THE state of education in Pakistan has never been very good. An even bleaker picture emerges when we factor in the effect of natural disasters and militancy on education. The devastation caused by the ongoing floods has been commented on extensively. However, what may have escaped our attention is the fact that the floods have also left an already shaky educational system in tatters. Although the exercise of collecting data on the number of schools affected in the flood-hit areas has yet to begin, it is clear that the government faces an uphill task in rebuilding the educational infrastructure in these places. Man-made disasters have also taken their toll on Pakistan's education system. Militancy, especially in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, has paralysed educational activities in several districts. Scores of schools have been bombed, with the extremists bearing particular animus towards girls' education. In fact, it has been reported that hundreds of schools in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, even in areas not affected by militancy, have closed down because of a shortage of teachers as educators are not interested in serving in far-flung areas. Enrolment in government schools is also low, while the dropout rate is high. The failure of the public school system has been cited as one of the reasons for growing extremism in society.

Though it is repeatedly pointed out that the education sector suffers from resource constraints, the money that is available is not judiciously spent. A glaring example is of teachers who draw salaries but don't actually bother to show up and teach. Setting things right in such a scenario will not be easy. We must ask if the provinces are prepared to deal with the task of revamping the education sector made worse in many places by the floods. In the short term, while the government must provide food, shelter and medical care to flood-affected people it must also include educational needs in its rehabilitation plans. Looking at the bigger picture, maladministration in schools and the leakage of funds meant for education must be strictly checked. The state must not lose sight of the importance of education in such times of crises.

Updated Aug 19, 2010 12:00am

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