By Zubeida Mustafa
IN the context of education in Pakistan, 2012 will be long remembered as the Year of Malala Yusufzai. Nobody can forget that fateful October afternoon when this teenager from Swat, whose love for education is legendary, was shot at point blank range by two armed men. She was on her way home from school. The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack. Malala was lucky. She escaped death and is now recovering in a British hospital.
More significant than this act of terrorism was the outcry it evoked. It proved above all that the people of Pakistan – with a few obscurantist exceptions – stood for education for their children. Could they be blamed if the government denied them this right?
Even two years after Article 25-A was incorporated in the Constitution, making it incumbent on the government to provide free and compulsory education to every child 5-16 years of age, the right-to-education law had not been adopted by any provincial assembly in 2012. The Senate and the National Assembly had passed a law providing for free and compulsory education to children. But it was applicable only to the Islamabad Capital Territory.
There was enough evidence during the year that Pakistan was nowhere close to achieving the two education-related Millennium Development Goals – universal education and gender parity in education by 2015. The Global Monitoring Report 2012 which tracked the progress of all countries towards these goals shed a dismal light on Pakistan.
According to the report, Pakistan had the second largest number of children out of school (5.1 million of which three million were girls). The net enrolment ratio was 74 per cent, and spending on education had declined to 2.3 per cent of the GDP.
The Taliban were considered to be the biggest threat to education in the country with their avowed hostility against modern education. They attacked schools with a vengeance, damaging 1,600 of which 460 were totally destroyed. The government rebuilt only a handful of these.
That was saddening. But many were asking if the government’s approach to education was any better. Its lack of political will proved to be the biggest enemy of education. As before, a number of problems continued to plague the education system in 2012. The most notable were: cheating in exams; the uncontrolled escalation of fees by private schools; the menace of multiple education systems; ghost schools that are estimated to be about 2,000 to 3,000 in number; shortage of teachers, especially trained teachers; and shoddy textbooks.
The Higher Education Commission (HEC) became a bone of contention in the wake of the 18th Amendment. Its powers and funds were reduced, leaving the public-sector university education in a shambles.
Corruption and incompetence continued to undermine the government schools. The vacuum was filled by the mushrooming of a huge private sector that was largely unregulated. It accounted for 33 per cent of all school enrolment.
The multiple systems in education that have been spawned have found wide acceptance as many see their redemption in the O- Level examinations conducted by foreign boards that allow schools to bypass the local system. This was, however, dividing society into the privileged and the underprivileged classes. Ironically, the use of incentives, such as the Waseela-i-Taleem scheme under the umbrella of the Benazir Income Support Programme could not bridge this divide.