Education at the crossroads

By Erum Noor Muzaffar
Tue, 08, 23

Though a year has passed, the destruction caused by the extreme floods, especially in rural Sindh and villages around Sanghar District, is still seen in the form of ruined crops, stagnant water and damaged homes and schools – resulting in disruption to education. You! takes a look…

Education at the crossroads

For nations to build, education is the basic tool to achieve progress. Higher the literacy rate, higher are the chances of countries to grow. It is education that gives individuals power to think and to work together for the benefit of their country. Similarly, low literacy rate can plunge any country into regression. Unfortunately, Pakistan has a low literacy rate which portrays a gloomy state of affairs.

According to the World Bank, Pakistan has one of the world’s lowest literacy rates, with just around 58 per cent of adults able to read and write. A recent report by UNESCO has declared that Pakistan and particularly Sindh is at the lowest EFA (Education for All) index because of low enrolment at primary schools, adult literacy, gender equity and equality and quality of education. UNESCO report depicts the deteriorated education standard in Sindh.

On top of that, last year’s unprecedented floods have disrupted the educational infrastructure across the country. 2022 deluge damaged or destroyed more than 26,600 schools nationwide; while at least 7,060 others were used as temporary relief camps and shelters for the displaced. More than 3.5 million children, including girls, have had their education disrupted, says a UNICEF report. The girls faced a number of problems while living in make-shift tents. With no electricity, no toilets, no clean water, no books, no stationery coupled with social barriers, it was difficult for girls to continue their education, resulting in major dropouts. Many lost their books in the deluge. Some NGOs came to their rescue but their help was insufficient to meet the challenges.

According to Sindh government, the monsoon rains have affected the education of nearly 2.4 million school-going children in the province, with 46 per cent of the affectees being girls. Almost 16,000 schools have been damaged or destroyed, making it even more challenging to provide quality education to children, especially girls, affected by the floods.

It has been observed that several flood-related hurdles are making it difficult for children and girls to return to school. Distance to school has long been a barrier to accessing education particularly for girls in rural areas. Following the flooding, commuting has become a task for girls.

Inadequate education for girls

It is impossible to progress as a nation unless we educate our women. An African proverb goes like this, “If you educate a man, you educate an individual. But if you educate a woman, you educate a nation.” But this does not hold true in case of Sindh where a majority of girls are deprived of basic education. According to statistics, only 23 per cent of women in rural Sindh are literate, resulting in a large gender gap in education. Sindh province has the country’s second-highest number of females out-of-school students.

On my recent trip to Sanghar District, Sindh, and its adjacent villages, I was astonished to find out that there are no separate schools for girls and most girls are deprived of their right to educate themselves. Even before the floods, the standard of primary and secondary education in Sindh was very low but the recent floods have made the matters worse, resulting in a major dropout of girls from schools.

“In our village, there is no separate school for girls. Sending girls to school is considered a taboo in our community. I have three daughters but only my son goes to school. There is only one school in our goth which is in dilapidated condition after the floods. The school was closed for six months and a precious one year of my son has been wasted,” elucidates Mumtaz, a resident of Goth Maulvi Khair Mohammad, Sanghar District. “Most of us (women) are illiterate, as we were never sent to schools. I want my daughters to study but I don’t have enough resources to send them to school plus I am afraid of my orthodox community,” says a dejected Mumtaz.

In a patriarchal society, females are usually ignored - they are generally not allowed to go outside, and instead of attending school, they work and sew clothes at their homes. Poverty and ignorance are the two main factors that keep girls away from acquiring knowledge.

Mehnaz of Shno Fakeer Umrani Goth,sharing her thoughts...
Mehnaz of Shno Fakeer Umrani Goth,
sharing her thoughts...

“We are conservative people and it is considered inappropriate for girls to study in co-education. Besides that, we are too poor to educate our girls. From an early age, they start working in order to support their families financially. We are deliberately pushed back so that we cannot stand for our basic rights,” shares Mehnaz, a resident of Shno Fakeer Umrani Goth in Sanghar District. From her confidence, I could gauge that she is an educated girl. When asked how educated she is, she explains, “I am inter pass. Actually, my father taught me the basics. He is an enlightened man and knows the value of education. He took a stand for me and sent me to Sanghar city for higher studies despite facing opposition from his clan. After Intermediate, I came back to my village and got married.” So, haven’t you thought of teaching? “I want to teach other girls but we don’t have any resources or facilities - no books, no stationery, no functioning washrooms, no place to arrange classes as the only school of our village has been broken-down,” she laments.

“Along with poverty, unawareness is another setback for education sector. Similarly, another problem is that of low allocation of funds. Government of Sindh spends 22 per cent of its budget on education sector. It is not enough, because a huge chunk of this amount goes in salary of teachers and other staff members. The remaining funds are not property utilised,” informs Kamran Nazakat, an educationist based in Sindh.

According to a report by Sindh Education Foundation, “One of the key factors for low levels of girls in education is dearth of schools in villages in Sindh. Generally, parents are reluctant to send their daughters to schools at long distances. Moreover, poverty restricts poor and low-income families to invest in their children’s education. Generally, preference is given to boys. Therefore, it keeps many girls away from school. Instead, parents send their girls to work in order to help families in agriculture activities to improve their family income.”

“In our village there is no concept of girls’ education, nobody sends their daughters to school,” tells Bachal, a resident of Goth Fazal Laghari near Sanghar District. “Girls have no significance. They have no say in family matters or decision-making. They are only viewed as commodities who get married at an early age to bear children,” she adds. “Boys are preferred over girls. The only school of our village has been damaged in last year’s floods and now children are sitting idle,” she comments.

According to the 2022 World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Index report, Pakistan ranked as the second worst country in the world in terms of gender parity. Against this backdrop, natural disasters like floods, will further reinforce the existing gender inequalities by adding to the woes of millions of women and young girls who are constantly fighting for their rights to adequate education, health, and economic opportunities while operating within a primarily male-dominated society.

The dilapidated condition of the school at one of the goths.
The dilapidated condition of the school at one of the goths.

Redefine education in emergencies

Though a year has passed, the destruction caused by the extreme floods, especially in rural Sindh and villages around Sanghar District, is still seen in the form of ruined crops, stagnant water and damaged homes and schools. The closure of schools in wake of floods has negatively affected education of millions of students in Sindh.

“The disruption to education poses significant threat to the future of the vulnerable children, especially girls living in Sindh,” says Liaqat Ali, Chairman of Indus Consortium, an NGO based in Islamabad. “It is high time to act now. We need to rebuild schools in downtrodden villages in Sindh and to redefine education in collaboration with government and different stakeholders,” suggests Liaqat.

“Apparently, the government works for promoting and maintaining the standard of education but the worst dropout ratio and notorious education system presents an extremely deteriorating picture. Hence, Sindh government should declare education emergency in the province,” stresses Kamran.

As a country susceptible to climate change, Pakistan is in dire need to develop a mechanism to fight this. This calls for a comprehensive approach, spanning from central education departments down to individual schools, and involving district-level planning and response to disasters such as floods and earthquakes, recommends a report. Now, the question is what are the plans and policies of the government to continue the education for displaced students, especially girls? That remains to be seen.

Photo credit: Mohammed Umar, (Sanghar District)

Erum Noor Muzaffar is the editor of You! magazine. She can be reached at