x Abu Dhabi, UAE Friday 21 July 2017

Ghost schools are failing Pakistan’s potential

News that 7,000 schools in Pakistan do not have teachers sits badly with hopes that the nation will lift itself out of poverty.

Whenever the topic of how to break the chains of poverty, violence and radicalism is addressed, the answer always tends to focus on one word: education. This is particularly true for Pakistan, which explains the level of concern about the news, as The National reported yesterday, that it has an estimated 7,000 so-called “ghost schools” that continue to run without teachers.

This goes to the heart of Pakistan’s continuing failure to provide an environment where its people can forge a living for themselves and their families. This is a nation that ought to be rising out of poverty, with its industry taking advantage of low wages to export to the developed world. Just last week, Pakistan succeeded in its 10-year campaign to get Generalised System of Preference Plus status, which would provide tariff-free and reduced-tariff access to the European Union markets. The deal is estimated to be worth $1 billion (Dh3.67bn) a year to the nation.

Pakistan is not short of ingenious and skilled people, but its industries continue to underperform. Textile manufacturing is the dominant industry, making up two-thirds of exports, but is blighted by chronic power shortages, corruption and security issues. Manufacturers have reportedly been moving to Bangladesh and Dubai, citing more favourable business environments.

The shortcomings of Pakistan’s education system – as demonstrated by the 7,000 ghost schools, where teachers have either not been appointed, do not turn up or have been appropriated by wealthy landowners – also play a role in the failure of its industry to fulfil its potential. Workers who do not receive even the minimal amount of education are poorly placed to operate machinery or work in the semi-skilled blue collar jobs that Pakistan’s low-wage economy ought to be providing.

It is common in any reference to Pakistan’s education system to cite Malala Yousafzai, the teenaged schoolgirl shot in the head by Taliban gunmen simply for speaking out about her right to attend school. But, as one aid worker noted, the ghost schools that cheat entire villages out of the chance of education pose an even greater danger to the nation. If Pakistan’s politicians really want to break the cycles of poverty, violence and radicalism, they need to start with education – and start right now.