Our new, increased education budget is a victory for Malala and every Pakistani
We have never given a toss about education in Pakistan. This is not a blanket statement but a fact pretty easily verified if you look at statistics of literacy in this country or the work done on education in our sixty year history.
The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) puts our literacy at 56%, but also reports that the largest part of our nation which is the rural Pakistan has more than 70% illiteracy, when our regional neighbours like India and Sri Lanka boast literacy rates of around 75% and 91%. In fact education is such a huge priority in Sri Lanka that if schooling is not provided to children, their families may suffer criminal penalties and even jail time – something that left me astonished when I found out about it on my recent visit there.
We are also very fond in this country on not attaching any importance to the power of an individual and constantly blaming the system for all our woes. None of us want to take action ourselves because we do not think we can make a difference.
On October 9, 2012, our worst enemies took part in a horrendous act which should be regarded as a watershed moment in Pakistan’s battle against illiteracy; they attacked Malala Yousafzai.
This one individual became the rallying cry for Pakistan since that day, and until now, she is serving as perhaps the best soft image this country has provided on the international front. She was not, however, taken up by the mainstream as much as her whole story was told by social media. She was a BBC blogger before she was attacked and her cause became the cause of the social media of Pakistan instantly, as people identified and discussed her in both good and bad terms to the extent that the world had to sit up and take notice.
The result, as some people like to theorise in conspiracy (our other national past time), was not just accolades for her but the change in our national narrative. Time and time again, people in this nation proclaim that social media does not have the numbers to affect any “real change” but they forget the fact that the 22 million minds present on social media are in fact the change everyone keeps on talking about. They are enabled, powerful and opinionated. They are also the portion of our population who have the means and the connections to make things happen because they are, in fact, a chunk which helps Pakistan make its major decisions.
The point is that we always knew education was important, but this time before elections we through social media held our “to be leaders” accountable for education. Alif Ailaan and other campaigns on education online are living proof that the “elected” who are now in our assemblies knew that this time they would have to answer if they did not meet the voters’ expectations.
This is why all the provincial budgets being announced have all increased their spending on education. Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (K-P) has declared an education emergency with Rs102.4 billion set aside for education. This is a whopping 30 per cent of the K-P budget.
Sindh has a budget of Rs133.22 billion for education. This is also the largest slice of the provincial budget, coming down to a staggering 21 per cent. Punjab has allotted Rs210 billion for the same purpose out of a Rs897 billion budget.
Now what remains to be seen is how these funds will be utilised and what check and balance we can keep on the “elected” who are to disburse them.
The fact, therefore, is that we can see the drive now and attribution for it will be claimed by various political forces, but the spark which lit this all was one girl and her blog which may have changed her nation’s future forever.
That, my friends, is the power of one Pakistani. Imagine what could happen if we all worked together for something positive.
The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.