FEMALE EDUCATION - SOCIAL AND ECONOMIC CONSTRAINTS

SHAMSUL GHANI
(feedback@pgeconomist.com)
Apr 26 - May 2, 2010

Female education in Pakistan suffers from a number of social and economic constraints. More potent dimensions have been added to these constraints by the changing geo political conditions, the latest being the threat of terrorism that has made the centuries-old gender bias more profound in its effect. The blowing-up of female educational institutions in war-affected regions is a phenomenon never recorded before in the history of Pakistan. Besides terrorism threat, the traditional constraints are:

1. Deeply ingrained gender bias
2. Restricted female mobility
3. Insufficient disposable incomes and ever rising cost of education
4. Mounting household female responsibilities in the face of deteriorating economic situation
5. Some unfounded religious misgivings warranting outright rejection of female education
6. Decades-old feudal mindset blocking women progress at all costs

The current decade has sprung some surprises on the female education front. The scenario owes much to the enlightened-moderation philosophy of the previous government. Brushing aside the political jargon, it can be ascertained that the philosophy was more visible in the positive changes that took place in the field of female education. The figures shown in the table reveal a number of encouraging trends in female education in a highly discouraging environment. The middle-stage female educational institutions recorded a growth of 50 per cent during the eight-year period 2000-08. This positive development at the grass root level bodes well for the female education. High-school-stage female institutions increased manifold during the same period. This is a development of great importance as it reveals the rising level of demand for high-school education.

Secondary Vocational Institutions (SVIs), after maintaining a low profile during the first four years, suddenly recorded a rise of 479 per cent during 2004-05. This is yet another important development that demonstrates the women urge to join the mainstream economic activities instead of playing the dormant, traditional role of a household. SVIs figures after 2004-05 are not available.

NUMBER OF FEMALE EDUCATIONAL INSTITUTIONS IN PUBLIC AND PRIVATE SECTORS
YEAR

PRIMARY STAGE
(I-V)

MIDDLE STAGE
(VI-VIII)

HIGH SCHOOL STAGE
(IX-X)

SECONDARY VOCATIONAL INSTITUTIONS

ARTS/ SCIENCE COLLEGES

PROFESSIONAL COLLEGES

UNIVER-SITIES

2000-01 54300 12000 4600 236 691 171 59
2001-02 55300 12800 4600 239 731 177 74
2002-03 56100 13500 4800 230 768 186 96
2003-04 57600 13900 5100 252 822 206 106
2004-05 58700 14800 5300 1460 684 331 108
2005-06 59800 19300 8100 - 1484 664 111
2006-07 60900 17500 9000 - 1420 631 120
2007-08-P 64400 18000 9300 - 1489 649 124
2008-09-E 66000 17600 9700 - 1491 644 124

The most encouraging aspect is that at higher educational level, the increase in respective female institutions turned out to be phenomenal. Arts and science colleges grew in number by 116 per cent during the first eight years. Professional colleges recorded a growth of 277 per cent, while female universities registered an increase of 110 per cent. It will be observed that the growth in female higher-education institutions during the ninth year of the decade that is 2008-09 remained almost stagnant. This puts a serious question mark on the performance of HEC under its new chairperson. Does that foreshadow the reversal of previous government's policy of female education revolution? It is not that just growth in the number of female educational institutions has taken place, the handicapped gender - the women folk-has recorded its appreciation of this boon by setting high achievement standards.

Gone are the days when boys overwhelmingly occupied top positions in any form of educational examinations. It should not be surprising if in male-dominated society, females have vehemently refused to be the pushovers. The reason is simple and straight; girls are lot more focused and disciplined. Given the culture we are living in, it is not easy for them to leave the four-walls of their homes at will and get enrolled at some educational institution. But once they are able to do it, they show their real mettle and start to outsmart their male counterparts by excelling in the pursuit of studies.

Further, female education statistics suggest that only 9.76 per cent of the total female population gets enrolled at the primary level. The major drop-out change also occurs at this level when only 2.93 per cent of the total female population manages to move to the middle stage level. This percentage further reduces to 1.34 at high stage level. What is heartening is the fact that 68.7 per cent of the girls enrolled at high stage level manage to move to arts, science and professional colleges. This proves that once they are through the high stage level, the girls become more focused and more determined to attain at least the graduation mark.

The social and economic constraints blocking the women progress need to be addressed both on government and society levels if we are to become a competitive and viable economy in the region. The woman progress does not mean adoption of the western standards of woman liberty. She is quite capable of attaining high standards of achievement by restricting herself to social, moral and religious precincts.

No individual, no institution, no mindset and no ism should be allowed to stand in her way. Education is her basic right and it is the duty of the government and the society to extend maximum support in her genuine pursuit of studies.