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History & Background

There are two systems of education in Pakistan: traditional and modern. The traditional system, which focuses on Islam, has experienced an exponential growth since the 1970s, influenced by the wave of Islamic fundamentalism from Iran. In the late 1990s, the traditional Islamic schools, called madrassahs, came increasingly under the influence of the anti-West Taliban movement in Afghanistan. The traditional schools have multiplied tenfold, for the large part training mujahideens whom the government of General Parvez Musharraf, who assumed authority in October, 1999, has lauded as freedom fighters, ready to wage a jihad (religious war) through terrorist activities against nonbelievers. While only 4,350 madrassahs are registered with the government, the actual number has been estimated at between 40,000 to 50,000. A revealing article by U.S. anti-terrorist expert Jessica Stern in Foreign Affairs (November-December 2000) has warned the world about the kind of "education" imparted by these "Schools of Hate" and their role in creating a "mindset" for jihad.

A critical examination of the modern formal education system extending from primary to the university levels by experts ranging from the World Bank to those in research institutes in Pakistan has found the colleges in the country "sub-standard, bureaucratic, government-controlled, poor and inefficient," to quote Tariq Rahman of the National Institute of Pakistan Studies of the Quaid-I-Azam University. Such criticism fails to explain how the several hundred thousand Pakistani graduates who have migrated to the West, notably to Great Britain, the United States, and Canada, mostly as professionals—whether as doctors, engineers, pharmacists or educators—have with only marginal additional training been able to compete with the very best in those advanced countries.

Pakistan came into being when colonial British rule on the Indian subcontinent ended in August 1947 and the two sovereign states of India and Pakistan were created. Of these, Pakistan constituted two wings—West and East—separated by more than one thousand miles of Indian territory. The new state was the result of a demand for a separate homeland for India's Muslims as articulated by the Muslim League political party and its sole spokesman, Mohammed Ali Jinnah (1876-1948). The Lahore Resolution, adopted by the Muslim League in 1940, however, had called for independent states in the northeast and northwest. That was changed by Muslim League legislators in 1946, who called for a single Muslim state, Pakistan. The new state's capital was Karachi. Partition still left one-third of the subcontinent's Muslims in India; after the separation of East Pakistan and the birth of Bangladesh in 1971, Pakistan was left with 45 percent of its original population, the number of its Muslim citizens being less than those in India.

For the first 24 years of its history, Pakistan had two constituent parts: West Pakistan, comprising the four provinces of the Punjab (western half of the old Punjab), Sind, the North-West Frontier Province (NWFP), and Baluchistan; and East Pakistan, comprising East Bengal, which seceded after a bitter political struggle and military conflict from Pakistan in December 1971 to become the new state of Bangladesh with 55 percent of the population. Pakistan is bounded to the west by Iran, by India to the east, China to the northeast and Afghanistan in the north. There are federally ruled territories, including the capital of Islamabad, and the country controls a part of the former princely state of Jammu and Kashmir.

Pakistan traces its history of education to the advent of Islam and Islamic/Arabic culture to the Indian subcontinent with the invasion of Muhammad bin Qasim in Sind in 712 A.D.. By that time, the Arabs had already distinguished themselves not only as conquerors and administrators over vast territories in the Middle East and North Africa but even more significantly as creators of a culture replete with literature, art, architecture, and religious studies. With the establishment of Muslim rule at Delhi in 1208 A.D., the Islamic culture made extensive inroads on the subcontinent, converting a quarter of its population to Islam over the next five centuries.

The traditional school system had been the mainstay of education among Muslims of the subcontinent from the thirteenth to the eighteenth centuries until the rise of the British power beginning in 1757. Increasingly, some leaders of the Muslim community, notably Sir Sayyid Ahmad Khan (1817-1898), urged the Muslim youth to join the modern educational system initiated by the British. With the adoption of English as a medium of instruction after Thomas Babington Macaulay's infamous minute in 1835, and the rapid increase in the number of educational institutions following Sir Charles Wood's Education Despatch of July 1854, learning in Sanskrit, Arabic, and Persian receded, making way for English and for the adoption of Western education. In 1857 three universities were established in the "presidency" cities of Calcutta, Bombay, and Madras, producing not only the subordinate bureaucrats as intended but also hundreds of university graduates wanting to take up higher education in the social sciences, humanities, and natural sciences.

