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State of education in Pakistan

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    State of education in Pakistan

    PAKISTAN'S GHOST SOULS / Critics say millionsearmarked for children's education line the pockets of corruptofficials
    Special to the Chronicle
    BHAIR SODIAN, Pakistan - In a dusty courtyard of the Bhair Sodian primary school, 200 female students squat in the dirt, their headscarves the only protection against the blazing sun . While the older girls pore over tattered textbooks, the rest swat flies with their ragged tunics and draw circles in the earth.
    The sole teacher - the only one of five assigned to the school to actually turn up - has no choice but to hold class outside. The airless schoolhouse lacks electricity and is an inferno in all but the coldest months. There are no bathrooms and no blackboards. And for most students, no learning.
    It is a typical government school in Pakistan, where the literacy rate is roughly 30 percent and half the children never attend class. Many Pakistanis blame state apathy and corruption, not poverty, for the country's poor education record.
    "The government doesn't care. They have no idea what conditions we have here," said Hafiz Ghulam Sarwar, head of the school committee for this village of rice farmers, 60 miles south of the provincial capital of Lahore. He said the last time any government official visited the school was four years ago.
    Critics claim that tens of millions of dollars earmarked for education in Pakistan never reach the children and instead go into the pockets of corrupt officials or teachers who never show up in class. They cite as one of the most glaring examples the country's so-called ghost schools, institutions that have received government money but were not built or lie vacant. Some estimates put the number of fake schools across Pakistan at 20,000.
    Such rampant corruption is considered the principal reason Pakistanis almost universally supported the Oct. 12 military coup that toppled the civilian government of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. Sharif is accused of illegally amassing $100 million in unpaid taxes, loan defaults and embezzled funds - only a fraction of the $5 billion that analysts estimate was siphoned off nationwide during a decade of democratically elected governments.
    Education officials acknowledge the existence of the ghost schools, but they claim their hands were tied by the powerful feudal elite who dominated the now-defunct Parliament.
    "This is the fault of the group of feudals that have been sent home. They were the biggest bottleneck," said Munir Ahmed, a senior adviser in the federal Education Secretariat. "They would see that teachers were recruited and then worked in their fields."
    The impact of such corruption can be felt in the country's grim education profile. Officially, 45 percent of Pakistan's population is considered able to read and write. Most experts, though, say that Pakistan's real literacy rate is closer to 30 percent. By comparison, India, which has roughly half the gross domestic product, or GDP, per resident, has a literacy rate of 63 percent.
    Pakistan also spends far less on education than most developing nations - 2.2 percent of GDP compared with the 5.8 percent it spends on the military.
    That disparity bodes ill for efforts to get democracy to take root in this nation of 140 million people. The country has been under military rule for 25 of its 52 years of independence and is now in the throes of its fourth military dictatorship.
    "You can't talk of democracy in a country where you don't understand what democracy is," said Fareeha Zafar, an education expert who runs a chain of donor-funded primary schools in Punjab, Pakistan's most populous province. She blames government neglect of the education sector for the abysmal attendance levels at public schools.
    Only half of school-going children attend public schools. The rest attend either one of the private schools that have sprung up across the country in the past decade, or Islamic seminaries, where education consists of memorizing the Koran and receiving religious indoctrination.
    The result is an increasing gap between the rich and poor, who cannot afford to pay the $5 per child per month fee for the private schools where conditions - if not the quality of schooling - are significantly better.
    Many private schools are run by profiteers, who capitalize on villages where there are no schools. Their teachers typically have little more than an eighth-grade education. But the villagers are lured by false promises that their children will learn English, a must for upward social mobility in Pakistan.
    Since the early 1990s, Pakistan has been under heavy pressure from the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank to increase emphasis on primary education as a condition for loans. But experts say rather than focus on the quality of education, the government has simply built more schools. Meanwhile, the percentage of students enrolled in rural areas has actually fallen, an 8 percent decline for boys and 1 percent for girls.
    "It's an enormous failure," said Fawad Shams, an education analyst based in Lahore, Nawaz Sharif's home city. "Education here is really a joke."

    With 600,000 teachers in Punjab alone, education is also big business.
    According to Mehnaz Akbar, an education expert with the private Asia Foundation, the corruption extends from the prime minister to the school janitor. She said many teachers were required to pay $200 to $1,400 for a job. They are then guaranteed a monthly salary of $75 to $100 for life - even if they never turn up in the classroom.
    Many collect their salaries and then work in more lucrative jobs or as household servants for rich legislators, who often hand-pick teachers in violation of the law, she said. In addition, absentee teachers pay as much as 50 percent of their official wages to local education supervisors.
    Other critics point to the content of the schooling, which they say legitimizes the ideal of the strong state.
    In order to advance from the fifth grade, students must be able to identify "forces that may be working against Pakistan," according to the government curriculum guidelines. They must also know in detail about Pakistan's three wars with India, be able to identify the differences between Hindus and Muslims and explain the need for an independent Muslim state. Perhaps more worrisome for efforts to promote peace, they must be able to make speeches on the ideals of the jihad (Islamic holy war) and martyrdom.

    The impact of that curriculum becomes obvious in interviews with students.
    "India is our enemy and it should be destroyed," said Fatima Omardin, 12, a student at the Bhair Sodian school. The town is 15 miles from Pakistan's border with India. She added that not all Indians were enemies, saying "Muslim Indians are good. Hindus are bad."
    Asked where she learned that, the other female students piped up, "The teacher told us."

    Even more radical philosophies are propagated in many of the Islamic seminaries, whose number has doubled from 3 ,000 to nearly 6,000 during the past five years. The schools, known as madrassas, are widely blamed for the rise in militant Islamic fundamentalism in Pakistan. They are exempt from the state curriculum and lure students from the poorest families with the promise of free tuition, room and board.
    Muhammad Shabir, 12, a student at the Arabic Farroquia madrassa in Arifwala town, in central Punjab, said his parents pulled him out of a government primary school last year because the teacher never came.
    Now, he said, "I can concentrate on the glory of jihad."

    [This message has been edited by durango (edited November 16, 1999).]

    "India is our enemy and it should be destroyed,"
    said Fatima Omardin, 12, a student at the Bhair Sodian school. The town is 15 miles from Pakistan's border with India. She added that not all Indians were enemies, saying "Muslim Indians are good. Hindus are bad."

    "I can concentrate on the glory of jihad."


      "India is our enemy and it should be destroyed,"

      The same could be said of Pakistan. Who is a hell next to heaven