From unemployed teachers to ghost schools in Pakistan

April 28, 2009

Often it’s the small details that bring alive the tragedy of a nation. I recommend reading this story on IRIN about how newly qualified school-teachers are unable to take up jobs in Pakistan’s Swat valley because the government is not functioning well enough to appoint them to vacant posts. 

It quotes a 25-year-old as saying that his impoverished family had worked hard to send him to school and on to teacher-training. “We have been waiting for two years to be appointed. But this is being delayed. We are without jobs. We cannot support our families. The government has failed to help us at all,” he said. It also quotes an education department official in Swat as saying that posts were lying empty in schools as many teachers had fled the Swat valley, where the government concluded a peace deal with Taliban militants earlier this year. “But we can make no new appointments as we have no instructions from the government, plus the militants control everything anyway.”

The story is not as eye-catching as the burning of girls’ schools. But the notion of a poor family which must have scrimped and saved to send a son to teacher-training only to discover that he could not get a job is still heart-breaking, if only because its very ordinariness makes it easier to relate to.

Meanwhile, on the subject of education in Pakistan, Pakistani blogger Teeth Maestro has been rounding up articles about thousands of “ghost schools” – which get government funding without actually existing – in Sindh province.

“The ghost schools phenomenon is probably the biggest crime to the future generations of Pakistan,” he writes. “Millions get sanctioned on a yearly basis for the construction and the maintenance of these educational centres and in reality they never exist and are merely paper based ghost schools with a fully employed staff and a regular budget extracting millions from the provincial budget whilst our children continue to remain uneducated.”

According to this UNDP list reproduced on Wikipedia, Pakistan’s literacy rate of 49.9 percent put it in 160th place on world league tables – only just above Nepal and Bangladesh.  Government figures for the Federally Administered Tribal Areas give the literacy rate as far lower there – at 29.5 percent for men and just three percent for women.

In the meantime, as Fatima Bhutto, the estranged niece of the late Benazir Bhutto, complained in this article, the Taliban are filling the gap – at least for boys - by setting up madrasas and educating local children for free.

Donor countries are preparing to pour aid into Pakistan, in part to boost education. Given the many problems bedevilling Pakistan’s education system, one assumes that some people out there have a master plan on how to deal with them.  Or do they?

(Reuters photos at the Jamia Binoria Al-Alamia school in Karachi where boys and girls are educated, fed and housed/Athar Hussain)

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