The contribution of educated women as ‘local role models’ is a key factor in improving education at the primary and secondary level in Pakistan. A positive effect of high female literacy in villages has been linked to the presence of female school teachers and role models by a recent study.
A recent report by Naimatullah Hashmi, a scholar at the Faisalabad University of Agriculture, department of Rural Sociology, explores the education of girls within the socio-economic and cultural contexts of Southern Punjab. Hashmi’s research is titled “Female Educational Attainment within Socio-Economic and Cultural Contexts.”
The findings reveal that one of the major reasons of poor enrolment of girls in schools has been the dearth of effective schools in the districts. “Most of the government schools for girls are ineffective or merely structures used by local landlords to house their animals. There are very few functional schools and parents seldom allow daughters to attend school in far off districts,” Hashmi said.
The report also reveals that there is weak discipline in state schools and that most teachers lack motivation. “Motivation is a key factor because teachers need to serve as role models. There are cases of some determined school teachers who are beloved by their students and in these cases the girls hardly miss a day of school. We have several cases where the girls’ mothers have even joined school because of the teacher,” he said. The research illustrates that the motivation of the teachers and their merit is the key factor in determining whether or not a community is willing to educate its girls.
“There are a lot of factors that come into play when it comes to the education of female students. Whether or not we like to admit it culture is still one of the biggest factors in Southern Punjab. Foreign NGOs have tried to downplay this but it exists,” Hashmi said, adding, “Parents who are reluctant to send their girls to school in the first place take comfort in the fact that the schools are also usually ineffective. That just makes it easier to stick to their decision.”
The financial status of the parents has a strong impact on schooling, especially when it comes to educating female children.
“The cultural resistance to schooling girls has a lot to do with finances and the fact that a poor family would rather educate boys, who they insist are the ones who need to earn a living. The education of girls is still perceived as a luxury among poor families,” Hashmi said.
“We are fighting an uphill battle. On the one hand, we are combating the cultural bias against schooling girls, especially at the higher education level and on the other hand, we are dealing with the government. Girls’ schools still receive less funding and less attention than boys’ schools,” said Govt Girls School Principal Faisalabad Nighat Khurram.
“I personally think that the education of the mother is just as important as that of the girls.
Women need to be the ones who want and push for their girls to go to school and this isn’t happening,” Khurram said. “We have to convince women to do so and sadly, there are times when they are even more resistant than the men,” she added.
Hashmi’s research also points out a how income grouping bears on female education. “There is an overwhelming trend of well-to-do families sending their girls to school because of a societal shift in the attitude towards female education found among the wealthier and educated classes. The opposite tends to be true for the poorer classes,” he said.
This research also identifies a specific resistance towards higher education for girls. “The study shows a strong negative linear trend when it comes to the higher education of girls, especially in rural areas. Most parents still view higher education as a cause of rebellion among young women. Many still think that women doing their bachelor and masters degree leads to them disrespecting their families and becoming ‘overly independent’,” he said.
“It is hard to shake the notion that many parents have here that if they send their girls to college they will start thinking for themselves and stop listening to everything they are told.
Which is true because thinking for oneself is the reason for acquiring higher education,” said school teacher Mahnoor Qasim.