There is an eye-opening story in the New York Times today on the state of education in Pakistan. It matters to us for a whole host of reasons, not the least of it being that we may bear some responsibility for it. First the context:
The concentration of madrasas here in southern Punjab has become an urgent concern in the face of Pakistan’s expanding insurgency. The schools offer almost no instruction beyond the memorizing of the Koran, creating a widening pool of young minds that are sympathetic to militancy.
Bear in mind that the word "Madrasa" used in the piece simply means "School" in Arabic. It's being used incorrectly here to refer to Islamic schools.
That aside, the piece does make some sobering points:
He has asked Congress to more than triple assistance to Pakistan for nonmilitary purposes, including education. Since the Sept. 11 attacks, the United States has given Pakistan a total of $680 million in nonmilitary aid, according to the State Department, far lower than the $1 billion a year for the military.
But education has never been a priority here, and even Pakistan’s current plan to double education spending next year might collapse as have past efforts, which were thwarted by sluggish bureaucracies, unstable governments and a lack of commitment by Pakistan’s governing elite to the poor.
"...Literacy in Pakistan has grown from barely 20 percent at independence 61 years ago, and the government recently improved the curriculum and reduced its emphasis on Islam.
Failures in Education
But even today, only about half of Pakistanis can read and write, far below the proportion in countries with similar per-capita income, like Vietnam. One in three school-age Pakistani children does not attend school, and of those who do, a third drop out by fifth grade, according to Unesco. Girls’ enrollment is among the lowest in the world, lagging behind Ethiopia and Yemen.“Education in Pakistan was left to the dogs,” said Pervez Hoodbhoy, a physics professor at Quaid-e-Azam University in Islamabad who is an outspoken critic of the government’s failure to stand up to spreading Islamic militancy."
"This impoverished expanse of rural southern Punjab, where the Taliban have begun making inroads with the help of local militant groups, has one of the highest concentrations of madrasas in the country.
Of the more than 12,000 madrasas registered in Pakistan, about half are in Punjab. Experts estimate the numbers are higher: when the state tried to count them in 2005, a fifth of the areas in this province refused to register.
Though madrasas make up only about 7 percent of primary schools in Pakistan, their influence is amplified by the inadequacy of public education and the innate religiosity of the countryside, where two-thirds of people live.
The public elementary school for boys in this village is the very picture of the generations of neglect that have left many poor Pakistanis feeling abandoned by their government."
And to the point of our bearing some of the blame:
The whole piece is worth reading in it's entirety, since at the minimum, it illustrates the multi-generational nature of this state of affairs.