Will Maryam Nawaz invest Michelle Obama’s $70 million anywhere outside of Punjab?

Published: October 31, 2015

Girls studying in school in KP. PHOTO: AFP

Report paints gloomy picture of education in country. 
PHOTO: AFP Girls studying in school in KP.

This week we were treated to scenes of Maryam Nawaz Sharif standing with Michelle Obama as the First Lady announced an investment of $70 million as part of a new partnership between the United States and Pakistan to promote girls’ education. The money is part of President Barack Obama and Michelle Obama’s Let Girls Learn initiative, which started up in March of this year and seeks to expand educational opportunities for girls.

Ms Sharif also spoke about Nawaz Sharif’s education reforms, and the importance of educating girls. It’s good to see commitment at the highest level to this worthy goal. However, I can’t help being a bit of a cynic about it. These days, girls’ education is a buzzword, with everyone talking about this as the way to move our country forward. Educating girls has become the new sexy catchphrase, with conferences, seminars, and other well-intentioned programs based on this breakthrough in development goals. (There are more than a few scammers, too, gaining from the glitz and glamour of the girls’ education circus, but that’s another blog post completely).

I have my doubts that the money will really go anywhere outside of Punjab, where Nawaz’s education reforms have been centred, thanks to the efforts of the chief minister. Department For International Development (DFID), the UK government’s development arm, has concentrated on Punjab as well, with some work done in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (K-P). The chief minister of Punjab has committed to getting every child in Punjab enrolled in school by 2018, and there are many mechanisms already in place to make sure schools improve, including geo-tagging of schools and electronic tracking of teacher and pupil attendance.

There’s no chance of these reforms being replicated in Balochistan, which has the vast majority of out of school girls (70 per cent, in December 2014, of Balochistan’s girls are not in school), or in Sindh, where DFID refused to work with the Sindh Government when it started to look into getting out of school children back into school through a private organisation, Education For Sindh (EFS). As a result, at least in Sindh, the numbers of children being enrolled with DFID’s help through EFS are quite low (100,000), while private organisations like The Citizens Foundation (TCF) try to fill the gaps too. It’s never enough: despite a minor increase in Sindh’s education budget, 6.2 million children are out of school, with rural areas and girls being the most underserved.

I’m not much of an expert on the provincial governments in K-P or Balochistan, but Sindh has always suffered from poor management of the education system. There’s not much willpower or vision about how to move things back to acceptable standards in any area of education. There has been movement towards education reforms in Sindh but they are very half-hearted, as compared to Punjab. The previous Education Minister, Pir Mazhar, inflated the sector with unqualified people hired for political gain, and the current education minister has inherited this bloated elephant. Yet the real work has to be done by Sindh’s bureaucrats, and education secretaries don’t tend to stick around for long enough to enact real reform.

Without financial backing and government commitment, all of Pakistan’s children will not get education in vast numbers needed to really get the girls in school. If Michelle Obama’s $70 million doesn’t get distributed evenly or fairly amongst all the provinces, gains in one province will be impressive, and they’ll be hailed as progress, but they won’t tell the true story about whether or not Pakistan’s girls are really gaining access to quality education.

This post originally appeared here.


Bina Shah

Author of A Season For Martyrs. She tweets @BinaShah (twitter.com/BinaShah)

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • Fahimuddin

    It is problem of Maryam Nawaz, don’t put nose in matter of non government organizationsRecommend

  • Parvez

    If she invests it in Punjab…..we’ll be lucky.Recommend

  • ajeet

    Pakistan is a country for the Punjabi army, by the Punjabi army and of the Punjabi army. As a country that has helped all oppressed people. India will help the Sindhis, baluch and Pashtun achieve freedom as we did for the Bengalis.Recommend

  • Talha Rizvi

    This comment shows the amount of hatred, pure nonsense and the propensity of interference in other’s affairs that runs rampant in India. What’s ironic is that had the author chosen to write about gender gap in India, or rape in India or riots in India people like you would be furious. I’ve been reading ET for more then two years now and I can testify that the numbers of Indians commenting on this site exploded in 2013 when Modi started running his election campaign. The online trolls who are known as ‘ Internet Hindus’ and called Modi toadies by Salman Rushdie like to rant on our websites and FB pages showing their own deep seated insecurities.Recommend

  • Israr

    It is not just Maryam SAFDAR’S problem. Education is a national issue. The money given is also not for Mrs Safdar’s personal use; it was given to the State (although there is no denying the fact the Sharif clan treats the State money as their personal wealth).Recommend

