Jewish Journal

More than Malala

by Mahim Maher

July 12, 2013 | 5:52 pm

Malala Yousafzai talked about educating the Talibs. And many people in Pakistan agree with her. Here I want to talk about the educated Pakistanis alongwith the uneducated ones.

There is no debate: Our government, however, has yet to really understand just how important education is going to be to fight the battles of tomorrow. What worries me the most, and what I have seen in the last decade, is a system that does not help young people.

Let me give you the example of Ernest, a young Christian fellow in his late teens or early 20s, whose aunt asked me for help to get him a job. When I interviewed him, he said he had worked as a 'rider' which in Karachi means something like delivery boy. He didn't want to academically study more when I offered to pay tuition for any programme of his choice. We settled on a vocational computer skills course at a reputed institute. He had gone there before and tried to enroll but didn't have the money to pay for it.

There are countless young men and women who are in Ernest's place in Pakistan. They are disillusioned with the government-run school system and can't afford private school. The ones who do go through the government-run system emerge with very few skills.

As a result, we have a lot of disillusioned young men. Today, 60% of our population of 180 million is under 30 years of age. I am worried about the youth bulge. Some more numbers: About a quarter of the 19.75 million children in Pakistan aged five to nine are out of school. If the age bracket is increased to include adolescents, then about 25 million are not enrolled in school, out of a total school-going population of about 45 million. These are UNESCO's numbers from 2012.

Pakistan’s literacy rate from age 15 and above is 55%, while India’s is 63% and Bangladesh’s 58%. (I think this includes people who count signing their name as literacy or being able to read the Quran). Compared to other countries in the region, Pakistan’s spending on education is significantly lower at 2.3 %. India’s is 4.5%, Iran’s is 4.7%. But this much you already knew.

While a large part of what you may have heard about Pakistan and education has included the word madrassa, I'd like to highlight two consistent streams of education that have been reaching thousands of young people.



The Fulbright batch in Islamabad for their orientation this month. Photo: Myra Iqbal/The Express Tribune

A US contribution: One hundred and eighty young Pakistanis, the best of our universities, are off to the US on Fulbright scholarships this year. This year a total of 151 master’s scholarship and 29 PhD scholarships were granted. The Fulbright programme is in its 63rd year and is one of the largest in Pakistan. Since 2005, 1,255 Pakistani’s have received Fulbright awards for graduate degrees of which 40 per cent have been women. The programme binds the student to return to Pakistan after the degree is over. They cannot leave for I think about three years. This means that hundreds of Fulbright scholars are back in Pakistan, reversing the brain drain.

A UK contribution: Last year 13% more students in Pakistan sat the Cambridge International Examinations for O' and A' Levels (grades 11 and 13). This involved nearly 500 schools that registered approximately 180,000 students. The three most popular subjects for O’ Level students are English Language, Islamiyat and Math, and at the AS/A’ Level Math, Physics and Chemistry. But more than this, Pakistanis regularly sweep the CIE awards each year. In the O' Levels students sit about 8 to 10 subjects. Some kids get As (90+) in all exams - others score the highest in the world.

Teach for Pakistan (http://www.iteachforpakistan.org) pays university graduates market rates to teach the poorest of students in the most ignored schools. Here is a story on their work: http://tribune.com.pk/story/569347/education-for-all-36-young-fellows-start-journey-to-teach-pakistan/

The Citizens Foundation is a non-profit that has built excellent schools across Pakistan where children are getting a high quality education. One year I personally monitored their summer school English camp as a volunteer. One of their students just made it to Harvard. http://tribune.com.pk/story/556897/the-road-less-travelled-from-ismail-goth-to-harvard-front-page/

And, yes, I haven't forgotten the madrassas. Here is a documentary from a project that has videos on many more education success stories: http://tribune.com.pk/story/558702/dual-education-from-madrassa-to-mainstream/

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I am a 33-year-old journalist in Karachi, Pakistan where I work as the city or metropolitan editor for The Express Tribune, a daily national newspaper in English affiliated...

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