State of education in Pakistan….

I am really late on this story but was too tempting not to write on it. This article from Rebecca Winthrop of Brookings leads me into many articles and findings on a failed (supposedly fraud) development project. I will come to the article later. First the backdrop.

Greg Mortenson, a mountaineer wrote a book called Three Cups of Tea and Stones into Schools ( i just discovered the book now). In this book he tracks his journey of a failed mission in 1993 of climbing K2 which led him to a village in Pakistan. The villagers took care of him and on his recovery he realised there were no schools there. He decided to come back and build schools. 

This book connected with people emotionally leading to it becoming NY Times bestseller. who piled on aid leading to Mortenson setting a organisation called Central Asia Institute. And since then he has been going around the world sharing his story, collecting aid and building schools in Pakistan and Afghanistan. In 2009, Mortenson received Pakistan’s highest civil award, Sitara-e-Pakistan (“Star of Pakistan”) for his dedicated and humanitarian effort to promote education and literacy in rural areas for fifteen years. 

As of 2011, Mortenson has established or significantly supports 171 schools in rural and often volatile regions of Pakistan and Afghanistan, which provide education to over 68,000 children, including 54,000 girls, where few education opportunities existed before. He even claims to be kidnapped by Taliban in 1996 for his efforts leading to further sympathies for his cause. Obama gave USD 100,000 from his Nobel Peace Prize money to his organisation.  

So far so good. Till this this CBS investigation showed most of his story is a lie!

He neither went to the Pakistan village after his failed mission. Nor was kidnapped by Taliban. Most of his schools  are ghost buildings with no teachers. The money is being used for his own travels and marketing. Read the whole thing. Very entertaining.

Back to Rebecca Winthrop article. She says Mortenson story has both positives and negatives. It is bitter-sweet. Bitter as in his talks of improving school system in Northern Pakistan is false. Sweet as in he points to the pathetic state of education in Pakistan.

As I travel around Pakistan this week and look at education issues across the country, including in the Federally Administered Northern Areas where Mortenson’s book Three Cups of Tea was set, I am struck by the bitter-sweet effect of these revelations. On the one hand, Mortenson’s book hid one of the country’s biggest educational success stories and promulgated a model of education assistance that has been proven time and again to be ineffective. On the other hand, his story captured the hearts of millions, bringing needed attention to the very real educational needs of Pakistan’s children and articulating the very important role good quality education can play in reducing conflict risk.

What is the real story of education in Pakistan’s Northern Areas, or Gilgit-Bultistan, as it is now called? How do we make sense of the damaging revelations about the Central Asia Institute that is dedicated to what many believe is still important work?

 First, the bitter bit. The Gilgit-Bultistan region which Motenson claims to develop was already well-developed in terms of schooling. Moreover, he kind of hijacks the success story of Aga Khan Foundation which helped develop schooling in this region:

Contrary to the Three Cups of Tea portrayal of Gilgit-Bultistan as a place with little educational opportunity, it is one of the regions in Pakistan that has demonstrated true educational transformation over the last 50 years. In 1946, just prior to partition from India, there were an estimated six primary schools and one middle school for the entire region. Today there are over 1,800 primary, 500 middle, 420 high schools, and almost 40 higher education institutions. Girls are often noted to be outperforming boys and staying in school longer. It is true that community leadership and civil society organizations have played a major role in this transformation; it just was not Mortenson’s Central Asia Institute.

When I asked the governor of Gilgit-Bultistan, Pir Syed Karam Ali Shah, how this education transformation came about, he was quick to point to the Aga Khan Development Network (AKDN), a network of private, international, nondenominational development organizations, an assertion with which other education experts concur.

Led by His Highness the Aga Khan, the spiritual leader of the Shia Ismaili Muslims, the concerted focus on improving education, and especially girls’ education, started in 1946 and has continued, led by community members, for decades. Initially starting in the Ismaili communities in Gilgit-Bultistan, the work spread quickly to other non-Ismaili communities in the region, when the clear economic and health benefits of educating girls were seen by neighboring communities. Many civil society organizations, government interventions and public-private partnerships have developed over time, helping to increase levels of human capital and capacity through heavy investment in education, particularly of girls. According to Mehnaz Aziz, member of the national Pakistan Education Task Force, if the rest of Pakistan could only follow in the footsteps of the people of Gilgit-Bultistan, the status of education in Pakistan would be greatly improved.

Second the sweet bit. He does point to education crisis in Pakistan.

Despite the education success story of Gilgit-Bultistan, there is a serious education crisis for large numbers of Pakistani children across the country. The underlying message of Mortenson’s book and his related advocacy – that investment in education is greatly needed in Pakistan and it is an important part in promoting peace – still holds true, despite whatever factual inaccuracies in his book. One in 10 of the world’s primary school-age children who are not in school live in Pakistan, making Pakistan one of the top two countries in the world with the largest numbers of out of school children. Only 23 percent of Pakistan’s youth are enrolled in secondary school. At the current rate, the province of Balochistan will only be able to enroll all its children in school by the year 2100.

She says good intentions alone are not enough. Even building schools should not be seen as a sign of success. Real thing is whether there are teachers and students getting good education.

One of the weaknesses of Mortenson’s work on the ground in Pakistan is the education approach he used. “Several of the schools I have seen that he has built in Gilgit-Bultistan are very good structures,” says one senior Pakistani NGO leader, “but his strategy of just building a school and then not providing any other follow up support is one that I think will be unlikely to succeed.” Indeed, Mortenson is neither the first nor the last person to try and solve education problems by building schools. The developing world is littered with school buildings waiting for teachers to be deployed and students to attend. Far greater education minds than Mortenson have fallen into this same trap. In one West African nation I visited, a major World Bank and Ministry of Education project to improve education infrastructure led to new school buildings standing vacant for months and months while teacher deployment and student enrollment systems tried to catch up. Given his almost singular focus on building schools, it is not surprising that some of them appear to have fallen into this same fate. A recent report by McKinsey & Company finds that in the effort to improve education, far too much focus has been placed on inputs such as school buildings and far too little on the improvement of the teaching and learning process.

It is unfortunate that the 60 Minutes expose has called into question the accuracy of Greg Mortenson’s books. Without defending Mortenson or whether the facts in his memoirs are accurate, I can say truthfully that there is indeed a very serious education crisis in Pakistan. The international community should not lose sight of this and the real needs of the Pakistani children and youth seeking to improve their lives.

One amazing story on development.

I am wondering what was the Pakistan Govt doing? Why was he given Sitara e Pakistan award? They could have easily verified whether his work was actual or fake? After all the Governor of Gilgit-Bultistan knew Aga Khan was the main driver of education.

People are rightly shocked and waiting for more clarity on the matter. The web is full of stories on lessons for charities and donors and development in general. This story says he has been nominated for Nobel Peace Prize thrice 🙂

My mind is spinning really. Hope truth prevails…

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2 Responses to “State of education in Pakistan….”

  1. State of education in Pakistan…. « Mostly Economics :: Daily News Says:

    […] Excerpt from: State of education in Pakistan…. « Mostly Economics […]

  2. Pakistan Education Says:

    Good information shearing i am bookmark and fwd the class fellows this page.

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