NationalVOLUME 18 ISSUE # 28

A Struggle for Equal Access and Quality Education

Chaudhry Rashid Ahmad does not agree at all that people are not aware of importance of educating their girls. A small farmer at Chak No. 330/HR Marot in tehsil Fort Abbas of district Bahawalnagar (Punjab) says he is staunch supporter of girls’ education, and a vast majority of his village men also think like him.

They all want their daughters to get an education, like their sons, but the real issue is the harsh ground realities which force them to stop them from pursuing their education, he tells Cutting Education. Chaudhry has five daughters and a son, who’s youngest among all siblings. Some 15 years ago, there was no school for girls in his village at all. The nearest girls’ school was situated about three kilometres away from his house, in another village. It was really hard for him to drop his two young daughters at that school and bring them back at noon on a bicycle, his only conveyance for the purpose. On most days, he had to leave for his fields to attend to the crops, and his daughter would not go to school on such days.

When his other two daughters reached the school-going age, a primary school was opened in his village also, but without a teacher. The nearest girls’ high school with the required number of teachers was situated at a distance of almost 17 kilometres from his village. In the absence of a metalled road and non-availability of the public transport facility, it became even more difficult for Chaudhry Rashid to give his daughters pick and drop facility to his daughters, though he had bought a motorcycle meanwhile.

The concerned father says major hurdles in the way of their daughters’ education are lack of transportation facilities and safety in their area. Almost 20 villages are situated along Hakra Right canal’s tail-end minors and the parents living in all these villages face these hurdles in getting their daughters educated. Lack of teachers, lack of proper buildings, running water and toilet facilities are also other major problems the girl students have to face in these far-flung villages, but parents believe those were of secondary nature.

They believe safety and dependable transportation are the major issues. “Once these girls reach their schools, they would definitely learn something from their teachers, no matter how many are available there to teach them,” the Chaudhry says in a positive tone.

While Chaudhry Rashid appears satisfied with the availability of a school in his vicinity and the presence of some teachers, it is evident that Pakistan’s education system suffers from significant shortcomings due to insufficient funding. The country allocates the lowest percentage of its GDP to education in the South Asian region, spending only around 2.3 percent compared to the global standard of 4 percent. This inadequate investment has resulted in a lack of facilities and limited access to transportation, particularly for female students.

The consequences of this underinvestment are apparent. The 2019 Annual Status of Education Report (ASER) indicates an overall literacy rate of 60 percent in the country, with a significant disparity between male and female literacy rates (71 percent for males and 49 percent for females). Despite some improvements in literacy rates, the 2019 Human Development Report highlighted Pakistan’s failure to make significant progress in crucial educational indicators, such as literacy rate, enrollment ratio, and education-related expenditure. Additionally, Pakistan was ranked 152nd out of 189 countries on the Human Development Index (HDI) according to the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).

Official figures reveal that Pakistan has the third-highest primary school dropout rate in the region, estimated at 23 percent, placing it behind countries like Bangladesh and Nepal. A 2016 Global Education Monitoring (GEM) Report titled ‘Education for People and Planet: Creating Sustainable Futures for All’ found that Pakistan is 50 years behind in achieving its primary education goals and faces an additional 10-year delay in achieving its secondary education goals.

Chaudhry Rashid’s personal story echoes the findings of global education reports on Pakistan. He laments that his elder two daughters could not progress beyond the fifth grade due to the absence of middle or high schools for girls in their village. The nearest school was nearly 17 kilometers away, making it financially unviable for him to provide transportation. His experience reflects the struggles faced by many impoverished families.

The Human Rights Watch Report titled ‘Shall I Feed My Daughter, Or Educate Her?: Barriers to Girls’ Education in Pakistan’ further exposed the government’s inability to provide adequate education for girls. The report highlighted that the majority of the 22.5 million out-of-school children in Pakistan are girls, who face numerous barriers to accessing education.

It is evident that Pakistan’s education system requires significant attention and increased funding to address the existing disparities and ensure equal access to quality education for all children, especially girls.