  • ovais

    atleast she will invest in punjab. unlike your beloved PPP who invest in themselves onlyRecommend

  • Alam

    Everywhere in world a nation has an army……in case of pakistan….army has a nation…..they are may be investing in punjab because they are not sure of sindh and baluchistan future……i.e…..u know what i mean…..Recommend

  • Malveros

    If the author is not an expert then don’t raise doubts.Recommend

  • rauf k

    Oh wait, first ask, will Obama administration let loose 70 million dollars for primary education in Pak? What a farcical claim their’s is. Their public education system went down the drain years ago, and they are unable to spend to buy crutches for it.Recommend

  • Alam

    and one more fact…do come to some Indian facebook pages and other pages….ur country people are there in abundance….taking every opportunity in large number to write religious para’s and trying to convert people….Recommend

  • Abdullah

    Question should be have the other provinces set up a structure the way foreign money should be spent on education.The answer is NO.shahbaz does work on education in punjab.you should also ask what KPK balochistan and sindh have done for education.The answer is NOTHING.If you dont want to change even 70billion dollar will also make no effect.Writer ahould not be so baised and try to make punjab look as the bad guy.why not have a deep analysis of other province.So the writer can have a better understanding of the topic.Recommend

  • Arsalan Khan

    Balochistan is least developed province and building schools in the province should be the priority.Recommend

  • ajeet

    Another mullah loosing the argument and getting personal. I’m proud to be called all of that and we know who is squealing now. Recommend

  • Was

    Punjab has all ethnic groups living peacefully in Punjab, it’s not like Balochistan where you get killed for being a non-Baloch. I’ve seen Punjabis, Kashmiris, Pakhtuns, Baloch, Sindhis all living peacefully in Punjab, Pakistan. We are not racist. Recommend

  • Gullu

    The two degree holder, Maryam Sharif, Ex Managing Director of Youth Loan Scheme
    who had to step down in a hurry, because Lahore High Court inquired that under
    what criteria and qualifications was she given this position? By her father Nawaz Sharif,
    of Raiwind Palace. They were also going to open an investigation on her degrees.
    This is just the latest scheme her Father Nawaz has floated. He is an expert on these
    ponzi schemes. That somehow make him even more richer. He is a billionaire now.
    Same as Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe [Rhodesia]. Some of his schemes have a patriotic ring to them. Such as Punjab Bachao,..Pakistan Bachao, Raiwind Bachao,
    In all these schemes he wanted ex pats Paks to send their savings home. Where
    they will be doubled in 6 months!!!. Some of them did send their savings/emergency
    kits,..back to Pak banks !!. Money never doubled. And if they wanted to get their
    savings out, again..there was 2 miles of paper work involved. Patriotism suspect !Recommend

  • ajeet

    So now you are a fan of Salman Rushdie? Just check with Rushdie on what he thinks about your country or your Arab masters.Recommend

  • DudeFromDC

    Well.. Will at least a penny of this money be spent on hindu and christian kids? Recommend

  • DudeFromDC

    Indians are the second largest users of FB after US. Your kind will have to learn to deal with it.Recommend

  • Bina Shah

    The author has a Masters in Education from Harvard, has taught for four years at SZABIST, and has previously been involved with education projects in Sindh, including under the late Anita Ghulam Ali, and Education for Sindh as mentioned in the article she wrote.Recommend

  • ahmadrazakhan

    I honestly think that this is just a problem of poor political leadership which has no vision. This leadership wither its Pakistan or any other 3rd world country has no mental capacity to go beyond their limited area of self gain profits, not not only endanger the social and national fabric of a nation but make people feel deprived. People are also equally to be blamed for all this, since they do not raise simple question….”why”. Do Marium or any other such political figure is worthy to be entrusted with such large amount for this very very technical task of which she has no knowledge and experience.Recommend

  • Malveros

    Doesn’t mean anything. U are just postulating theories.Recommend

  • jenny_brn

    Very true. Because Pakistan is the only country with an enemy like India.Recommend

  • jenny_brn

    As far as helping Sindhis Pukhtuns and Baluchis, and as a Baluchi myself I can inform you that we do not want your help nor have the same goals like you. We are aware of the dogs among us who are your paid agents and are busy killing us. Before Pakistan is harmed your own country will be dust already. So worry about your Dalits and Shoodars and lower casts. Those are who will exact revenge from you on our behalf. We need to do nothing, just wait.Recommend

  • J

    No, we don’t know what you mean. your English is bad.
    You must be from Hindu Desh.Recommend