- The Washington Times - Saturday, August 11, 2001

LAHORE, Pakistan — In the classrooms and courtyards of Muslim High School No. 2, chickens squawk, naked toddlers cry, grandmothers cook and laundry dries in the open air.
The building in the eastern Pakistan city of Lahore serves as both a government school for 1,700 boys and a refugee camp for three dozen families left homeless 54 years ago by the partition of India (to create the new nation of Pakistan). The paint is peeling, the windows are shattered, the teachers are underpaid and the quality of education is poor.
Like many public schools in Pakistan, this one is a testament to the failure of the education system in a country of 140 million people, where illiteracy approaches 60 percent and where 5.5 million primary-age children don't attend school.
Failed education helps explain Pakistan's status as one of Asia's least-developed countries, its sectarian violence, growing Islamic fundamentalism and feverish distrust of neighboring India and all things Hindu.
Critics portray Pakistan's inability to educate its children as a tale of misplaced priorities, misguided policies, rampant elitism and corruption that includes a "textbook mafia" and thousands of "ghost schools" that were built but never used.
The recent, largely unsuccessful peace summit between the leaders of nuclear rivals India and Pakistan has implications for education and other social needs in both nations. Resolving their 50-year dispute over the Himalayan region of Kashmir could free up badly needed resources now spent on the military.
Pakistan is spending $2 billion on defense in its latest budget, while outlays on education have actually declined as a percentage of gross domestic product.
It allocated $1.313 billion, or 2.06 percent of GDP, for education in the financial year that ended June 30, compared with $1.295 billion or 2.2 percent the previous year, according to the Economic Survey of Pakistan, a document put out by the Pakistani government.
The survey called the decline "a cause for major concern."
As for additional spending on education development, that is up 150 percent, to $39 million, but education advocates say it's far too little.
Education Minister Zubaida Jalal is a soft-spoken but gritty woman who spent much of her career fighting for girls' education in her own impoverished province of Balochistan. She agrees Pakistan must spend more on education, but says the provinces would not be able to effectively spend any more than what has been earmarked.
She said the military government cares a lot about education, encouraging private companies to "adopt" public schools to improve their facilities, breaking up corrupt monopolies of textbook publishers, decentralizing decision-making and spending, and persuading companies that employ children to provide schooling.
"We are going to make a major breakthrough," she said in an interview.
Critics say it needs much more than what the government is doing.
Only about half of the nation's 20 million school-age children make it to the sixth grade, said Baela Jamil, a technical adviser to the Education Ministry. Thousands of "shelterless" schools offer classes in outdoor fields. Teachers earn less than $80 a month and often don't show up to class. Many rural regions have no schools at all.
"We live a miserable life," said 52-year-old Safdar Ali, a math and social studies teacher at the high-school-turned-refugee-camp in Lahore.
Pakistan has public schools that are decaying, private schools that are expensive, and Islamic schools called madrassas.
The madrassas feed and clothe poor children, but many have come under fire for preaching intolerance and promoting jihad or holy war against perceived enemies of Islam.
Mohammed Akram Kashmiri, the registrar at the Jamia Ashrafia madrassa in Lahore, denied allegations that schools like his provide military training to students, but said "we are preparing ourselves mentally to participate in jihad."
During an interview, Mr. Kashmiri referred to Osama bin Laden, the Saudi dissident accused by the United States of running a global terrorist network, as "a great hero of Islam."
Many of the world's most militant Muslims, from Afghanistan to Lebanon, have studied in Pakistan's madrassas.
Jamia Ashrafia has 16 computers, offers courses in information technology and says it wants to promote modern education.
The government hopes to persuade other madrassas to place greater emphasis on math, science and other secular studies.
Critics blame the lack of good, cheap schooling on a rich-and-poor culture in which the elite has traditionally felt no obligation to educate the children of poor servants.
Khurshid Hasanain, a university professor and education activist, recalls being on an education-reform board. He said its members sent their children to private schools and rejected most proposals to improve public schools.
"If their own kids were involved, they would have been willing to do something," he said.

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