Pakistan, the Lost Generation

It’s morning in Lahore, the capital of Pakistan’s biggest province, and the country’s next generation is headed to school. But what children are finding when they get there is of increasing concern for those who want peace in Pakistan’s future.

For 12-year-old Fatma, school is an abandoned brickyard.

“I study at the Government Primary School in Lahore,” she explains. “I study English language, and I like it. There are no chairs. We have to sit on the ground. It’s a problem in the winter. When it rains, there is nowhere to sit.”

Each day, the kids bring in a few chairs for the teachers, and they set up the school’s one blackboard, which six classrooms share.

“So your students actually have no rooms, no desks?” correspondent David Montero asks the school’s headmaster.

“No furniture. No rooms,” he replies.

This school is not an exception. There are some 20,000 “shelterless” schools throughout Pakistan. And even when there are buildings, 60 percent have no electricity, and 40 percent have no drinking water. Because the schools are so bad, Pakistan has the lowest enrollment rate in all of South Asia.

Ali Hassan is roughly the same age as Fatma, but he’s recently dropped out of the third grade. Instead, he helps out at a local gas station and makes the equivalent of 12 cents a day — money his mother says the family now can’t live without.

“I hope Ali learns to be a mechanic, that he learns this work,” his mother says. “When only my husband earns, how can we get by?”

“Today, there are 68.4 million children between the ages of five and 19 in this country, and fewer than 30 million of those kids are in any type of school,” says Mosharraf Zaidi, a longtime advocate of reforming Pakistan’s schools. “You look at the consequences of these kids not going to school — and let’s set aside the fearmongering and the scare-mongering of saying, you know, ‘What if all these kids become terrorists?’ Setting that aside, the real problem is that, if you aren’t capable of participating in the global economy, you will be very, very poor. And desperate and extreme poverty has some diabolical consequences for societies and for individuals.”

In Pakistan, public education has become a battleground. Members of Fatma’s local school council are outraged, saying the elite only care about themselves and keep the poor illiterate to stay in power.

“Government officials send their own kids to air-conditioned classrooms. Let’s see them make their kids sit here and see what it is like,” says one council member. “Aren’t these the children of God’s creation?”

The council takes Montero on a tour of a new construction site, where the government promised a new building that was supposed to house the 300 students from Fatma’s school.

“This is the only room?” Montero asks. “Three hundred students are supposed to sit in this room?”

The government blamed the contractor. The contractor blamed the government. The school council wanted to visit the Education District officer of Lahore to ask what had gone wrong. But he threatened to fire them if they showed up.

When Montero visited, the officer said that the teachers shouldn’t be complaining. According to his paperwork, the school would be big enough.

Across town, another kind of school is functioning quite well. It has plenty of room and even provides free tuition and a hot meal. It is one of the country’s many madrassas, or religious schools, which are becoming an increasingly popular option for poor parents.

“Parents who were educated don’t send their kids to madrassa. They send them to private schools, universities,” says the madrassa headmaster. “Poor people want their children to learn about their religion.”

Although madrassas are often criticized in the West, many local conservatives, like the school’s headmaster, believe that what’s being taught there will make Pakistan a stronger state.

“Why are we Muslims in this mess today?” he asks. “Because we’ve strayed from the Koran. If you look back at history, non-Muslims used to tremble in front of Muslims. Today, they don’t. Today, when they see the situation Muslims are in, they say, ‘Exploit them.’”

It’s a message that is also taught in the country’s public schools, where it can influence far more children. For decades, Pakistani schoolchildren have been learning that their country is in a battle for survival.

“The teachers tell us that India and the British are our enemies,” Fatma says. “They are killing Muslims. They are behind the bomb blasts. I do not know much about America, but generally people do not like America, and they can never be our friends.”

Rabina Saigel is an academic who’s studied public school textbooks for years and found that they have quietly been feeding extremism.

“I feel that a great deal of the ideology that we think madrassas are producing is in fact being produced in state schools,” she says. “And I say that it’s the biggest madrassa because it has the widest outreach. It reaches every town, village, and small hamlet. It reaches every nook and cranny of the country.”

At the Ministry of Education’s curriculum wing, the staff has been working on removing the militaristic tone of the curriculum. But the textbooks still include passages like these: “For the past three centuries the Europeans have been working to subjugate the countries of the Muslim world” and “The Christians and Europeans were not happy to see the Muslims flourishing in life. They were always looking for opportunities to take possession of territories under the Muslims.”

