By Zubeida Mustafa
EXACTLY a week before Unesco launched its 10th Global Monitoring Report 2012 (GMR) on Oct 16, Malala Yousufzai, Pakistan’s child campaigner for the right of education for girls, was shot in the head by the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan. Pauline Rose, editor of the Monitoring Report, termed the attack a “tragedy” in a country where there are still over three million girls out of school.
The attack on Malala and her two companions shocked Pakistan. This shock also galvanised the nation as thousands rose with one voice to condemn the Taliban.
The effect of Malala’s bold defiance of the anti-education Taliban was poignantly summed up by Badri Raina, an English teacher from Delhi: “When the blood-dimmed tide/ Creeps under the door,/ Malala appears, quells the yellow/ Beast with unwavering dark eye,/ And simply says ‘no more’.”
This reaction also belies the conventional wisdom that the resistance to female education comes from parents in a conservative society. One hopes that Malala’s spirit will kindle the love of education in many other hearts to change the dismal statistics recorded by the GMR, which keeps track of governments’ performance for achieving the goal of Education for All.
The GMR team was set up in 2000 to monitor progress towards the goal of Education for All by 2015 adopted by 164 governments attending the Dakar conference. The GMR was intended to provide guidelines to policymakers by identifying areas of success and warning them against failures. Unfortunately, it is now assessed that with only three years to go to the deadline, it is unlikely that the goal of universal primary education will be achieved.
According to the GMR 2012, there are 61 million children between five to nine years of age globally who are still out of school and 725 million adults remain illiterate.
What is most disheartening is the GMR’s finding that in spite of their schooling many young people do not have the skills they need to “thrive in society” by getting decent jobs and the education they receive makes no difference whatsoever to their lives.
The GMR seems to attribute these failures to the governments’ inability to fund the education sector sufficiently. Hence it suggests that governments should “mobilise additional funding from diverse sources to meet the training needs of disadvantaged youth”.
One has to take Pakistan’s case to understand how flawed the GMR’s evaluation of the present crisis in education is.
Of late, no other issue has generated as much debate in concerned circles in Pakistan as education. In recent years, this sector has been awash with funds from anxious foreign donors who are keen to see our youth educated, presumably to save them from the clutches of extremism.
This fund may not be enough to provide the children a Harrow education. But the country could have done better than it has, being ranked 113th out of 120 in the Education Development Index. With its adult literacy rate of 55 per cent, Pakistan lags behind the Third World literacy rate average of 80 per cent.
The fact is that there is a demand for education in the country and the government has failed to meet it. Those parents who care and have the resources send their children to private schools and a third of the children are enrolled there.
The main factor responsible for this is not so much the unavailability of funds as it is financial mismanagement, nepotism, poor governance, political meddling, corruption and, above all, lack of motivation at every stage. One wonders if this approach is any less anti-education as the Taliban’s uncouth ways.
The GMR is aware of the dangers this phenomenon poses. An accumulation of a huge mass of youth which has been led to believe that its salvation lies in education can end up as a frustrated lot when it discovers that it has been led down the garden path. When its anger explodes it will be deadly.
At the other end of the spectrum are the elite private schools that are providing good education — but for a price. The students who pass from there find good jobs and constitute the cream of society.
The GMR very aptly observes, “As well as thwarting young people’s hopes, these education failures are jeopardising equitable economic growth and social cohesion, and preventing many countries from reaping the potential benefits of their growing youth populations.”
This inequity is now being recognised globally. It is not just international. It exists within a state. The UN secretary general’s Education First initiative focuses on the children of the poor and marginalised. Efforts are being made to identify them. We know that national averages are deceptive as they mask the problems of the poor. The data must be disaggregated to highlight the disparities. For this a new interactive website has been developed by the GMR team called the World Inequality Database on Education (WIDE) which confirms what has been known for ages but not acknowledged (www.education-inequalities.org).
In Pakistan people at the margins invariably have a low income, live in the rural areas and are preponderantly women. The new website gives this information graphically. It is more important that our rulers show the willingness to remove the disparities and give the marginalised a fair deal. It was for the right to education of a marginalised section, the girls, that Malala was fighting. If the words of shock expressed by the high-ups are not crocodile tears they should address this sector sincerely.