaigner for girls’ education, but just a mere 18 percent of women have received 10 years or more of schooling in her country. Most of the educated women belong to wealthy households.
The majority of schools that exist in the country lack basic infrastructure and have hired ‘ghost teachers’ who are on the official payroll, but have never set foot in a classroom. Apart from these phantom teachers, the meager amount set aside for education is not properly utilized.
According to a report prepared by the high court of the Sindh province, there are over 4,500 schools in the province that have a building, but seize to function. The report also showed that millions of rupees had been allocated for these useless schools, clearly underlining the massive levels of corruption. Even more alarmingly, it was revealed that over 2,000 schools exist only in files and there is nothing on the ground. These fall into the category of ghost schools.
Over in the province of Balochistan, more than 6.5 million children are not enrolled in primary schools, according to a UNICEF report that was prepared in collaboration with the government of Pakistan. The study shows that more girls are out of school compared to boys. While 38.9% of primary age girls are not attending school, the rate for boys is 30.2%
Ghost schools and the low percentage of school-going kids are not the only problems. The lack of security in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KPK), where more than 3,000 schools have been destroyed by militants since 2001, is a serious concern for students. The attack on Malala and her class fellows was a grizzly reminder of the perils faced by girls who dare to go to school in the northern province of the country.
However, there are some who have taken it upon themselves to rectify the situation. Having labeled the state of education in KPK as “shameful”, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf Chairman Imran Khan, whose party rules the militancy-hit province, has launched a drive to ensure that every child is in school. The success of this campaign remains to be seen, but many say it as at least a step in the right direction.
The education system of Pakistan is in shambles whether it is for boys or girls. However, it is more difficult for girls as they also have to battle certain stereotypes. Women’s education is frowned upon in many of the rural areas of the country, but students like Malala proved that all obstacles can be overcome through determination and the support of those around them.
Sadly though, even if Malala wins the Nobel Peace Prize, it will change little for the education of girls in her country. In order for a lasting change to take place, the perception of an educated woman has to be altered and the authorities must show a dogged determination to spread literacy not only among the women of Pakistan, but the nation as a whole.
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