Thursday, January 26, 2012

Gender issues in Pakistani schools

by Salman Hameed

Kamila Shamsie, the author several novels set in Karachi (for example, In the City by the Sea, Kartography), had an interesting article in Guernica about schools in Pakistan. The challenges are immense. It is not just a matter of creating more schools - after all, the Taliban are also "students". It is about the quality of education and its accessibility to all Pakistanis.

Here she talks about the infiltration of religion in textbooks (for example, on the encouragement of raising cattle, since it is a Sunnah of the Prophet), and a bit on ghost schools - schools that exist only on paper. But most of the article is about efforts to reform the existing educational system by an NGO led by couple if young Pakistanis, including Sana mentioned below. The efforts seems promising and I hope it works out, but then there have  been numerous efforts in the past that have fizzled out at the end.

But apart from a better curriculum, I was struck by the gender issues mentioned in the article - and it provides a glimpse of the challenges involved.

But problems didn’t just come from adults. Increasingly, the neighborhoods in Karachi are divided along ethnic lines with each group identifying with a political party. The relationships between some of these political parties are marked by violence and “target killing,” intimidation, and extortion to the perceived benefit of the party. By the time many boys are adolescents, they’ve already been pulled into some of the more thuggish aspects. “With the boys you have to get to them by the time they’re eleven or twelve. Any later is too late,” Sana said, recalling how a group of fourteen-year-olds told her, “What do we need education for? We’re in politics.” Even further, those boys were unwilling to listen to a female. Once, when Sana was trying to get them to be silent, one of the students said, “Get the bearded guy with a stick to come in if you want us to be quiet.” Not long after, she stopped teaching in the boys’ section of the school. 
“What about the girls?” I asked. 
The girls, she said, were an entirely different matter. “I can set any essay assignment, and without fail they’ll manage to work into it that their greatest wish is to just be allowed to stay in school and complete their education,” Sana told me. But all too often their parents pull them out of school by the time they’re twelve. Sometimes the parents want them to get married, other times they can’t afford the fees and feel it’s more important to pay for the education of their sons. 
The girls are as affectionate as the boys are macho, I heard from both Sana and Adnan. It was hard not to think that at home their brothers received all the attention. Damaging for both the boys and the girls, as well as for their relationships with each other. For Sana, it was particularly disheartening to realize how low the girls’ expectations for their lives were, how little they felt they could ask from the world.

This is a serious issue and the society as a whole has to work to find a solution. This is after all half of the student population of Pakistan! [and yes, I thought it was funny/sad that some of the boys thought they don't need education now that they are in politics]

Read the full article here.

Also see these earlier post:
The Enigma of Educated Pakistanis
Muslim Women Scientists Today

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

Looks like the most myopic and biased views about Pakistan and its society are the ones we get attracted to most. Much appreciated.

AnotherAnonymous said...

I laughed out loud at the younger guys who said they don't need a job because they're in politics (no offense intended). :D

Anonymous said...

Salamulakim Jazakallah for the article