The academic year extends roughly from April to September/October and November to March, varying from province to province. The weekly holiday is on Friday, the day of prayers in the Muslim world.
Basically, there are two systems of education prevalent in Pakistan: the traditional religion-based education system and the modern formal education system begun under British colonial rule and continued after the country's independence. Both systems are financed by the ministry of education, although the scrutiny by the government of standards in the modern education sector is far stricter than for the madrassahs. Since the late 1970s, with the increasing Islamization of Pakistan's polity and society, the management of the traditional institutions has been streamlined both at the provincial and the federal levels by the mullahs. This was partly helped by the fact that the madrassahs were financed out of the zakat, the Islamic tithe collected by the government.
The Traditional Schools: Above the primary level are the maktab schools, attached to the mosques, where children are initiated in religious instruction emphasizing memorization of the verses in the holy Quran. Those who complete elementary education are awarded certificates depending on their proficiency in Nazira (Reading of Holy Quran), Hifz (Memorization of Holy Quran), and Tajweed-o-Qiraat (Techniques for the Recitation of Holy Quran). Those who complete the equivalent of secondary level education are awarded the Tahmani certificate. The examination leading to it includes Arabic language and literature, Islamic law and jurisprudence, and translation of some chapters of the Quran. The higher level of Islamic learning is imparted at the madrassahs, whose graduates, called fazils, are qualified to be religious teachers in secondary schools as well for teaching religious subjects in the modern education system. They may be awarded Mauqoof Alaih, equivalent to a bachelor's degree, for their advanced knowledge of Arabic language and literature, history, logic, and the ability to translate passages from the Quran. Still more advanced education is given at dav-ul-uluma, which are university-level postgraduate institutions that award Daurai Hadeeth—regarded as being the equivalent of a master's degree—indicating the candidate's specialization in the meaning and interpretation of the sayings of Prophet Muhammad.
At all levels of the traditional system of education, secular subjects such as math and science, essential for the functioning of modern societies, are not taken seriously, making the students, in the words of Maududi in his First Principles of the Islamic State (1960), "incapable of giving any lead to the people regarding modern political problems." Until the 1980s enrollment in these schools was limited because of the justified general perception that such an education did not help future employment prospects or pursuit of a profession. Therefore, there was an increasing trend until that point of time in favor of introducing "regular" subjects in the curriculum of the traditional schools.
In the 1980s President Zia-ul-Haq promoted the madrassahs, partly out of his personal conviction that instruction in such schools would help the people to behave as genuine followers of the Islamic faith and partly because such institutions helped him to mobilize support of the religious hierarchy and religion-based political parties for his rule. Their support was also valuable to him in the recruitment of soldiers for the anti-Soviet war in Afghanistan. The number of madrassahs in the country grew rapidly, financed by the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, and Iran as well as by affluent Pakistan industrialists and businessmen both at home and abroad. Part of the estimated $3.5 billion given by the United States and Saudi Arabia to Pakistan for assistance in the anti-Soviet war in Afghanistan was diverted to Islamic education on the assumption that it would fuel the spirit of jihad against the Soviet Union. During that period, the efforts of the government to broaden the curriculum of the madrassahs failed because the religious heads refused to accept any suggestions for change on grounds that the government had no right to interfere in an education system fashioned twelve centuries ago by the Caliphate in Baghdad.
During the U.S.-supported war against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan, Pakistan played a crucial role not only as a conduit for U.S. arms to the Afghans but also in the military training Pakistan provided to the Afghans. In the 128 camps established for that purpose in Pakistan, mostly in the northwest, Zia's pro-Islamic government evoked the defense of Islam against the atheistic Soviets. Each camp had a large madrassah, where a heady mixture of the teachings of Islam and militancy was provided to the youth as the spirit of jihad. This led to the rise of the Taliban (literally, student) movement in Afghanistan. After the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan in 1989, the Taliban and their trainers in Pakistan were elated by what they interpreted as a victory of Islam over a superpower. The Taliban was not disbanded; instead, it established itself over the years as the government of most of Afghanistan. It developed itself as the center of a global jihad for the propagation of alleged Islamic values, including denying women an education and role outside the home. It also became the focal point of opposition to "decadent" Western—more particularly, American—influence, and offered the Saudi terrorist millionaire Osama bin Laden refuge and assistance in establishing his headquarters in Afghanistan.
In the 1990s the madrassahs in Pakistan changed drastically in their purpose and curriculum content. The experience of training the Taliban militants had influenced the clerics and teachers in the madrassahs, whose numbers touched 8,000 by the year 2000. Robin Wright wrote in December 2000, "Most of the madrassahs are a byproduct of a crumbling state. More than a million youths are now enrolled in madrassahs because of Pakistan's deteriorating education system and the growing appeal of Islam." The impact of all this on terrorism in the region supported by Osama bin Laden led the U.S. government to ask Pakistan in 1999 and 2000 to clamp down on the terrorist groups and close a number of militant madrassahs.
