Oct 25 - 31, 2010
Pakistan's failure, spanning over 63 years of existence, to use education as a nation building tool has landed us in the ongoing crises on economic, social and security fronts. One of the basic reasons for this turmoil is our lack of confidence in women folk as a character building institution. We live under the false premise that we belong to a male dominated society and, therefore, female education is almost a non-issue. Nicolas de Condorcet, an eighteenth century French philosopher, mathematician, and political scientist is known as a great proponent of free and equal public education. Amartya Sen writes in his book The Idea of Justice:
"Condorcet's insistence on the importance of women's education was linked, among other things, to his recognition of the need for women's voices in public affairs as well as in family and social life. The role of women's voices can, in turn, take us to giving priority in public policy to women's education as a part of the promotion of justice in society, both for its direct benefits and for its indirect consequences."
Irrespective of Pakistan's overall education policy design, effective or ineffective, the tribal culture holding sway in many parts of the country is against women education. Tribute must be paid to this downtrodden gender for its resilience and buoyant power that has been instrumental in keeping its presence in the education arena intact under the worst possible circumstances. The recent years' bomb blasts at girls' schools in some parts of the country have simply whetted women folk's appetite for education. 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. Apart from 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 wake 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 tribal, feudal and sardari systems have done their best to block female education with the result that the female literacy rate in areas under these systems (Balochistan and KPk) is strikingly low.
GENDER-BASED REGIONAL LITERACY RATES
Under the given circumstances, the steady but definite advance of women on educational front lessens the impact of a bleak social and economic perspective. This also gives a hope for the revival of an almost non-existent nation building process. The social and economic fruits of women education are immense. With the deteriorating standards of male education and a vast improvement in the performance of female in the field of education, we are fast becoming a nation of good mothers and bad fathers. But, the importance of good mothers for a nation can not be denied. With them, there is every hope that the coming generations of fathers will not be as bad as they are now.
Condorcet, as a great proponent of woman education, reasoned that educated women can be of great help in controlling population growth, a view that Malthus refused to subscribe to.
Writes Amartya Sen, "Today as Europe struggles with the fear of population contraction rather than explosion, and all over the world evidence accumulates on the dramatic effects of education in general and women's education in particular in reducing the growth rate of population, Condorcet's appreciation of enlightenment and interactive understanding has received much more vindication than Malthus's dire cynicism."
In Pakistan, the current decade has sprung some pleasant surprises on the female education front. The scenario owes much to the enlightened-moderation philosophy of the previous government. Apart from the political mudslinging campaigns, it can be easily ascertained that the philosophy was more visible in the positive changes that took place in the field of female education. The available statistics 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 more than doubled during the same period. This is a development of great import 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 homemaker.
The view that women are better material when it comes to education was endorsed by Dr. Muhammad Hanif Memon, a specialist in Pediatrics and Assistant Professor at Hamdard University Hospital (HUH), Karachi. Dr. Hanif teaches 3rd, 4th and 5th year MBBS students. In a recent discussion with him on the subject of education in general and female education in particular, he said that as a latest development, girl students have started showing more commitment to their studies in comparison to their counterparts. He said that this factor alone is going to have a significant bearing on our nation building process which has been seriously hampered by indifferent education policies and dismal resource allocation. He traced a number of factors to the country's education mess including dual educational standards, lack of free and compulsory primary education, poor governance, low budget allocation, and high cost of good quality education.
He was critical of the outdated curriculum and antiquated teaching methods. According to him, problem-based learning through interactive process is what the modern day students need. For this purpose, the teacher will have to take the role of a facilitator rather than a lecture deliverer. The training of trainers, he pointed out, was yet another weak link in the education system. We have no proper organisation that could take responsibility of evaluating the capabilities of tutorial force and equipping it with modern teaching tools and techniques as and when required. While showing satisfaction with the progress women are making in the field of education, he emphasised the importance of female participation in economically productive activities so that the resources utilised to promote female education are reflected in nation's GDP in value-added form. If a woman chooses to sit back at home after acquiring a degree in medicines, it will be a substantial economic loss, though a great social achievement, he concluded.