While those in the curriculum wing say that the new curriculum will address these issues, some religious fundamentalists have attacked the new, more tolerant curriculum.

“There is no demand for [secular education] in Pakistan. No demand from any section — not from students, not from teachers, not from parents,” says Fareed Paracha, the leader of Jamaat-e-Islami, Pakistan’s largest fundamentalist Islamist party. He blasts the West for trying to secularize Pakistan’s curriculum.

“They have started a clash between Western and Islamic civilizations,” he says. “They claim Western secular, democratic civilization now is the fate of humanity.”

Just a few months ago, Paracha led a protest against the latest American aid package, which includes hundreds of millions of dollars earmarked for education reform. The religious parties say the United States. is using the aid to try to hijack Pakistani society.

But ironically, others fear that the money will never reach the schools, anymore than the $100 million in U.S. aid over the past three years has. 

Reformers believe the problems that Pakistani children face are so deep that money alone will not be enough to fix them.

“I think it’s generous of the American taxpayer, and I think it’s important that Congress and the president and the administration have made this kind of a long-term commitment. But it is not going to make the difference between a functional and a dysfunctional Pakistan,” says Zaidi. “The choice of whether Pakistan is going to be a functional country is a choice that has to be made by Pakistanis. And Pakistanis haven’t made that choice yet because government after government fails to make the investments that it needs to make.”



Filed under Economy, Education, Kerry Lugar Bill, Lahore, Pakistan, poverty, Punjab, Religion, Rural, Taliban, USA, youth

22 responses to “Pakistan, the Lost Generation

  1. Vishal

    Excellent article. To educate Pakistan’s youngs should be one of the top priorities. The disparity between government budget spent on military and on education is appalling.

  2. Ron

    i am very sorry to say…….the above article smells like India.

  3. Ron

    …especially the part concerning with schools.

  4. I shudder with ‘terror.’ Is this possible? Even as I know it is. Such stark polarities. Madrassahs, state schools and private educational institutions and each with its own brand of indoctrination.

  5. Sadia Hussain

    The future prospects does seems bleak as the state invests little in education, whereas in the militancy hit areas more and more schools are being destroyed every day, with millions of children not having the opportunity to basic education one their prospects of upward social mobility are limited.
    Foreign donors contribute a lot in the area of education; however this aid is often vulnerable due the various obstacles such lack of infrastructure, outdated curriculum and poorly trained educators.

    I agree with Mushraff Zaidi statement that it is indeed generous of U.S tax payers to contribute millions of dollars for educational reforms or rather revamps! But the change will come if these funds are applied in the right direction with prior planning

  6. Maestro96

    Lack of Education structure is Pakistan’ crisis. It is worse than ever before and all these JI types and fundos can do is blame America and west for it. Typical loser attitude. Blame everyone else but your own pathetic attitude to life.

  7. T ahir Rauf

    If a government can buy F-16 for billion dollar a piece, why not spend the same money on educating children. Invest on public education.

  8. Usman Gul

    Analysts have time and again laid emphasis on the paramount importance of education in every society. Education leads to increasing poverty which results in menaces such as terrorism, increasing crime rate and a shrinking economy. Its a vicious cycle and lack of education lies at the heart of all these problems. Many publications, including this one, have emphatically highlighted the dire need for education.

    However, the need of the hour is to take the initiative to bring about a change. The government’s actions are beyond our control and blaming the government hardly helps. Realizing this, a group of MIT graduates initiated a project called BLISS that aims to devise a system to set up self-sustainable educational institutions across the country. Their pilot project, a Barakat school, was launched in Attock where young girls attend school in the morning and work for two hours every afternoon to make handbags. These bags are then sold in the market and the revenue generated is invested in improving the schools. The girls’ families are paid money equivalent to what these girls would have earned by working (if they were not attending school). This ensures that their families will not pull them out of school to employ them elsewhere. The leftover revenue is used to improve the school and possibly set up more schools with the same concept.

    This is the sort of social change that we need, and if there is any one (apart from the notorious government) who can help bring about such a change, it has to be the civil society. This seems to be a viable and pragmatic way to help the ‘lost generation’ escape the chains of poverty. Use the link below for more details on BLISS.

  9. rex minor

    The US tax payer has no money!! I guess it is very difficult to make people uunderstand that the US is on the way to become insolvent. They do not have the money, they are simply printing green notes after having borrowed the real one from the Chinese and the Saudis!
    Why do’nt you forget the Gringos? What about integrating Madrassas with the schooling? The Parliament should impose education tax on the wealthy and the military elites. Pakistan could also sell their military equipment to rich oil States. What do they need the F16 for if they are unable to support the education system. The Indiasns are exporting IT services, and the Pakista Govt. could offer military services to Iran and the rich oil states. The US is taking care of Afghanistan.

