Islamabad—“Sometimes students go to empty rooms for their tests, fill the paper and leave it on the table, without ever seeing the teacher,” recounts 27-year-old English literature major, Shagufta Amir, recalling test time in her rural primary school.
Amir is among the fortunate fraction of females in rural Pakistan who has been able to complete her education. The majority of girls in her northern Pakistan village never even finish primary school, let alone go to university.
According to the World Bank, only 22 percent of girls in rural areas of Pakistan have completed primary school. Figures from a 2010 UNESCO report show that for 2007–2008, 63 percent of females in urban areas are literate as compared to 34 percent in rural areas.
At best, the overall state of education for females in Pakistan is getting better; at worst, it is abysmal. Levels of education for girls vary enormously across the country. Punjab Province is considered the best, and Sindh Province the worst.
Amir’s father was the first in his village to complete his education and also became its first teacher. He believes wholeheartedly in educating his daughters. Amir’s mother also supports education although she is illiterate herself.
In rural areas there are many demands and restrictions on girls, who are basically raised to serve, first their own family, then their husbands’ families. There is also a strong expectation that girls will marry early and bear many children.
“Many people in rural areas feel that education is only important if their girls are going to go to the city and work. They don’t realize it is important for building awareness and self-confidence, then girls can better care for their families,” says Amir.
There are cultural norms too that can prevent girls from studying alongside boys. In many families, especially in rural areas, it is required that a girl be escorted by a male family member when in public, adding an additional barrier to attending school.
Poverty is another factor restricting girls’ access to education. Many families cannot afford fees, uniforms, or transportation. If parents have to choose between sending a son or daughter to school, they most often choose the boys, who traditionally bring in the income and take care of parents.
“The government should try to raise awareness among the rural populations to help parents understand why educating girls is vital to their communities, open more girls’ schools, and provide transportation,” suggests Amir as ways to improve education for girls.
According to the Pakistani Constitution, “The state shall provide free and compulsory education to all children of the age of 5 to 16 years.”
To date, however, the government has not dedicated enough finances to make this law a reality.
“On average Pakistan’s spending on education has remained around 2 percent of GDP during last 20 years, making it one of the educationally most crippled nations in the world,” according to UNESCO.
“I want my daughter to get an education that helps polish her personality, nurture her God given talents, and helps her recognize right from wrong,” says Amir about her 1-year-old daughter.
Continued on the next page: Taking Steps