Before I met Sister Zeph, almost 4 years ago now, I honestly did not know that much about Pakistan or its educational system. I always thought that I had to be rich, know a lot of people and travel the world to make any difference. I turned out to be wrong and I also was unaware of how dire the educational system is in Pakistan until I actually went there. There is no documentary or blog article, even the one you are reading right now, that can prepare you for actual reality.
What I knew about Pakistan before I met Sister Zeph and started working with her school, Zephaniah Free Education, consisted of what I knew from Malala Yousafzai. After Malala was shot by the Taliban I started following her. I read her autobiography and started following her on social media in the winter of 2013. In March of 2014 while I was scrolling through Facebook I saw that Malala had shared a documentary called “Flight of the Falcons: Bring Our Girls Back”. I watched it and immediately reached out to Sister Zeph because I saw that she was online.
My relationship with Sister Zeph and her school blossomed from me teaching art classes via skype on the weekends to where I am now, with my own non profit. I got to know some of the students well and of course I got close to Sister Zeph and her family. Through my relationship with them I learned how the educational system was failing the students there in government run schools. The government run schools are filled with abuse, they don’t expect children to learn nor do the teachers spend much of their time instructing. Students are expected to read from the mandated books, memorize and score high on tests. They are not even allowed to ask questions or they may get beaten.
At Sister Zeph’s school abuse, neglect and forced memorization are not allowed
Here is a picture of Sister Zeph with a little boy she took into her school. In his previous school (Government run) he was hung upside down from a ceiling fan and beaten with metal pipes. The abuse was so bad he refused to go back to school. His parents didn’t know what to do so they brought him to Sister Zeph’s school and Sister Zeph worked with him in order to win his trust back.
Addressing the Key Flaw
I found an excellent article about the educational system in Pakistan that was written by
-Dr. Ashiq Hussain Dogar from The University of Education, Lahore,
-Dr. Tahir Mahmood Butt, the Assistant Professor of The Government College, Gujranwala,
-Dr. Intzar Hussain Butt, The Assistant Professor of The University of Education, Lahore and
-Dr. Shahzada Qaisar The Assistant Professor of The University of Education, Lahore.
Together they wrote the article, “Revisiting Pakistan’s Education System: Addressing the Key-Flaw” (2015). They state that ever since 9/11 the educational system in Pakistan has been attracting researchers and scholars from around the world. A large number of studies have since brought to light the apparent need for educational reform.
At the moment there are three main educational systems in Pakistan: public schools, private schools and Madrassas. The private, elite, schools cater to the wealthiest in society and are entirely different in their curriculum, textbooks, exams, administration, teaching resources, etc. The major difference between private schools and public schools is the use of the English language. Private schools use English as their main ode of instruction whereas public schools use ether Urdu or the local languages. Madrassas focus purely on religion and do not teach academic studies.
The problem with public schools and Madrassas is that they are not preparing their students to work or even get decent paying jobs. Children’s chances of success in the world after attending those schools, and Madrassas, are slim to none. The superior jobs and careers are associated with proficiency in the English language. The authors, Dogar et al, (2015) go on to state that the colonization of South Asia by the British created an even larger social divide then before. In post colonialism English was associated with the elite and higher classes. Also the Pakistani Government spends less than 2% of the country’s GDP on education. The constitution of Pakistan actually underlines the importance of education for all but there are no guidelines on how to achieve that.
Dogar et al, (2015) suggest that all three educational systems be merged into one national educational system. The Madrassas would have to also teach classes based on the national curriculum in addition to their religious studies. The Madrassas cannot be eliminated because over 2.5 million children attend them and they are a large part of the country’s culture. This suggested “National Education System” by the authors would make 12 years of free education compulsory for both boys and girls equally no matter socio economic status. The curriculum would be based in English instruction and after completing secondary school, what we call high school in America, the students would have the option to move to any professional educational field. All institutions then would have to work under observation and control of the state in order to achieve higher standards and monitor for any abuse.
Education in Pakistan’s Punjab Region
Sister Zeph’s school, Zephaniah Free Education, is located in The Province of Punjab where over a quarter of school aged children are not in school because they ether never attended or droppe out states Habib (2013) in “Education in Pakistan’s Punjab: Outcomes and Interventions”. Habib (2013) argues that now is the opportune time to strengthen the nation’s educational system, invest in developing skills and talents in Pakistan’s population. Schools like Zephaniah Free Education, that are higher quality attract the poorest families because they are looking for a higher return on education. Those families want their children to go to school and get better opportunities than them so they can achieve more in life.
Shockingly almost half of Pakistan’s 220 million + population is illiterate and a quarter of all school aged children are not attending school. What is happening to these children and those that are the most illiterate and poor? They are being use for unethical labor, being sold into human trafficking, child marriage, child labor and experiencing honor killings and violence in their homes and communities. It really doesn’t help that the government only spends 2% of the country’s GDP on education.
Pakistan;s population is very young and the opportune time to educate them and give them better opportunities is now. Habib (2013) points out that 40% of the population is under the age of 15. Also, focusing more on efforts in the Punjab Region, where Sister Zeph’s school is, will help because 60% of Pakistan’s population lives there. A big problem with the educational system in Pakistan and India (although the Indian Government has taken more of an initiative in recent years) is that when the British left in 1947 they left behind a colonial system (as stated earlier) that was designed to prepare the government and army officials to better serve their British rulers. Since then Pakistan has yet to define its own post colonial objectives on education. This may be due to the lack of a vision. Unfortunately Pakistan’s enrollment rates are far behind its South Asian neighbors. These low enrollment rates have serious consequences for the country’s future and development.
Despite these grim realities there is still hope if we act now. Also, supporting grassroots educational leaders like Sister Zeph also helps to provide not only hope but an investment in future generations and peace. The more disparity between the rich & educated and the poor & illiterate the more extremism we will have in the world. Education is an equalizer, balancer and opportunity multiplier. Habib (2013) and Dogar et al (2015) both point out that in 2010 the 18th Amendment to Pakistan’s Constitution made education compulsory for the first time in their history.
Article 25-A of the 18th Amendment states:
“The State shall provide free and compulsory education to all children of the age of five to sixteen years in a manner as may be determined by law.”
Parent’s prefer schools that are closer to them (to help keep their girls safe when walking to school), teachers that are dependable and a higher quality education that is based in English instruction. By helping support and uplift grassroots educational leaders we are literally saving lives and changing the course of history. Let us build world peace together one child at a time.
- Ashiq Hussain Dogar, Tahir Mahmood Butt, Intzar Hussain Butt, & Qaisar, S. (2015). Revisiting Pakistan’s Education System: Addressing the Key-Flaw. Dialogue (1819-6462), 10(4), 390–394. Retrieved from http://search.ebscohost.com.proxy-library.ashford.edu/login.aspx?direct=true&db=a9h&AN=112466567&site=eds-live&scope=site
- Habib, M. (2013). Education in Pakistan’s Punjab: Outcomes and Interventions. Lahore Journal of Economics, 18, 21–48. https://doi-org.proxy-library.ashford.edu/http://www.lahoreschoolofeconomics.edu.pk/EconomicsJournal/LJEIntro.aspx