International Coalition for Education Reform in Pakistan

Beyond Literacy: Education in Pakistan … and NGOs

Posted by icerp on October 23, 2008

Beyond Literacy:

Education in Pakistan – and Why NGOs Need to Think Again


By Anjum Altaf, Ph.D.  




This is the edited text of the Keynote Presentation at the conference on ‘Education Reform in Pakistan’ in San Jose, California, on August 30, 2008.  


Participants and panelists included the leaders of US-based NGOs which support education in Pakistan – HDF, DiL, CAI and TCF-USA.   


The USAID office in Washington, DC, was represented by the Officer in Charge for Pakistan with input from the USAID field office in Islamabad.   


Following this text are the Conclusions from the Conference by Dr. Anjum Altaf. 




Sixty years after the creation of the country half of Pakistan’s population is still illiterate. This is a major problem but it is not the major problem. It is only an outcome of the major problem.


This distinction is important because the identification of the problem defines the nature of the solution. If we think of illiteracy as a major problem caused by the inattention of the state we will immediately think of a course of action in which all the NGOs get together, construct schools, and deal with the problem one school at a time. I will argue that this will send us off on the wrong track.


Think of it this way. If you go to a physician with fever and rashes, the physician does not treat you for fever and rashes. The fever and rashes are not the disease; they are just the symptoms of a disease. And the disease is unidentified till there is a diagnosis which is the real job of the physician. Only when the underlying cause is identified can the appropriate treatment be prescribed. And this prescription will be very different depending on whether the fever and rashes are due to malaria as opposed to chicken pox.


The social scientist is the physician of the social system and his/her real task in this case is to identify the underlying cause whose symptom is 50 percent illiteracy in Pakistan. Before we begin to address that question we should also clarify that just as illiteracy is not the problem, the 50 percent of the citizens who are illiterate are not the problem. They are not the ones holding back the development and prosperity of the country. Blaming them would be akin to blaming the patients and the victims.


The fact of the matter is that Pakistan is a grossly mismanaged country. And the ones who have been in charge of mismanaging the country are its literate, not its illiterate, citizens. Let us grant for the moment that it is part of this mismanagement that is manifested in the illiteracy of half the population. So the question we have to ask is why the literate managers have failed to impart literacy to the still illiterate citizens?


The two explanations that one hears all the time are lack of political will and lack of money. But these are not convincing explanations. Why is political will needed to spread literacy? Who in the country is opposing the spread of literacy? Why does political capital need to be expended for this cause? There is no satisfactory answer.


And why is there a lack of money for education? There seems to be a lot of money for everything else from the making of nuclear bombs to buying F-16 planes to building the highest water fountain in the world. Why is it education that is starved for money? Once again there is no satisfactory answer.


The only plausible conclusion seems to be that spreading literacy amongst the illiterate has a very low priority for the literate managers of the country. And so we push back the question further to ask why that priority is so low?


Let me try to present a hypothesis with a few examples. Take the tribal sardars in Balochistan. The population of Balochistan is only 10 million and only half of those are ethnic Baloch. We know that a number of Baloch sardars have earned millions of dollars for the use of natural resources on their lands. So why have the sardars not used this revenue to educate their tribesmen?


When you pose that question almost everyone in Pakistan is quick to inform you that the sardars do not wish to educate or otherwise develop their tribesmen because they want them to remain dependent.


Leaving aside the politics of Balochistan within Pakistan, we can conclude from this that there is at least one type of political-economic system in which the rulers are positively not interested in educating their constituents.


Have I picked an outlier, the only such system of this type in the world ruled by backward tribal sardars? Think again. Recall that in the American South before the Civil War many states had passed laws making it a crime for slaves to learn to read and write and for others to instruct them. The punishments included flogging for slaves and heavy fines for the teachers.


Why was this necessary? Because if the slaves had been able to read the Constitution they would have noted that it began with the statement that all men were born equal and, one presumes, they would have been curious to know why the equality did not apply to them.


