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Why the Poorest Girls Are Failing to Learn in Pakistan
Posted By Dr. Baela Raza Jamil

Every year, citizens in Pakistan visit 279,427 children in homes all across the country to find the answer to one question: Are Pakistan’s children learning? Released on January 8, the fifth report of the Annual Status of Education Report (ASER)—Pakistan’s largest country-wide citizen-led household based survey—shows that despite being in school, children are not learning.

Learning levels are actually falling, and they are especially low for girls.

ASER Pakistan is part of a large citizens’ movement to measure learning of children 5-16 years of age at the household level. The program is currently underway in eight countries (in South Asia, East and West Africa, and Mexico), where citizen surveyors are assessing 1 million children globally

In Pakistan, ASER reports on challenges of learning and access across gender, geography and class. In 2014, it covered 279,427 children, 93,096 households in 144 rural districts and 21 urban centers. The newest report demonstrates that, sadly, learning levels fell in all three core learning areas by 3-4  percent in 2014, showing a declining trend in learning across Pakistan from 2012.

Less than 40 percent of grade five girls could read or do math at grade two level. The decline in learning levels generally, and for girls in particular, may be attributed to many problems; lack of quality school facilities and qualified teachers is one problem, but children are also increasingly affected by the challenges of extremism, violence, conflict, and migrations in Pakistan. 

The report also shows that many children are still not in school. While ASER rural data points toward a narrowing of the gap between boys and girls, it also graphically illustrates how girls in the poorest houses are disproportionately out of school (54 percent) compared to boys (33 percent). In the richest income groups the corresponding gap is much lower, with 13 percent boys and 17 percent girls out of school.

ASER found that many factors contribute to poor and rural children having lower access to quality education, such as school fees, parent’s education, quality of schools and teachers, and over-crowded multi-grade classrooms.

Poor rural girls face a triple-burden because of their gender. Household chores can keep girls out of school or take away time needed to do homework, and social norms that value boys’ education over girls’ can mean that girls’ learning is a low priority.

Girls, especially when out of school and not learning, are also likely to be sacrificed to the altars of early child marriages, trafficking and the worst forms of child labor. Forty percent of girls under 18 are married in Pakistan, compromising their futures and their opportunities to learn and succeed.

Income Inequality by Gender (ASER Wealth Index)

ASER Pakistan 2014 Report

ASER Pakistan uses this information to actively advocate to Pakistan’s government for the right to education for girls and boys in urban and rural areas across household income levels. Voices and actions are rising globally to demand actions for girls’ education and learning, in particular. With less than a year left to achieve the Millennium Development Goals (which asked governments to ensure that all girls and boys are in school) and a new set of sustainable global development goals on the horizon, ASER advocates alongside partners like Women Thrive to provide nuanced gendered data on education challenges in order to demonstrate that there is a need for the next set of global development goals to ensure that all children, including the world’s most marginalized like poor rural girls, are in school and learning.

In addition to global and national advocacy, education resources need to reach those living in poverty.

In Pakistan, the most valuable contributions are support to quality teachers in girls’ schools experiencing  teacher shortages, mobile libraries and book clubs for attracting children to interactive learning, and bridge programs for drop out /out-of-school vulnerable girls.

Pakistan, in collaboration with A World At School, has launched the Education Youth Ambassadors’ (EYA) program for 500 extraordinary young people (18-29 years) to address these issues and advocate for change in their communities; like EYAs, many groups will have to be mobilized with active calls for action so that Pakistan’s poorest girls are learning and the next ASER reports reflect their achievements.

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the views of ASER Pakistan.
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