Education: A Cultural Divide

On a recent trip to Pakistan, I had the pleasure of meeting a young woman who was interested in my works. While discussing various issues she felt should be addressed in my upcoming works, she brought up the issue of education in Pakistan.

I wasn't aware that there was an issue regarding education for children already getting an education, which in hindsight was horribly naive of me. She went on to tell me that there are so many broken dreams in Pakistan based on two things. One, the collective hypothetical judgement known as "What will people say?"and two, education simply being too expensive.

After my talk with her, I decided to ask my followers on Facebook about their experiences when it came to cost of education in Pakistan, a subject I knew very little about. As far as what others say, that was a subject that I felt deserved it's own post.

I wanted to know about not only the cost of education, but the quality of education that was given to students. Suffice it to say, the wonderful people of Pakistan did not disappoint when it came to sharing their experiences.

At first it was brought to my attention that not only were a majority of students in private schools, but public school education was next to non-existent. I had heard about the abysmal primary and secondary public school systems in Pakistan, but a few stories took me completely by surprise.

Public school education when compared to private school education is relatively cheap, however when the mean wage per month is less than $200, even public school education has become out of reach for many people in Pakistan.

Anamta Nabeel is a prime example of the failure of the public school model in Pakistan. In secondary school, this young lady attained a roughly 76.6% score in her examinations. The testing model does not allow a perfect score of 100 so 76.6% is a high score. With dreams of going to medical school, her scores were on par for first selection. However, her parents simply could not afford the Rs. 15,000 she needed to send her there. That's roughly $150 and the government only offered her a scholarship of Rs. 3000 or $30 at the time. Her dreams were dashed because she simply could not afford public school education, thus her parents married her off. When speaking to her, she informed me that the cycle hasn't changed since she was in school. At first it was her father but now it is her husband that has a low paying job and educational opportunities for this income bracket are few and far between. Winding down my interview, I asked her if there was anything she would like to say to the current government or those in charge of educational infrastructure. She simply wanted to say:

While Mrs. Nabeel's situation pointed out the fee structure in the public school sector, Hajra Shafiq explained that private medical colleges are ridiculously expensive. She believed that the teaching staff and environment were acceptable, however teaching methods needed improvement. Currently she pays Rs. 1,200,000 per year ($12,000), but again costs are always on the rise. Scholarships are available, but they don't seem to help much with the tuition. In her own words:

Next, I had the pleasure of speaking to Ms. Irfa who not only attended a private school in Pakistan, but also attended public school for a period of time before returning to the private school. Her fee structure for private primary school was roughly Rs. 10,000 a year ($100) and she felt that the fee structure and the education she received was adequate. However, then she switched to a public school for personal reasons, her fees went down drastically, paying only Rs. 20 ($0.20) a month. Sadly, the quality of education was obviously affected. When she attended public school she explained that not only were you not free to ask questions from the teachers, but many of them were quite aged and would take out their stresses out on their students. Some even resorted to slapping the students. To me, that is horrific. Slapping a child for not understanding subject matter or abusing them because you're having a bad day is downright deplorable! These children are the basis of your country, the building blocks to civilization.

Sadly, it wasn't just the setting the was problematic in the public school sector, but the subject matter being taught was next to nothing. Irfa explained that when she was in public school, she received a measly 34 "marks" (very low) in English yet when she transferred to private school she was taught properly and the score went up to 87. After transferring to another private school for her 11th and 12th grade education, she pointed out that even though she was paying roughly Rs. 47,000 per annum, she felt it was worth it with the quality of education she was receiving.

Upon further interviewing more fine students of Pakistan (who asked me not to name them) there also a culture of monetary superiority when it came to the fee structures of many schools. It wasn't just that they were receiving better educations for what they were paying, they now had bragging rights that they attended "such and such" school while paying ridiculous amounts of money for their educations. Did these "designer" schools' tuitions justify the education they received? No, many replied.

Haider (name changed upon request) transferred to an international Arab-based school in his early teens and explained how there was already a toxic culture of materialism amongst students.

"I didn't belong, that was much evident. People don't get how kids that go to schools like this have zero interaction with the real world. Guys would discuss what new car their parents had bought them while girls were discussing how much they spent on one suit for so-and-so's wedding. It was suffocating. Some of the teachers were straight up assholes when it came to singling some students out. Not doing well in class? You must be dumb. Let's pick on the dumb kid. They like to put up a front of how they're an international school because they charge their tuition in dollars but does $3500 justify the education I was getting? No. Sadly, I couldn't afford the American school and my parents bought into the entire environment, so I was stuck there. Worst few educational years of my life."

It was evident that private and public schools would have a cultural divide but I didn't realize that there would be an even further divide amongst private school-going children. Amongst the replies to my Facebook message was a teacher who wished to add her two cents about private school life. Ms. Jamil pointed out that, "Nepotism is the way in Pakistan. If you have money or are from a well-known family, you get the connections to succeed in life. If you want to talk about a standard of education that all children have a right to, there is none. Every school has it's own syllabus, every syllabus is centered around selling books from their in house book shop. The greatest victims of Pakistan's lack of educational infrastructure are children. For-profit schools are on the rise and it seems that every year some new weird set of rules is being implemented to limit the individuality of students here. In conclusion, no one cares about the kids, they only care about extorting the parents."

This is disheartening in retrospect, however it's not too late. Let's see what the future holds for the children of Pakistan.

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About Me

Helena Won is an author based in the United States. Her books, blogs, and articles stem from years of traveling and living amongst small close-knit communities. 


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