So we can begin to believe that there are indeed political-economic systems, especially those based on oppression, where the rulers do not wish the ruled to develop the ability to think and question because that questioning would lead to a questioning of the legitimacy of the systems themselves.


Do you believe that such things just happen by themselves without conscious thought? Once more you will have to think again. Most people in the subcontinent are familiar with the name of Lord Macaulay made famous by his 1837 ‘Minute on Education’. Here is what he said  in a remarkable speech in the British Parliament on the Government of India Bill in 1833:


“Are we to keep the people of India ignorant in order that we may keep them submissive? Or do we think that we can give them knowledge without awakening ambition? Or do we mean to awaken ambition and provide it with no legitimate vent?”


What happened in India later is a fascinating digression but I will not get into that here. The point to take away is that the decision to educate or not to educate the subjects is a political decision, that education policy is an element in the political calculus, and that there are some political-economic systems, of which I have provided three examples, where the decision of the rulers is not to educate the ruled beyond the minimum that is necessary for the functioning of the system.


Of course, not all systems are like that. Here in the Silicon Valley you have a sub-system that puts a great premium on learning and that even pays you to acquire more knowledge. Why? Because this system is part of a globally competitive environment in which it would die if it didn’t remain ahead of its competition. So, one can conclude that it is the needs of a political-economic system, not good will, that determine its attitudes towards education.


Note that one cannot even generalize from the Silicon Valley sub-system to the US as a whole. You might agree that the US does not really want its citizens to learn more than it feels necessary about the Iraq war, for example. And it does not strongly enough wish the same kind of thinking to be taught in inner city schools as it does in the schools of Palo Alto. Do you attribute that in the richest country of the world to lack of political will or lack of money?


So, here is the first major conclusion: Education is a political issue; political-economic systems are in general inimical to enabling their citizens to think; they enable only as much thinking as is necessary for the survival of the system; and systems differ in how much thinking-power they need to survive.


You can even apply this perspective to attitudes towards the education of women within families if you think of a family as a political-economic system. When we see the issue in this perspective we can understand better why education has such a low priority in Pakistan for the managers of the system. They sense a very low need for innovative thinking that is satisfied by a handful of elite institutions whose teaching methods have never trickled down to the vast majority of schools and colleges. On balance, the dangers posed by critical thinking far outweigh its benefits to the status quo.


Now, of course, there are occasions when populations rebel against this kind of oppression. We can think of the warlords in China, the Tsars in Russia, and the capitalists in Cuba as the equivalents of our Baloch sardars. Their populations under Mao, Lenin, and Castro rebelled against the oppression and were able to win universal literacy for themselves.


But does this stop education from remaining an instrument of politics? No, the politics just moves up to the next level – that of the content that comprises education and literacy. So, the Chinese were made literate with the Little Red Book, the Russians with Marxism-Leninism, and the Cubans with the Socialist Man. The object was to concede the hard-won right of citizens to learn but to ensure that they thought in a particular, state-sanctioned, way. Many would call that indoctrination, not education.


The second major conclusion is that literacy is important but the content of that literacy is even more important. Let me give you an example from closer to home. Ashis Nandy, the leading political psychologist in India, recently got into a lot of trouble for writing an article in which he laid the blame for the ethnic cleansing in Gujarat on its educated middle class. Remember that this ethnic cleansing is alleged to have been incited and encouraged by Narendra Modi, the very literate Chief Minister of the state.


Related to this, Dr. Asghar Ali Engineer, a leading scholar of ethnic conflict working in Mumbai, asked a very profound question: Why is that the educated middle class is more bigoted than the illiterate masses? And he had a very simple answer: because it is educated.


Think about this. If you take the mind of a child as an empty vessel and make the child literate while filling his or her mind with hate and lies what will you get? You will get a literate young person who is infinitely more dangerous than an illiterate one.


