International Women’s Day (IWD) was celebrated all across the world and so in Pakistan organizing hundreds of events paying tributes to the women. But these events, seminars, walks, and marches will not improve the situation of women’s education in the country where the gap between girls’ and boys’ enrollment in schools is second lowest in South Asia.
The alarming condition of girls’ education in Pakistan is perhaps the most important issue which should have been discussed on the eve of IWD but still, this point of concern was missing at all the major celebrations of the Day.
With all the good slogans and positive campaigns by the federal and provincial government, the state of education is that over 5.1 million primary school-aged children are out of school in Pakistan – the third highest number of out-of-school children in the world – and 63% of them are girls.
Several reports about the worsening state of education especially about girls’ education have been published so far but very few practical actions were taken. Although these reports help gather figures, data and real on-the-ground situations, the political leadership, and bureaucracy are up to something else than education.
A recent report titled, “Public Investment in Education: An Appraisal of SDG 4 in Pakistan” explained the alarming situation with facts, figures and data and claimed that the Pakistan government has legislated for education for all, education remains drastically under-funded at 2.4% of GDP, a decrease from 2.7% in the preceding year – despite a government commitment of 4%. At this rate of funding and progress, there is no way Pakistan will achieve its commitment to education for all.
According to the report, Pakistan’s gap between girls’ and boys’ enrolment is, after Afghanistan’s, the widest in South Asia. Not only the divide based on gender is grave, but also poverty is a serious concern and determinant of low literacy rates. In Pakistan, the literacy rate of poor rural males is 64 per cent, compared to 14 percent for their female counterparts (UNESCO, 2016). Overall, for every 100 girls enrolled at the primary level in Pakistan, 60 girls of the same age are out-of-school while for every 100 girls enrolled at the secondary level, 223 are out of school (Khan, Asim Bashir, 2020).
A recent study, “Girls’ Education & Covid-19 in Pakistan,” suggests that girls’ access to formal education in Pakistan is further expected to regress as a result of the steep decline in household incomes. With many households still struggling with the financial toll experienced during the initial lockdown phase, many girls of school-going age are expected to either enter labour to supplement their household incomes or simply be withheld from returning to school to curtail household expenses, (Malala Fund, 2020).
There is also an acute lack of girls’ schools at every educational level compared to the institutes dedicated to boys’ education. As per the most recent Pakistan Education Statistics 2017-18 (2021), of the 119,813 same-sex primary schools in the country, only 43,741 or 36 percent are for girls. At the secondary and higher secondary level, this percentage stands collectively at 46 percent.
A look at the year-on-year analysis reveals that despite being a nationally adopted, high-priority target, despite Pakistan’s alarmingly poor performance in this specific area, gender parity has received little to no investment between 2015-2021. During the budget announcements made for the year 2021-22, Punjab and Sindh allocated, 1.07 percent and 2.64 percent of their education budgets respectively for specific schemes aimed at enhancing girls’ access to formal education. The federal government and Balochistan, on the other hand, announced no specific schemes at all.
Balochistan’s inability to earmark a single rupee for interventions to increase girls’ access to educational opportunities is specifically troublesome as the province has one of the highest percentages of out-of-school girls in Pakistan. At the secondary level, for instance, for every 100 enrolled girls, 666 girls of the same age are out-of-school (Khan, Asim Bashir 2020). Although Khyber Pakhtunkhwa did announce allocating 70 percent of its education development budget at the secondary level to enhance girls’ access to education, based on the review of documents, it is not possible to demarcate the precise amount that has been allocated for this purpose.
The government sets targets for education in the light of the United Nation’s SDGs which state that by 2030, ensure that all girls and boys complete free, equitable and quality primary and secondary education leading to relevant and effective learning outcomes. The target was also set as 100 percent enrollment of boys and girls by 2030.
According to the government of Pakistan, the total enrollment level of pre-primary in the public sector was 4,391,144. Out of 4,391,144 pre-primary students, 2,440,838 are boys, and 1,950,306 are girls. It shows that 56% of enrolled students are boys, and 44% are girls. Further breakdown of these statistics into urban and rural enrollment levels reveals an almost similar percentage of enrollment among boys and girls, i.e. in rural schools 57% are boys and 43% are girls.
Renowned educationist and CEO Ibtidah for Education Zeeba Hashmi told Academia that the basic barrier to girls’ education is not just financial, but cultural, coupled with a lack of security as well. We have high primary level schools, but not enough investment in secondary or high schools, prompting families to either arrange for expensive logistics or pull girls out of schools. Many don’t want to take the security risk of sending girls to far-flung areas. They feel insecure.
She added that the afternoon school program also turned out to be a flop for girls’ education because the timings were unsuitable. Also, a lack of understanding of what barriers are and what solutions can be explored in terms of demand generation for education for girls, are the reasons why we see no push for the cause. To me, political apathy towards education is also a reason why we see dismal service availability. We need to revamp the policy-making process and look out for more intrinsic solutions for education from the community’s perspective, rather than imposing top to down frameworks assuming they’re applicable in all contexts.