Pakistan debates how to fill education gaps

ISLAMABAD, Nov 7 (Reuters) - Two young boys kneel over small white tables, intently studying the Koran at a madrassa in Pakistan.

The Al-Nadwa Madrassa in the hill station of Murree, 19 miles from the capital, Islamabad, is part of an established alternative system of education in the South Asian nation.

Private schools, charitable institutions and religious seminaries are stepping in to supplement government-run schools to help meet the education needs of an estimated 50 million school-age children.

Despite 220,000 schools nationwide, more than 20 million children are not in school, the government said in a 2016 report.

23 PHOTOS
Pakistan debates how to fill education gaps
See Gallery
Pakistan debates how to fill education gaps

Students memorise the Koran at the Al-Nadwa Madrassa in Murree, Pakistan, October 3, 2017.

(REUTERS/Caren Firouz)

Students share a textbook during an English class at the Mashal Model school in Islamabad, Pakistan, September 26, 2017. 

(REUTERS/Caren Firouz)

A girl attends morning assembly at the Mashal Model school in Islamabad, Pakistan, September 29, 2017. 

(REUTERS/Caren Firouz)

Children play on the monkey bars at the Mashal Model school in Islamabad, Pakistan, September 26, 2017. REUTERS/Caren Firouz SEARCH "FIROUZ EDUCATION" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.

Pictures and charts are displayed on a classroom wall at the Mashal Model school in Islamabad, Pakistan, September 26, 2017. 

(REUTERS/Caren Firouz)

Students look out of the door as their teacher writes on the board at the Mashal Model school in Islamabad, Pakistan, September 26, 2017. 

(REUTERS/Caren Firouz)

Students use computers in the technology lab at the Headstart private school in Islamabad, Pakistan, October 9, 2017. 

(REUTERS/Caren Firouz)

Students eat lunch in the cafeteria at the Headstart private school in Islamabad, Pakistan, October 9, 2017. 

(REUTERS/Caren Firouz)

Younger students take an afternoon nap at the Al-Nadwa Madrassa in Murree, Pakistan, October 24, 2017. 

(REUTERS/Caren Firouz)

Students listen to their teacher during a lesson at the Islamabad College for girls in Islamabad, Pakistan, October 13, 2017. 

(REUTERS/Caren Firouz)

A view of the Al-Nadwa Madrassa in Murree, Pakistan, October 24, 2017. 

(REUTERS/Caren Firouz)

A man prays at the Al-Nadwa Madrassa in Murree, Pakistan, October 24, 2017. 

(REUTERS/Caren Firouz)

Students attend class at the Headstart private school in Islamabad, Pakistan, October 9, 2017. 

(REUTERS/Caren Firouz)

A librarian selects books which are being catalogued in the library at the Al-Nadwa Madrassa in Murree, Pakistan, October 24, 2017.

(REUTERS/Caren Firouz)

Students wait for prayer time to perform ablution at the Al-Nadwa Madrassa in Murree, Pakistan, October 24, 2017. 

(REUTERS/Caren Firouz)

A student looks at a flowerbed beneath portraits of Muhammad Ali Jinnah, the founder of Pakistan (R) and Allama Iqbal, the national poet and philosopher who inspired the Pakistan movement, at the Islamabad College for girls in Islamabad, Pakistan, October 13, 2017.

(REUTERS/Caren Firouz)

A monitor walks down a hallway at the Headstart private school in Islamabad, Pakistan, October 9, 2017. R

(REUTERS/Caren Firouz)

Students walk to their classroom at the Islamabad College for girls in Islamabad, Pakistan, October 13, 2017. 

(REUTERS/Caren Firouz)

A teacher speaks to students during a computer studies class at the Islamabad College for girls in Islamabad, Pakistan, October 13, 2017. 

(REUTERS/Caren Firouz)

Students stand during morning assembly at the Islamabad College for girls in Islamabad, Pakistan, October 13, 2017.

(REUTERS/Caren Firouz)

Students work in the library at the Islamabad College for girls in Islamabad, Pakistan, October 13, 2017.

(REUTERS/Caren Firouz)

A student takes notes during class at the Islamabad College for girls in Islamabad, Pakistan, October 13, 2017.

(REUTERS/Caren Firouz)

HIDE CAPTION
SHOW CAPTION
of
SEE ALL
BACK TO SLIDE

The government has pumped money into schooling, with the education budget swelling by 15 percent every year since 2010, according to education consultancy Alif Ailaan.

The United Nations estimates Pakistan's current education budget at 2.65 percent of GDP, roughly $8 billion, or around $150 per student.

Private educators say the country's education problems are not only due to a lack of funds but also inadequate teaching.

"It's not the number of schools, it's the quality, the attitude," said Zeba Hussain, founder of the Mashal Schools which teaches children displaced by war in the country's north.

Hussain started the charitable Mashal Schools after she met a group of refugee children while visiting the hill areas surrounding Islamabad.

Federal education director Tariq Masood said blaming teachers was unfair. He said population growth and funding were the biggest challenges faced by government schools.

Masood said government schools adhered to a nationwide curriculum that was being constantly reworked and improved.

"No one who is underqualified can enter the government system. There are fewer checks in the private system," he said.

The country's poor often send their children to one of the thousands of religious madrassas (the Arabic word for school) where students live and receive Islamic instruction.

Most operate without government oversight and some madrassas have been criticized for their hardline teachings of Islam.

The madrassas say they provide shelter, three full meals, and a good education to young people whose families are unable to make ends meet.

"In certain cases people send their kids because they can't even afford to feed them," said Irfan Sher from the Al-Nadwa Madrassa.

He said Pakistan's future hinged on education for its youth.

"The overall policy should be changed...they should understand that if they want to change the country the only way is to spread quality education," he said.

(Editing by Darren Schuettler)

Read Full Story

Sign up for Breaking News by AOL to get the latest breaking news alerts and updates delivered straight to your inbox.

Subscribe to our other newsletters

Emails may offer personalized content or ads. Learn more. You may unsubscribe any time.