So, if you teach numeric literacy in a school by asking how many kar-sevaks it would take to demolish 7 mosques in 3 days if one kar-sevak can demolish one mosque in two days, you will certainly achieve literacy, but at a very heavy cost to society.[1]


Of course, this political use of education is not confined to India. The curriculum wing of the ministry of education in Pakistan retains very tight control over what is to be taught in public schools in Pakistan. An analysis of the content is available on the web in a report prepared by the Sustainable Development Policy Institute in Islamabad. When you see it you will be convinced that this is indeed not education but indoctrination. And, of course, you are quite well aware how some others are being made literate in the well-funded madrassas.


So this is what we mean by the term “beyond literacy”. Education is not pouring propaganda into empty minds but enabling those minds to think for themselves. And thus we have a twin struggle: first to ensure that our citizens obtain their basic human right of education; and second that the education they get enables them to think for themselves.


Once we have diagnosed the problem and placed it in its political context only then can we begin to think how we can get from where we are to where we want to be. The first part is obviously a political struggle. We have to mobilize the citizens to demand their right to a good education – no one is going to give it to them as charity. But this also requires us to see the role of NGOs in a realistic perspective – the arithmetic does not support the conclusion that NGOs on their own can fill the gap left by the omissions of the state.


NGOs are doing a commendable job in changing the life chances of the proportionately very few people they are able to touch. But all the statistics confirm that the overall gap in Pakistan is widening despite the heroic commitment of the NGOs. NGOs need at the same time to act as awareness-raising groups to mobilize citizens around their rights and as pressure groups to force the state to discharge its responsibility to its citizens.


Second, we must contest the struggle over the content of education and the pedagogy of critical thinking, aspects we have ignored to our detriment by allowing ideologues to capture and enfeeble the educational arena since the time of Zia ul Haq. Here again, NGOs have a vital role in the evolution of new content and learning methods that they can experiment with in their institutions. But here we must realize that the conventional approach to improving the quality of education is no longer possible. Quite apart from the opposition of the state and of those who control educational institutions today, there is no way we can get the thousands of trained teachers we need in the schools and colleges spread over the rural areas, the small towns and the secondary cities of Pakistan. We have to think of a way to leapfrog this limitation.


Here we have an opportunity provided by the emergence of technologies that did not exist even a few decades ago. Recall that Ayotallah Khomeini toppled the Shah by using cassette tapes to educate Iranians about the oppression in the country. We may disagree with the political content of this education but here we only want to note the leverage provided by new technology and the weakening of state controls because of it.


Since that time digital technology has made remarkable inroads. The cell phone has now penetrated into the remotest villages and reached amongst the poorest of the citizens. And if you in Silicon Valley continue what you are doing the digital content that would be available on cell phones tomorrow cannot even be imagined today.


It is this democratization of access to information not subject to state control (recall the attempts to ban dish-antennas a few years back) that holds out the biggest hope for the future. It would be technological forces supported by civic action that would be the driving force of this transformation. Our job would be to find the content that would take advantage of these technological opportunities. So the ball is very much in our court.


On our part, we have started a modest initiative to provide content in a thought-provoking format for college students in South Asia. It is still in an experimental stage seeking to find the right mix of content, format and complexity. We hope to turn this into a major e-learning platform grounded in specific nodes in South Asia with the content transferred to local language blogs. I invite you to take a look at this initiative, to provide your inputs, and to participate in the experiment to see if we can really make a difference in the sense that I have outlined in this presentation.


I think we can and I am excited by the challenge.  If we pool our strengths – mastery of technology, familiarity with content, and motivation for civic action – we can make our presence felt and make a decisive contribution to the cause of education and liberation in Pakistan.




Conclusions from the Conference on ‘Education Reform in Pakistan’

San Jose, California – August 30, 2008



Education in Pakistan and the Role of NGOs

                                  – Anjum Altaf, Ph.D.


NGOs are doing a remarkable job in changing the life chances of the children in Pakistan they are able to reach. In this perspective their role is to be commended and supported.


What are the other roles that NGOs can perform?


The conference was titled Education Reform in Pakistan. What can be the role of NGOs in the reform of the education system in Pakistan?


