Without addressing the fundamental issues of equity, efficiency and quality in our education system – especially in the context of the education of girls in Pakistan – we will continue to face a huge deficit in achieving economic progress and social stability in the country.
The concepts of equity and quality in education need to be consciously and carefully constructed in the policy framework, effectively articulated in the structures of governance and demonstrated through services in the field. For any real improvements to take place in the education system, the conditions of learning and the barriers to learning that are experienced by diverse groups of learners are fundamental. The situation demands a thoughtful balance of the perfomative, equity and social justice approaches to protect students who are marginalised due to disability, financial status, geographic location, ethnicity and gender.
Notwithstanding the theoretical framework elaborated above, the disturbing indicators for the education of girls in the country – especially at the post-primary level – demand an urgent and effective response on the societal, political, system and community levels. As the issues of gender equity in education are deep-rooted within our wider social, economic, cultural, geographic and political context, social initiatives are also required to promote female education in Pakistan along with a series of systemic improvements,.
The ownership of these initiatives has to rest with the main stakeholders: communities, parents, families, the youth and, above all, the girls themselves. As a result, the federal and provincial governments in Pakistan, the development assistance missions of foreign governments, multilateral donors, international organisations and civil society organisations should join these efforts to produce a social transformation, with communities and families in the lead.
The involvement of communities, families, the youth and girls should go beyond one-time consultations on the programme design stage or sporadic project-specific meetings. It should also go beyond the participation of influential members of the community alone. Instead, it should be perceived and supported as a social movement that is led by the youth within communities and families. The engagement of the youth for the cause of female education will not only stimulate a positive transformative energy among young men and women, but will also modify social attitudes and preferences for the public role of girls and women. The involvement of men should be deemed indispensable in this regard.
What support structures can spur and sustain this form of social action that is aimed at bolstering the education of girls? As the primary responsibility for equitable quality education lies with the federal and provincial governments, the initiation and directional acceleration of this social drive will be possible through the clarity of purpose and concerted support from the federal and provincial governments in Pakistan.
The development partners and organisations working for educational development and promoting the education of girls will also need to come together and realise that business as usual will deliver too little for the lost generations of girls who have been deprived of the right to education. They will need to commit to building and strengthening the capacity for governance and management in a system that is providing an equitable and quality learning experience for all and working – through stakeholder involvement along with objective appraisals and mechanism – for effective accountability. Moreover, they will have to mobilise resources towards working with and through communities to generate broader support to assert the right to education for girls.
The question remains about how this social movement can be initiated and, above all, who will drive it towards fruition. The answer to this question is: focused social networks can uphold and steer this agenda for change in favour of girls and women in the country. There are individuals and organisations from diverse social and geographic backgrounds who are already working for the promotion of the education of girls. There are individuals and organisations that provide girl-friendly educational services in urban slums, rural areas and scattered settlements in the mountainous regions and conservative social environments. Among political leaders, religious scholars, the legal fraternity, government officials, education managers, educators and influential members of the community, there are countless proponents of the right to education for girls and women’s empowerment. There are mothers who earnestly want their daughters to be educated along with fathers, brothers and elders in families who support the education of girls. More importantly, there are girls who are capable of turning opportunities into productive life trajectories for themselves. It is time to coordinate and amplify these efforts, strong voices and positive family preferences by connecting them in social networks.
A national network for the education of girls can be established as a network of social networks. Through this collaboration, the champions of girls’ education can bring visibility to the issues and their solutions for girls. They can influence policies and public opinion in favour of ensuring the right to education for girls.
The networks of communities and families can work at the local level to encourage, support and motivate families to send their girls to schools. They can also generate popular support for preparing girls as active citizens of the country with their enhanced role in local development and national progress. A series of ‘mother groups’ can be galvanised to play a central role as custodians of their daughters’ right to education.
Youth groups should be the main hook for the work of this collaborative process. These youth groups should be the interface between girls and the champions for girls’ education. They will be able to energise the movement and carry the hope for social transformation that will endure in the future as well. At the core of this collaborative effort should be the girls who are not only provided opportunities to attend schools but also to emerge as educated, skilled, and productive citizens of the country. These opportunities can be offered through revival of girls’ guide programme, co-curricular clubs for girls within and outside schools, internship and work placement programmes and presentations of young, resilient women as relatable role models to them.
As Robert Redford (1936) said: “Problems can become opportunities when the right people come together”. We need to bring the right people together and address the issues involved in the education of girls in Pakistan. The power of joint and focused effort will create opportunities for millions of girls who are ready to grab them.
The writer is an education adviser at the Aga Khan Foundation Pakistan.