William Darlymple’s article published in the Guardian is an insightful piece that attempts to be unbiased and reflects on some pertinent issues that afflict Pakistan. The piece examines the media stereotype – successful India and failed Pakistan – a little deeper and identifies a creaky education system as one of the major issues with the country.

While this is no news for us Pakistanis, it nevertheless makes us think why this crucial issue is not highlighted by the opinion-makers in Pakistan. There are endless debates on national media on politics and government-opposition stand-off. Perhaps the Pakistani upwardly mobile classes are a little removed from this debate since they have long abandoned the state run education facilities and chosen the private sector services. Hence the disconnect.

Darlymple writes:

…its desperate education crisis. No problem in Pakistan casts such a long shadow over its future as the abject failure of the government to educate more than a fraction of its own people: at the moment, a mere 1.8% of Pakistan’s GDP is spent on government schools. The statistics are dire: 15% of these government schools are without a proper building; 52% without a boundary wall; 71% without electricity.

…. out of 162 million Pakistanis, 83 million adults of 15 years and above are illiterate. Among women the problem is worse still: 65% of all female adults are illiterate. As the population rockets, the problem gets worse.

It can be argued that improved political system and democratic governance is essential to overcome this state of affairs. However, this may not be enough. After all, Malaysia achieved amazing success in building human capital under authoritarian rule. I am not suggesting that democracy is irrelevant but I think there is a deeper cause somewhere locked in our social and cultural ethos that needs to be identified.

Education requires utmost attention and advocacy by all those who want to see Pakistan progress and flourish in the long term.

“The Poor Neighbour” by William Darlymple can be read here.

Update: just as I posted this, this article came as a little shock.

A REPORT in this newspaper last month tells us that a cleric, Maulana Fazlullah, has issued an edict (fatwa), holding that education of girls is un-Islamic, and urging people in the villages of Swat to withdraw their daughters from public schools. Several thousand parents have acted on his advice, and young girls are now playing on the street instead of attending their classes.

The writer however rejects the stance taken by the silly Mullah and presents an account of five great Muslim women and hopes that this might ‘remove Maulana Fazlullah ignorance, make him seek God’s forgiveness, and stop him from misleading his congregations’.