The term reform implies that the system is functioning reasonably well and improvements are required at the margin. In this perspective, there is agreement that improvements in content and teaching methods are at the top of the agenda. NGOs are already playing a role in experimenting with more effective teaching methods and more learning-friendly content in their schools.


They can consciously strengthen this function by using their schools as laboratories and by holding joint workshops to discuss and evaluate the innovations. The most important next step would be to then work towards having these innovations adopted in the public school system. This task remains to be done and is one where NGOs can play a greater role by taking on a greater responsibility as the cutting edge of education reform.


Although the conference was titled Education Reform in Pakistan, the moderator prefaced the opening of the conference by placing it in the context of the state of education in Pakistan. The summary from the State Bank of Pakistan’s report highlighted the crisis situation and confirmed that the gap between demand and supply continues to widen. Thus while dropouts from the primary school system totaled 11 million in 2004 the figure was projected to rise to 14 million by 2010.


In this perspective it is obvious that NGOs cannot see themselves as substitute service providers that can hope to fill the gap. The total number of schools run by NGOs is of the order of a few thousand and the total number of students reached of the order of a few hundred thousands. In fact, the number of madrassas filling this gap exceeds the number of schools being opened by NGOs. This portends a bleak outcome for the future.


NGOs have to do the arithmetic and realize that they cannot set this task for themselves. The most effective role in this context is to act as a pressure group to lobby the state to discharge its responsibility to the citizens.


However, it is also clear that education is a right that has to be won – there will be no supply without effective demand. Therefore, NGOs also need to act as consciousness raising groups to mobilize excluded citizens around their basic right to a good education.


In this context both the state and international donors claim to have invested a very large amount of funds in education in Pakistan. This effort has been very high in visibility but very low in impact. This identifies another role for NGOs – to act as watchdog groups on behalf of citizens to ask for greater accountability. Collaboration with the media to investigate into the outcomes of specific projects would generate the pressure to improve delivery.


An international coalition of NGOs (excluding donors) is the best next step in this situation. The objectives of the coalition should be to raise the consciousness of citizens regarding their right to a good education, to experiment with new content and teaching methods in their own schools, to exert pressure on the state to deliver more and better education based on these innovations, and to institutionalize mechanisms to improve the accountability of funds invested in education by the state and by international donors.



Useful references:


The Subtle Subversion: The State of Curricula and Textbooks in Pakistan, SDPI, Islamabad, 2002.


The South Asian Idea – An e-learning resource for college students in South Asia to promote critical thinking based on contextually relevant content.



[1] See footnote 21 in Vidya, Veda, and Varna: The Influence of Religion and Caste on Education in Rural India by Vani K. Barooah and Sriya Iyer, 2004. See also, The Constitutional Mandate and Education, 2005.



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[OP ED] NY Times: “The Pakistan Test” by Nicholas Kristoff

Posted by icerp on November 24, 2008

While the U.S. government is fighting Islamic extremism in Pakistan with bombs, private donations are quietly financing a more important campaign: education.

Read Nicholas Kristof’s OP ED in NY Times, 11/22/08  

View video “Books Not Bombs” – see schools operated by Developments in Literacy         



Barack Obama’s most difficult international test in the next year will very likely be here in Pakistan. A country with 170 million people and up to 60 nuclear weapons may be collapsing.

Reporting in Pakistan is scarier than it has ever been. The major city of Peshawar is now controlled in part by the Taliban, and this month alone in the area an American aid worker was shot dead, an Iranian diplomat kidnapped, a Japanese journalist shot and American humvees stolen from a NATO convoy to Afghanistan.

I’ve been coming to Pakistan for 26 years, ever since I hid on the tops of buses to sneak into tribal areas as a backpacking university student, and I’ve never found Pakistanis so gloomy. Some worry that militants, nurtured by illiteracy and a failed education system, will overrun the country or that the nation will break apart. I’m not quite that pessimistic, but it’s very likely that the next major terror attack in the West is being planned by extremists here in Pakistan.

“There is real fear about the future,” notes Ahmed Rashid, whose excellent new book on Pakistan and Afghanistan is appropriately titled “Descent Into Chaos.”

