Friday, November 12, 2010

Kristof hopeful on Pakistan's middle class

Access to any kind of decent education is seriously tied to the class structure in Pakistan. First of all, if you are not living in a major city (and 70% of Pakistanis live in rural area), your hopes for post-secondary education are very low. Cambridge system (for upper and upper-middle class), English-medium (for middle and upper-middle class), Urdu medium (these are usually government schools catering to the rest of the population), and the prospects for jobs and a decent future decline dramatically from Cambridge to Urdu medium system. And all of this for those lucky enough who do get a chance to go to schools. How bad is it? From Kristof's article:
One reason Pakistan is sometimes called the most dangerous country in the world is this: a kindergarten child in this country has only a 1 percent chance of reaching the 12th grade, according to the Pakistan Education Task Force, an official panel. The average Pakistani child is significantly less likely to be schooled than the average child in sub-Saharan Africa.
Yes, I have seen these numbers before. But they have to be repeated over and over again to shake up the myopic vision of upper-class Pakistan. When I was in Pakistan this past September, I heard several conversations expressing surprise after seeing pictures from flood-affected areas: "Is this Pakistan too? Do we have this much poverty?" While the news from the educated elites may not be that hopeful (see this earlier post: How do students at elite Pakistani universities view the world?), an expanding middle-class may be able to re-direct the country:
But most important, members of Pakistan’s emerging middle class are stepping up to the plate.
They are enraged at the terrorists who have been tearing apart their country, they’re appalled by corruption and illiteracy, and they want peace so that their children can become educated and live a better life. Their obsession is college, not Kashmir.
Partly because of middle-class influence, ordinary Pakistanis are increasingly focused on education. About one-fourth of Pakistani children, even from poor families, now attend private schools, simply because the public schools are so wretched.
These days the middle class is not only eclipsing the feudal landowners but also rejects the old feudal contempt for the masses. One reflection of the middle-class engagement is the rise of the Citizens Foundation, a terrific aid group started by a group of businessmen frustrated by their country’s appalling schools.
Today, T.C.F. runs 660 excellent schools for the poorest citizens. I visited several of these schools on this trip — and, wow!
T.C.F. spends 40 percent less per pupil than state schools do, but manages to provide incomparably better education. Here in the most-populous province of Punjab, for example, nearly 100 percent of Citizens Foundation pupils pass government exams, while over the last four years state schools have averaged a 44 percent pass rate.
And then here is a fantastic case:

The most inspiring Pakistani I met on this trip wasn’t a prominent official but a 17-year-old girl.
Zahida Sardar, an ebullient teenager with braids and a radiant smile, used to languish in an execrable state school in Minhala outside Lahore. “A teacher might come only twice a month,” Zahida recalled.
In such a school, Zahida despaired that she would have no chance to become a doctor or teacher. She began to pester her parents to send her to a T.C.F. school so she could actually get an education, but her parents are illiterate and worried about school fees.
“My father said, ‘I’m not going to pay. Why should we spend money on education?’ ” Zahida recalled. So Zahida tormented her mother, begging her just to find out if a transfer might be possible.
“For three months, I pestered and insisted,” Zahida recalled. She tried everything she could think of, including a daily torrent of tears.
I met Zahida’s mother, Sardara, who told me that the girl was impossible and just wouldn’t take a “no.” “She just wore me down,” Sardara said. Timidly, Sardara visited the T.C.F. school, and the principal agreed to test Zahida and, when she performed brilliantly, accept her at much reduced fees of 50 cents a month.
So Zahida is now is a star in the 11th grade — speaking to me comfortably in English.
And this is definitely not an isolated story. The desire for education and the realization that education can lead one out of poverty is a strong strain present throughout Pakistan - from villages to the cities. If only we could opportunities also...

Read the full article here (and it is also a nice antidote to the post about school bombings in northern Pakistan).


Snuze said...

It is sad to note that Muslim countries cite some of the highest rate of illiteracy and poor access to education. Sadder when the emphasis on learning and knowledge is so strong in Islam that the first word transmitted by the Angel Gabriel to the Prophet Muhammad, PBUH is "Read" or "Recite".

I hold hope that one day this will change, one child at a time.

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