Making female education work
By: GULSHER PANHWER
Female education is a vital plank for girls/women empowerment. Educational policies from the very inception of Pakistan were geared to focus on quality, i.e. emphasising on increasing enrolment and then, according to policies and plans, including gender equality in education, which was to automatically follow. However, that has not been the case. Although in urban settings, where the private education sector is mushrooming, the public sector has some degree of functionality, quantity, quality, and gender balance in education is somewhat better.
However, in the rural areas of Pakistan, the situation is pathetic. Rural Sindh is the most neglected area as far as access to female education is concerned. The nongovernmental sector has played a laudable role in pioneering community participatory education models but this sector cannot replace the state as its financial and human resources are limited and short-term based. The Sindh Education Foundation (SEF) and Indus Resources Centre (IRC), under the dynamic leadership of Anita Ghulam Ali and Sadiqa Salahudin respectively, pioneered and successfully run such models in different rural and suburban parts of Sindh. BHP Billiton, a multinational oil and natural gas exploring entity, is also contributing in imparting education to hundreds of girls in mostly backward areas of Dadu district. However, the majority of the rural girls in Sindh still remain deprived of their basic right of education. Reportedly, the SEF is going to close down 250 schools in 10 districts of
Sindh in March this year, which will affect 1,500 pupils belonging to deprived parents — most of them girls. Similarly, hundreds of girls will keep studying in the schools run by local community-based organizations with the support of BHP till the funding continues to flow. The day the company washes its hands of these schools, it will be very difficult for the organisations to sustain them. What is needed is close coordination among different stakeholders; the government and international donors and philanthropists to prepare a long-term plan to sustain the ongoing educational facilities for girls, open schools where they are needed the most and make closed government schools functional once again. The girls’ schools in the public sector can be made functional and can run successfully if the capacity building of the teacher, community participation and monitoring side are assigned to the nongovernmental sector, without any political interference or pressure from teachers’ unions.