The United States has squandered more than $10 billion on Pakistan since 9/11, and Pakistani intelligence agencies seem to have rerouted some of that to Taliban extremists. American forces periodically strike militants in the tribal areas, but people from those areas overwhelmingly tell me that these strikes just antagonize tribal leaders and make them more supportive of the Taliban.

One man described seeing Pashtuns in tribal areas throwing rocks in helpless frustration at the American aircraft flying overhead.

President Asif Ali Zardari seems overwhelmed by the challenges and locked in the past. Incredibly, he has just chosen for his new cabinet two men who would fit fine in a Taliban government.

One new cabinet member, Israr Ullah Zehri, defended the torture-murder of five women and girls who were buried alive (three girls wanted to choose their own husbands, and two women tried to protect them). “These are centuries-old traditions, and I will continue to defend them,” Mr. Zehri said of the practice of burying independent-minded girls alive.

Then there is Pakistan’s new education minister, Mir Hazar Khan Bijarani. Last year, the Supreme Court ordered him arrested for allegedly heading a local council that decided to solve a feud by taking five little girls and marrying them to men in an enemy clan. The girls were between the ages of 2 and 5, according to Samar Minallah, a Pakistani anthropologist who investigated the case (Mr. Bijarani has denied involvement).

While there are no easy solutions for the interlinked catastrophes unfolding in Pakistan and Afghanistan, there are several useful steps that we in the West can take to reduce the risk of the region turning into the next Somalia.

First, we should slow the financial flow to Pakistan’s government and military. If the government wants to stop the Talibanization of Pakistan, its greatest need isn’t money but the political will to stop sheltering Taliban leaders in the city of Quetta.

Second, we should cut tariffs on Pakistani agricultural and manufactured products to boost the economy and provide jobs. We should also support China on its planned export-processing zone to create manufacturing jobs in Pakistan.

Third, we should push much harder for a peace deal in Kashmir — including far more pressure on India — because Kashmir grievances empower Pakistani militants.

Fourth, let’s focus on education. One reason the country is such a mess today is that half of all Pakistanis are illiterate.

In the southern Punjab a couple of days ago, I dropped in on a rural elementary school where only one teacher had bothered to show up that day. He was teaching the entire student body under a tree, in part because the school doesn’t have desks for the first three grades.

One happy note: I visited a school run by a California-based aid group, Developments in Literacy, which represents a successful American effort to fight extremism. DIL is financed largely by Pakistani-Americans trying to “give back,” and it runs 150 schools in rural Pakistan, teaching girls in particular.

Tauseef Hyat, the Islamabad-based executive director of DIL, notes that originally the plan was to operate just primary schools, but then a group of 11-year-old girls threatened to go on hunger strike unless DIL helped them continue their education in high school. Ms. Hyat caved, and some of those girls are now studying to become doctors.

Mr. Obama should make his first presidential trip to Pakistan — and stop at a DIL school to remind Pakistan’s army and elites that their greatest enemy isn’t India but illiteracy.

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Education Policy: 10 years later

Posted by icerp on November 9, 2008

The New Education Policy -Two Suggestions

Anjum Altaf [April 27, 1998] 

“This was written in 1998 when a new education policy was announced.  The points I made then are still valid and because we did not do what was needed at that time we have lost another ten years.” 

– Anjum Altaf, November 8, 2008
Click and read

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Cell phones and education

Posted by icerp on November 9, 2008

new delhi : [Oct. 31, 2008] Students enrolled in courses through distance education may soon be getting lesson capsules on their mobile phones.   Click and read …

Posted in Distance Learning Technology | Leave a Comment »

Greg Mortenson: “Three Cups of Tea”

Posted by icerp on October 25, 2008

What – you haven’t read “Three Cups of Tea” ?  


Read this report about Greg Mortenson‘s work in remote areas of Pakistan – and you’ll want to read the book !!!

