The State of Rural Education in Pakistan: Challenges and Innovations
In any country’s progress and prosperity, Education plays a pivotal role, especially in contemporary times, where the world is being ruled by modern AI tools, the importance of education cannot be stressed enough. But sadly, in a country like Pakistan, where education is not on the priority list of any government, the state of rural education is extremely worse and it poses a great challenge to the country’s overall commitment to education and skill development.
Education is considered to be a fundamental human right, along with health and safety. The United Nations and other World Organizations put great emphasis on all nation states to ensure that no child is out of the school and to allocate proper budget and resources on education and on the development of Youth. Pakistan, with almost 65% of its population ranging from 20-35 years, only makes the role of education more important in the country’s overall progress and economic development. And in this regard, the state of rural education should be our primary focus. As every challenge eventually can be turned into an opportunity if dealt with smartness.
What are the main challenges that hinders our educational progress in rural areas? What have been the policies of our state for the past seven decades to address those challenges? These are the main two questions that any policy maker or researcher should have been exploring in order to reach a conclusion that will truly address the problem at hand.
One main reason behind this dire situation of education in the rural areas is that these areas are not densely populated unlike the Urban centers of the country, hence even if govt allocate resources to build schools and hire school staff, it would pose another challenge that the average number of students per school would not be that big that it helps sustain the school administration. Which ultimately leads us to the next issue, that mostly govt build schools to accommodate the population for two or more villages, but due to the lack of transportation and other resources, not everyone has the access to school and it becomes a very valid reason for some parents who are already reluctant to enroll their children into school.
Another challenge that affects the state of rural education in Pakistan is the lack of teacher training and resources. Though there is a shortage of teaching positions which depict that there is a surplus of trained professionals in the field as far as the country’s Urban Centers are concerned, on the other hand, rural areas have a hard time attracting the best instructors. And this is not only limited to education, but in the field of health and law enforcement too, the candidates from Urban cities are reluctant to serve in far flung areas because of the lack of basic resources like internet, transport and health care and also, it’s a fact that simple living is not for everyone.
Another challenge that we find in rural areas is the spotty internet access. We all know that in order to capitalize on our human resource, there is no other way but to equip our youth with polished internet skills and to get them familiar with modern AI tools. And yet, the sad part is, most of the rural areas of our country forget about FATA or Baluchistan, even the parts of South Punjab have no 4G facility. Now, without these facilities and without ensuring undisrupted internet coverage, we cannot even imagine solving the crisis at hand.
Poverty is another reason behind the drastic situation of education in rural areas of Pakistan. Rural regions have greater rates of unemployment, starvation, and poverty than metropolitan ones, yet no location is completely devoid of poverty. Poverty is harder to perceive in rural regions than it is in urban ones because of the lower density of people. This makes it more difficult to deal with. Poverty has been linked to worse academic achievement and higher rates of absenteeism (or early drop-outs). If a rural school district has a lot of pupils, it’s not uncommon for instructors to be unaware of how their students are doing because of the huge distances they cover.
Innovations and Opportunities
Like I said earlier, every challenge if tackled properly can be turned into an opportunity to explore our human potential and to innovate our existing approaches and lifestyle. The challenge for the betterment of education in rural areas is one of its kind that’s been troubling us since 1947, but at the very same time it also has the capacity to expand our horizon and change our thinking and policies while approaching this subject. Here are some recommendations that can really help us formulating a long term plan to overcome this challenge of illiteracy and poverty.
- First and foremost, we need to come to terms with the reality that digitalization with the help of AI is the new reality of our contemporary world and no policy, public or private, can bear any fruit without using modern tools of engagement. Hence, the use of modern technology becomes pivotal while addressing the issue at hand. The state cannot due to economic restraints build more schools to accommodate every child out there and spend the budget on teachers training and development. But it sure can make the culture of “distance learning” a new norm by providing students of rural areas with free and undisrupted internet access. This is not a difficult task as there are many networks and digital companies who will be more than willing to do this voluntarily. Also, in the same way, some big tech giants can be tasked with providing free tablets and laptops to students (the Gates Foundation have somewhat similar initiatives). The goal should not be just to educate children by the standard of traditional education but, the sole purpose of this activity should be to equip students with modern skills, like graphic designing, coding and writing, so that they will be able to play their role in the country’s economy and can help their families too.
- Secondly, we need to use and strengthen the private sector (NGOs) to fight the challenge of both poverty and illiteracy. Private sector with the help of Civil Society can help us combat this challenge with the assistance of the volunteer force that they have at their disposal. The Orphan Care program of Alkhidmat Foundation Pakistan, where they provide shelter, food and education to orphans, has set an example for other NGOs to follow. Another such initiative was introduced by Akhuwat, by lending loans to people and starting businesses and they are now also building a university to give free education to deserving students.
- Lastly, the State needs to increase the budget of education on an emergency basis, not only to build infrastructure needlessly but more importantly, more resources need to be allocated for R&D. There is a need to conduct province wise and district wise researches and to gather actual data and figures and then come up with proper plans and strategies to solve the crises at hand.
Education in Pakistan, especially in far flung rural regions of Pakistan where the public sector is still unable to offer necessary educational facilities, might benefit from the help of many hands. An educational institution’s denial of fundamental necessities shows the inability of the institution to bring about change in society. It is impossible for any country to fulfill its stated objective of increasing its literacy rate at this crucial juncture. Rural education challenges include a lack of instructors willing to relocate, a lack of internet access, poverty, and the need for educators to be self-starters. The Internet and AI can be a game changer for us if we are serious about fighting both illiteracy and poverty.