A staggering reality

Published March 14, 2011

One in ten of the world’s out-of-school children is a Pakistani.  That is the equivalent of the entire population of Lahore.”

That is, more than 6,577,000 children are deprived of education.

I would urge you to read that sentence over and over again; read it until the magnitude of the adversity sinks in. How many of us know that education is our constitutional right? It is a fact of the law. That Article 25a of the 18th amendment, gives us, citizens, the right to take the government to court for not providing access to education, or even be the grounds for a suo-moto action.  The lack of education in Pakistan has been discussed as many times as the growing extremism or terrorism in the country. It is a link that is made quite often.

Another analogy that is often made is poverty. Lack of education and poverty, are seen by many as the root cause of growing violence. We could argue with that since many other factors come into play. But what we cannot argue with is facts. Facts, that point to a growing crisis.

“The economic cost of not educating Pakistan is the equivalent of one flood every year. The only difference is that this is a self-inflicted disaster.”

Let’s also clarify the misconception that a lack of funds is in anyway responsible for this growing crisis. The report, compiled by Education Task Force reveals that:

“There are twenty-six countries poorer than Pakistan but send more of their children to school … There is a 0 per cent chance that the government will reach the Millennium Development Goals by 2015 on education. On the other hand, India’s improvement rate is ten times that of Pakistan, Bangladesh’s is twice that of Pakistan.”

Uganda, a country that is poorer than Pakistan, sends more children to school. Hence the failure to provide access to our children has little to do with funds but more to do with distorted national priorities. Another example for us to follow is Sri Lanka, which has not allowed years of counterinsurgency to hinder education. In fact, as Irfan Hussain noted in his column: “Apart from uniforms, the government supplies children with textbooks and meals. Even during the height of the civil war, the Tamil Tigers were provided with funds from Colombo to run the schools in the area under their control.”

Every other day we hear news of a school being blown up in the northern areas of the country. But how many times have we heard the government’s promise to rebuild those schools? How many children have been promised a time line that will tell them when they will be able to return to their classrooms?  We have given them nothing but silence. We cannot allow this war or any other issue to taint the future of our children.

“At current rates of progress, no person alive today will see a Pakistan with universal education as defined in our constitution.  Balochistan would see it in 2100 or later”

However it is not about us, as much as it is about them. When children from private or government schools were asked “What kind of a Pakistan do you want?”, each one of them had a dream for Pakistan, each one of them had hopes of the kind of Pakistan they want for their future.  If you watch the videos you will notice a striking difference between the two groups, but at the heart of it they all share hopes and dreams for their future and the future of this country.

It is then our responsibility that every child in the country has the opportunity to learn in a classroom and a better future. We have been hearing chants about a need for a revolution, a cause that can unite us and allow us to demand our rights. Demand education for our children because it is our constitutional right. How about we start from here?  How about marching for education?  Let’s start by signing up.

Sana Saleem is Co-founder, Director Gawaahi.com and blogs at Global Voices,  Asian Correspondent, The Guardian and her personal blog Mystified Justice. She recently won the Best Activist Blogger award by CIO & Google at the Pakistan Blogger Awards. She can be found on Facebook and tweets at twitter.com/sanasaleem.

The views expressed by this blogger and in the following reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.

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