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‘Education First’ – HDF Conference

Posted by icerp on October 25, 2008

Read the full report of HDF Conference June 2008 in Chicago,

Speaker presentations (PowerPoint) can be downloaded from the conference report.

Posted in HDF Conference - 'Education First' | Leave a Comment »

Voiceless Majority?

Posted by icerp on October 23, 2008


Beyond Literacy:   An Invitation to the Voiceless Majority



[Op Ed in ‘Pakistan Link’, October 10, 2008]



A voiceless majority that feels the pain of Pakistan’s problems – that’s who we are.   We want to do something but we don’t know what and where to begin.   We are concerned that things are getting worse yet we are hopeful.   Life goes on.  Somehow, Pakistan survives.  


A stark fact in the developing world is that there is no second chance for the young child.  Education either takes place at the right age or that window of opportunity may never open again for millions of children.   This deep void of non-education is probably the worst form of social injustice inflicted on the underprivileged in any society.  


Populations somehow survive to find shelter, water and food but education is a basic human right and squarely the responsibility of the state.   With 12 million Pakistani children not in schools, a major gap exists between the demand for education and its provision.


Should the success of an education system be measured by the number of schools, students and test scores?   Is the shortage of education due to insufficient resources, or lack of political will, or mismanagement – or all of the above?  Or, is there a deliberate campaign to suppress education in order to hang on to the feudal system of governance?       


What about content and quality of education?   Is basic literacy an adequate benchmark of national progress?  Will we continue to blindly accept the political indoctrination and half-truths as education?    Has curriculum content become so trivialized and unimportant that parents are just happy to see their kids get through school and move on?   Isn’t it time to place higher value on the development of a person’s ability to think freely?  


And, what should be the role of NGOs in reforming education?  Are they to go on serving in areas where government has failed or never addressed the problem?   Can the collective impact of NGOs bridge the huge disparity between supply and demand in education? 


These piercing questions were debated recently in a public forum on ‘Education Reform in Pakistan’ in San Jose, California.    Beyond the continuing dialog on education reform, the positive outcome of this forum has been to move forward as a broad-based advocacy and action group.   An ‘International Coalition for Education Reform in Pakistan’ (ICERP) is in the formative stages and its primary objective shall be to develop an effective partnership with government.   


Readers are invited to join this initiative by signing up on    I strongly urge you to also read a report of the conference and Dr. Anjum Altaf’s keynote and his conclusions of the conference.  Both these articles appear elsewhere in this publication.   Please do share these articles with others as well. 


To appreciate the issues and suggested remedies, Dr. Altaf’s words require careful thought and a full reading of the text of his keynote.   I quote from Dr.  Altaf’s address:  “We have a twin struggle: first to ensure that our citizens obtain their basic human right of education; and second that the education enables them to think for themselves.”   He concludes that while literacy is important, the content of that literacy is even more important and he deplores that education has become “… an instrument of politics.”   Dr. Altaf believes that NGOs should not see themselves primarily in the role of providers as this creates the trap of setting numerical targets of increasing the number of schools and students.  Dr. Altaf adds that in the context of the problem, such targets distract from the real issues and that, in numerical terms, the targets and accomplishments do not mean very much.   He suggests instead that NGO’s can consciously be ‘innovation laboratories’ and work towards having these innovations adopted in the public school system.  This, he believes, would be “… taking on a greater responsibility as the cutting edge of education reform.”  


In the same vein, it is appropriate to share excerpts from the words of well-known physicist Dr. Pervez Hoodbhoy of Quaid-e-Azam University, Islamabad.   Addressing the NED Engineering College Convention last year in San Jose, Prof. Hoodbhoy concluded that “Universities are all about thinking.” …  “Without personal and intellectual freedom there can be no thinking and hence no ideas, no innovation, no discoveries, no progress. Our real challenge is not better equipment or faster internet connectivity but the need to break with mental enslavement, to change attitudes, and to win our precious freedom”.  