Hindus took more readily to the new education than did the Muslims. Muslim leaders such as Sir Sayyid saw the danger that their co-religionists would fall behind the Hindus and be kept out of the bureaucracy if they did not prefer the modern educational system over the traditional. Under Sir Sayyid's leadership, the Anglo-Oriental College (later upgraded to Aligarh Muslim University) was founded in 1875. It did not eliminate the traditional system of education, but there is no doubt that it seriously undermined its standing and standards. The Anglo-Oriental College provided higher education on the British pattern (more particularly that of Cambridge University) and produced a remarkable leadership for the Muslims of the subcontinent, particularly in present-day Uttar Pradesh, for educational, social, and legal reform and promoted the Muslim nationalist movement, which eventually led to the partition of the subcontinent and the birth of Pakistan. It also produced brilliant graduates, who went to England for higher education, some of them serving in the Indian Civil Service, which prided itself in being the iron framework of the British imperial edifice in India.

Roughly 67 percent or two-thirds of Pakistan's population of 129,871,000 (1995 estimate) lives in rural areas, leaving about 43 million in urban areas. Nationwide, children between ages 5 and 9, the primary school age, numbered about 16.8 million, while those between 10 and 17, at which point they would reach the 12th grade, numbered about 21.7 million. In general, the population is young, with persons below 30 numbering about 65 million, accounting for 50 percent of the total.

The population comprises five ethnic groups: the Punjabis, constituting the majority at 63 percent of the total; the Sindhis, at 12 percent; the Pathans, at 16 percent; Baluchis, at 5 percent; and mohajirs (literally, immigrants), who were primarily the result of a massive migration in 1947 mainly from India's state of Bihar. Corresponding to these categories are the linguistic groups, though they do not necessarily match the administrative boundaries. The languages claimed by the people in the census as mother tongue include: Punjabi, Sindhi, Pashto, Baluchi and Brahui, the last two being used in Baluchistan.

Although Urdu is claimed by a small percentage (eight percent) as their mother tongue, it enjoys the status of the national language largely because of its historical importance during the movement for the Muslim homeland. Urdu, the language of the educated Muslim elite from Northern India who provided critical leadership to the nationalist movement for the creation of Pakistan, draws substantially on Persian and Arabic for its vocabulary and uses a modified version of the Persian script, which is written from right to left. Since the birth of Pakistan, Urdu is taught in all schools; in Punjab, it is taught as first language and its script is used by those writing in Punjabi.

English was used from the beginning as a national language for official purposes. And though the 1956 constitution limited its use for 20 years, the 1973 constitution stipulated a 15-year period during which Urdu would completely replace English for official purposes. This has not happened.

Almost all the people—97 percent—are Muslims, two-thirds of whom are Sunnis professing the orthodox Hanafi school of jurisprudence. Nearly one-third are Shi'ites, who are subdivided into Ismailis (followers of the Agha Khan), the Twelvers (Ithna Asharis), and Bohras. Besides these, there is a very small though influential sect of the Ahmadiyahs, or Qadianis, who do not accept Muhammad as the final prophet, which constitutes the first of the five basic tenets of Islam. In 1974, a constitutional amendment categorized the Ahmadiyahs as non-Muslims; they were grossly persecuted during the decade-long Zia regime (1977-88). Hindus and Christians account for 1.5 percent each, and there are small numbers of Parsis or Zoroastrians, with a very high percentage of graduates and professionals.

At the time of the country's birth in 1947, large-scale human migrations took place: an estimated 4.7 million left Pakistan for India while 6.5 million came to Pakistan with a net gain in population of 1.8 million. The largest demographic changes occurred in the Punjab, which gained 5.2 million and lost 3.6 million. The second largest to suffer demographic changes was Sind, which lost most of its Hindu population, which had controlled more than 90 percent of its economy and held important positions in bureaucracy, education, and the professions. Most immigrants flocked to the cities; in 1951, nearly one-half of the population in the major cities were immigrants, including a very large group from India's Bihar state. The Biharis and their descendants are pejoratively called mohajirs (immigrants), a term that should have applied to everybody who came from outside and should, in all fairness, have a terminal date, after which time they should be considered regular inhabitants of the land. The Biharis, who concentrated in Karachi, remain unintegrated into the Pakistani society even a half-century after their initial migration. During the very unsettling conditions in Afghanistan in the late 1970s and early 1980s, an estimated 3.7 million refugees moved into Northwest Pakistan, placing an economic burden on all the facilities, including the educational system.

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Education - Free Encyclopedia Search EngineGlobal Education ReferencePakistan - History Background, Constitutional Legal Foundations, Educational System—overview, Preprimary Primary Education, Secondary Education