  10. vajra

    @rex minor

    If you ask discreetly and with some tact and sensitivity, you will find that someone thought of these exports of services some decades ago. 😉

    You might like to investigate the national composition of the air forces of various Gulf countries, the existence of a parallel body to the royal bodyguard in a very powerful Arab country, and the operations against alien refugees, armed to the teeth and increasingly hostile to the resident monarchy, in yet another Arab country.

    If I may point out, these revenues have already been taken into account; something more is needed.

    Bangladesh, on the other hand, has stolen a march, as the saying goes, over both the Pakistani and the Indian military in this particular regard. Taking the neighbourhood into account, Afghanistan has these ‘services’ being offered within the country, one service-provider against another; India is offering these ‘services’ free to not very enthusiastic Indian neighbours; Pakistan has regionalised its market, outside its immediate vicinity; Bangladesh has globalised and is far ahead of the other two.

    The moral of the story? The Pashtoons may get a good idea, but the Bangladeshis will perfect it. Bangla rules, OK? 😀

  11. rex minor

    I know you guys have the phantastic ideas. People of the sub-continent are resilient and have enormous manpower with entreprenneurial qualities. However, they also suffered centuries of colonialism under the British. One of the leader even had a bright idea of dividing the country in half and the other decided to separate further simply to receive the foreign aid direct instead of via the central Govt. The missing link is of leadership. When are the leaders going to accept the self reliance policy instead of the foreign aid? After all they did demonstrate their excellence in science. They even managed to build the nuclear weapons more or less without the direct help of the Western Powers.

    What bothers me is that both India, Pakistan and Bangla Desh behave like Faqirs in front of the so called rich nations classifying themselves as the developing countries and do not hesitate to receive the development aid. However, most of their citizens remain poor, struggle for education, migrate to other countries as economic refugees, and their Govts. over spend on weaponry.

    The one thing they lack is that the realisation that their citizens are the treasure for their country. Instead of waste on weaponry they could educate, educate and educate their citizens and not compel them to migrate to cold Canada and seek education in the US, Canada and even Australia now. What is wrong with your education system? Is China not a better example? Does one have to follow the western capitalist system? Even the micro credit venture in Bangla Desh has run into problems.

    In your communications I have always experienced two Vajras, one who is a thinker and the other who writes in an uncommon but superb english. Therefore I did not follow fully the second paragraph of your note.

    Pakistan provides nuclear umbrella to the powerful monarchy and receives cash revenue, they could offer similar support to Iran ( who according to the US are not yet nuclear) and others. India could follow suit but your Govt. is too hesitant to match Western offers. It is not difficult to have thoughts, even ideas, the question is of a strategy and the so called “think tank” institutions.

    Have a nice day!

  12. vajra

    @rex minor

    This business about my English is getting to me.

    Forget the Afghans; that was a needle sharpened specially for you.

    The Indians post their military people in nearby countries which don’t want them.

    The Pakistanis post their military all over the Gulf. At the moment, both their pilots and their soldiers are deployed like this.

    The Bangladeshis have specially volunteered for every single UN peacekeeping mission that they could, and it has become a source of revenue for their military, even for the the country.

    Is it comprehensible now?

  13. vajra

    @rex minor

    About foreign aid, we still need capital, we are dreadfully short of capital, in spite of our former very high savings rate. So foreign aid continued would have been quite welcome at the present juncture.

    However, someone who does the arithmetic will find that India no longer receives any significant foreign aid, and has started paying back loan principal amounts ahead of time.

    India does not take foreign aid any longer. In some cases, she has been giving friendly and needy countries some aid, not much, about as much as you might expect a poor country with many goals remaining to be achieved to contribute.

    Just for your information.

  14. rex minor


    I did not mean foreign aid for India, but aid which the poor countries receive from so called rich countries as a development aid. I also know it is pennies. I should have thought that your leader should proudly declare that they do no longer need charity money from the West. But the economist has also to prove that the citizens are not starving. A country which is ordering dozens of nuclear reactors and hope to have an aircraft Carrier should not take charity money from the countries who do not have such a luxary in weaponry.

