Guest: Reflections on dismal education for girls


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Away from the pleasant zephyr and serene skies of Iowa City, Jane Cranston, a clinical instructor in the University of Iowa College of Education, visited Pakistan to examine the challenges for girls’ education in the remote Pasrur region.

Cranston journeyed there in 2009 and came back with rich experiences. Talking about her trip in a lecture earlier this month, she said, “I had read a good deal about Pakistan, so nothing that I saw surprised me intellectually. Emotionally, it was shocking to see so many people who are so poor. We have so much here that it is hard to see that people have so little.”

To provide a roadmap for my readers, I want to highlight the findings of the Heritage Foundation, which argues that Pakistan’s public education system has suffered from neglect and politicization over the last 30 years. The overall adult literacy rate for the population above the age of 15 is about 43.5 percent, while the rates for Sri Lanka and India are 92 percent and 61 percent, respectively.

Female literacy rates in Pakistan are abysmal, standing at about 32 percent. Barely 10 percent of children complete 12 years of schooling. With a population growth rate well over 2 percent, Pakistan is set to add another 100 million people to its current population of 160 million over the next 25 years.

Pakistan does not have a sound educational system under which a child can be adequately socialized into becoming a productive member of society. Many schools in poor rural areas face different kinds of challenges. The shabby buildings of many schools lack basic infrastructure. An average student who walks two to three miles to get to her or his school every day is welcomed without clean water, fans, and a place to sit in the classrooms.

The Christian Girl’s High school, built by Iowa City’s First Presbyterian Church, has become the hope of many impoverished girls in Pasrur.

The school sparkles in the dusty streets of the small town, where education is not treated as a priority. A majority of parents living under poverty line don’t believe that educating their daughters would end their miseries. Child labor and poverty are a few of the major social issues that do not allow poor kids to go to schools. Rather, a majority of children are made to work in various industries in order to support their financially poor parents.

Even amid several societal pressures including security issues, this Christian high school continues to impart education among girls. However, there are radicals and people who don’t think girls should be allowed to go to school at all, said Cranston, who arranges educational sponsorships for impoverished girls to be able to attend the school.

The girls at the school have had challenging lives that would shock most of us, but they are generally happy, grateful, hardworking, and proud of their achievements. Cranston felt elated to see such courage.

She still misses her trip and thinks of the wonderful people she met there.

“It is a great feeling to do something that really matters and to work with people who are making an important difference,” she said.

A short conversation with Cranston made me think that one person can make a difference in the lives of poor and needy people and, at the same time, improve the image of Pakistan in the world.

Lamia Zia, a freelance journalist, worked in print and broadcast journalism in Pakistan and now writes a regular column for the Daily Iowan.

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