 In the Friday Times a few years ago, Prof. Hoodbhoy wrote:  “It is a myth that Pakistan’s problem is illiteracy or lack of schools and money. On the contrary, it is excess of mis-education and the unconscionable manipulation of young minds that makes Pakistan dangerous to its own people and the world.”   He assailed the content of what is taught as “ … Pakistan’s poisonous education curriculum” and added:  “ The long road to education reform in Pakistan must begin with dissolving the Curriculum Wing (CW) of the federal ministry of education.” … “The work of the CW could be entrusted to some of the country’s universities. This would scarcely be extraordinary. For example in Britain, universities such as Cambridge, Oxford, and London, define the curricula for school-leaving examinations. There are numerous other models: in the United States, every school is free to have its own curricula but college entrance examinations (the Scholastic Aptitude Test) enforce learning standards. India and Iran also have no national curriculum. These countries are proof that a country need not fall into pieces without one; surely Pakistan can survive without the CW.”

In an essay on the controversies in higher education, Dr. Hoodbhoy  wrote (Dawn, Jan. 2 and Jan. 9, 2008):  “To open minds, the change must begin at the school level. Good pedagogy requires encouraging the spirit of healthy questioning in the classroom. It should therefore be normal practice for teachers to raise such questions as: How do we know? What is important to measure? How to check the correctness of measurements? What is the evidence? How to make sense out of your results? Is there a counter explanation, or perhaps a simpler one? The aim should be to get students into the habit of posing such critical questions and framing reasoned answers.”


At the end of the day, it is up to us to do something to save Pakistan –  something like signing up with ICERP on   Geographically and culturally, Pakistan has much to offer the world.  May I ask everyone to consider making Pakistan a better place, a friendlier place to visit and enjoy.   Let us hope that soon peace will come to Pakistan and that its people – our people – will be respected and recognized as a tolerant, compassionate and hospitable country.  


  Amjad Noorani

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Message from NEF Chairman:

Posted by icerp on October 21, 2008

National Education Foundation, Pakistan

Excerpts of a message from Chairman Sabeeh Qamar-uz-Zaman

The education statistics in Pakistan are not encouraging. The officially claimed literacy rate is 55 percent. Nearly 6.5 million children (5-9 years) are out of school, and the number of dropouts and ‘miss-outs’ is over 5.6 million. 


These figures mean that almost half of our population is illiterate, and over 12 million children are out of school with little chance of receiving education or playing a useful part in society. 


The fact that we are facing this grave situation despite efforts by the government and civil society should be a cause for serious reflection. It is my opinion that the problem is not only of insufficient resource allocation by the government but also of inadequate management of available resources. Ghost schools, teacher absenteeism, high dropout rate and low quality of education are problems of management rather than resources.

Every department and organization has limitations of capacity.  However, optimum results can only be achieved through the combined efforts of all the stakeholders – with the ultimate responsibility [of providing universal education] being accepted and implemented by the government.

National Education Foundation is an autonomous agency in the federal Ministry of Education.       

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Role of NGOs

Posted by icerp on October 7, 2008


What should be the role of NGOs?  



The National Education Foundation in Islamabad estimates 12 million children out of schools in the 4-9 and 10-14 age groups. 


The USAID Islamabad office estimates 29 million children in the 10-16 age group who are not in schools. 


Collectively, NGOs (non-government organizations) probably have about 200,000 students in close to 1,000 schools. 


It is unrealistic to believe that NGOs can provide quality education to the millions of children who are not in school.   The ultimate responsibility of providing universal education rests with government.  


NGOs should not see themselves primarily as providers of education.   


NGOs should …  


          ·   Join ICERP, for advocacy and partnership with government



 ·   Provide input and guidance to ICERP



 ·  Continue present programs with donor support but with greater emphasis on advocacy



 ·  Appeal to individual / corporate donors to join ICERP and to become actively engaged in advocacy and partnership with government



·  Model NGO schools as laboratories for innovative changes in curriculum (e.g. include courses to promote increased tolerance; train teachers to facilitate critical thinking in young minds; and promote inquiry based learning)



·   Implement innovative methods of teaching – with current technology in distance learning, multi-media and inquiry based approach




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