    Every country needs investment capital for further development and the Investors need industrial countries like India to obtain good returns for their investment. India is a major player in the financial world in its its own right and I would like to see India obtaining an important voice in the political world. Why are the current leaders so weak and reluctant for this stature. For example, how could they allow the brutal violation of human rights in their own neighbourhood. I mean Siri Lancans killing unarmed, women and children Tamils simply because their leaders were separatists. India did help Bangla Desh, where was their influence for Tamils? Sorry, this is a quite a different sad episode.

    Have a nice day.

  15. rex minor:

    1. The nuclear reactors in India are not military hardware; they are needed to fill the sorely needed energy gap.

    2. The US is not printing money to pay off creditors.
    In spite of all the doom and gloom you guys hear and read about in Europe, the US credit rating is still very good; it is for this reason that it can raise money in spite of the federal deficits.
    Euro OTOH is raising some serious stability concerns in part due to some bad economic decisions by a few (PIGS) countries in the EU.

    3. The reason why this is so is that on one hand the US economy is still a 14 trillion dollar gorrilla on the other the tax rate in US is still relatively low compared to Europe. While we in the US know that to reduce our deficit, we will have to raise our taxes at some point; (darn it) but that is life.
    In the mean time, hold the obituaries just yet. Your investments in the US financial markets are safer than they are elswhere at the moment. 😉


  16. rex minor

    1. The nuclear reactors are for the civilian use, but the used up uranium is to feed the Indian Nukes. Unless the Indian scientists have found some other use of the nuclear waste, short of burying it in the Himalays for centuries of sleep.
    2. I have not said that the US is printing money for creditors. They are printing it for domestic consumption and proliferating it across the world. This in my view is irresponsible. Yes they have a good credit rating, what a smoke screen. They have obliged Saudis and the Chinese to grant a credit in the amount of now more than two trillion dollars because they are simple not able to pay these creditors. The cleve India Jogi has once again managed to convert their dollar reserves into Gold.
    . What a farce to say that the financial investment in the US is safe. I would not tell this to the small, medium and large investors in Europe who invested with Lehmann Bros. and the US Govt. let this criminal Investment Banker go broke without providing any support. Even the small country Iceland is prepared to pay to the UK and Dutch investors their sums with a normal interest.
    It is of no interest if the american taxes for the rich are lower than the average in the world, you have forty million citizens in the States without health coverage. The US is going down slowly but certainly like the Roman Empire or the Titanic. You guys have still not realised this and are certainly going to sink with the ship. Most of the rats are leaving every day for investment in China and Brazil. I would suggest you should not worry about the low or coming high rtax rate in your country. Like communism the US capitalism is on on its last leg.
    You should also be aware that the European capitalism is based on social free market concept.

    PS The Indian Leader could buy another Sea Elephant from the Pentagon at a cheaper price than thatdemanded by the Russians? The US can no longer continue to maintain their large military in the world at an annual cost of a Trillion dollars
    Have a nice day.

  17. Yasir Qadeer

    The education sector in Pakistan needs great improvement. We should be thankful to USA for allocating funds from their tax-payers money for the development of education sector in Pakistan.

  18. rex minor

    @Yasir Qadeer
    As a matter of interest, how much money we are talking about?

  19. Yasir Qadeer

    @Rex Minor: Pakistan has become the 6th largest receiver of ODA (Official Development Assistance). The total amount of foreign economic assistance received in 2008-09 is estimated at $ 7,193 million. The current allocated budget for the health and education sector by Government of Pakistan is 2.5% (for both) of the total budget. As evident it’s very less and the gap between what is required and the allocated amount is huge. This gap is being filled by ODA. In year 2007, Pakistan received $411.3 million and in 2008 it got $241 million for education sector alone. For a moment, think about it being unbiased. Yes, corruption exits. Where did the money go? These are secondary questions. Think where this money comes from? It’s a tax payer’s money at the end of the day. An American worker works as hard as we do all day and at the end of the month pays tax. That money is collected by the government and used for different purposes. We are the primary users of that money.

  20. rex minor

    @Yasir Qadeer
    Sorry, do I understand correctly that the US gave Pakistan around seven billion dollars in 2008-2009 or did you mean 700 hundred million dollars?. As I said before, the US tax payers are not yet involved . The money is from the Saudis and the Chines, the US is simply using the printing machines.

  21. DCMediagirl

    @ron: So you support illiteracy in Pakistan? Putting aside your ridiculous conspiracy theory, please enlighten the group as to the literacy rate and your solution to educating the population.

  22. Pentagon, the big elephent