The Modern Educational System: The modern educational system comprises the following five stages: The primary stage lasting five years, applicable to children from 5- to 9-years-old; a middle stage of three years for children 10- to 12-years-old, covering grades six through eight; a two-year secondary, or "matriculation" stage (grades nine and ten), for children 13- and 14-years-old; a two-year higher secondary, or "intermediate college," leading to an F.A. diploma in arts or F.S. in science; and a fifth stage covering college and university programs leading to baccalaureate, professional, and master's and doctorate degrees. The preprimary or preparatory classes, called kachi (literally, unripe) or nursery, were formally integrated into the education system in 1988.
The two major stages in the pre-university period are marked by primary and secondary schooling for 10 years leading up to the Secondary School Certificate Examination (SSCE), and an additional two years in higher secondary school or college leading to the Higher Secondary Certificate Examination (HSCE). The SSC and the HSC examinations are conducted by the Boards of Intermediate and Secondary Education. It is the stage at which most of the brightest students take up medicine, engineering, pharmacy, dentistry, or architecture. There is a special public examination at the end of grade eight for those wishing to apply for government scholarships. The participation rate falls from 58 percent at the primary stage to 36 percent at the middle three-year stage, to 22.5 percent at the SSCE level, and to a precipitately low of 7.3 percent at the HSCE stage.
Those who prefer technical education enroll after SSCE into one of the "intermediate" colleges offering technical and vocational education, or they enroll in one of the numerous technical institutes run by provincial departments of education. A separate board examines students of technology and awards certificates to those who pass the examination.
While most students take the three-year course in college leading to the bachelor's degree, students aiming at a professional degree in medicine, engineering, architecture, or pharmacy join the appropriate professional colleges after the HSCE. The duration of study leading to the professional degrees varies. While the bachelor's degree in medicine (MBBS or Bachelor in Medicine and Bachelor in Surgery), requires five and one-half years including one year of internship, a degree in engineering, architecture, pharmacy, or veterinary medicine requires four years. The participating rate in the bachelor's degree or professional degree courses is a meager 2.8 percent.
Graduate education, known as "postgraduate" education, is available at the universities and some institutions of higher learning "deemed" to be universities. A master's degree would require two years, while the Ph.D., taken in almost all cases after the master's (theoretically an option exists to take it after the bachelor's), takes two to three years of additional work involving a thesis or doctoral dissertation.
Female Education: A major problem in education in Pakistan has been the low rate of female participation and the substantial disparity between males and females in educational achievement. In 1992, among all persons above 15 years of age, only 22 percent of females were literate as against 49 percent of males. United Nations sources show that in 1990 only 30 percent of primary school age girls were in school; only 13 percent were in secondary schools; and only 1.5 percent were in grades 9 and 10. The percentage was and is even lower in rural areas, where 67 percent of the population lives. It varies from province to province from 26 percent in Punjab to a deplorable low of only 2 percent in Baluchistan. Among the entire population of over 25, in 1992, females averaged a mere 0.7 year of schooling compared to an average of 2.9 years for males.
In order to understand the low numbers in education and employment for women, one must understand that gender status in Pakistan, as in some other Muslim societies, is based on two assumptions: that women are subordinate to men and that a family's honor depends on the activities of female members of the family. Therefore, such societies believe that women's mobility should be severely restricted by encouraging them not to go outside the home. Even for those who manage to obtain higher education, the colleges and universities are segregated by gender. In general, people consider a woman—and her family—to be "shameless" if no restrictions are placed on her mobility.
The movement for education among Muslim women on the subcontinent went hand in hand with the social and legal reform movement as well as the anticolonial nationalist movement against British rule. A number of prominent Muslim reformers of the nineteenth century tried their best to encourage female education, to enable greater freedom of movement among women, to eradicate or limit polygamy, and to guarantee women's rights under Islamic rule. Many of the graduates of the Anglo-Oriental College (later Aligarh Muslim University), founded by Sir Sayyid Ahmad, strove to improve the social status of women. Unfortunately, but for a few exceptions, their liberalism did not extend beyond advocating "cooking and sewing classes conducted in a religious framework to advance women's knowledge and skills and to reinforce Islamic values." It is no wonder that there was little progress in women's education before 1920.
As the nationalist movement progressed in the 1920s and 1930s, the issue of empowerment of women was linked to the independence of the subcontinent. A striking result of this was the enactment of the Muslim Personal Law in 1937, which improved the condition of women, particularly in regard to inheritance of property.
Since the birth of Pakistan, the changing status of women has been linked with the discourse about the role of Islam in a modern state, the extent to which civil rights are appropriate in an Islamic society, and how they could be reconciled with Islamic family values. Thanks to some elite women and liberal-minded men of the middle and upper classes in the new country, the Muslim Personal Law of Sharia was passed in 1948, giving women rights to inherit all forms of property. And although the women's movement failed to get the Charter of Women's Rights included in the 1956 constitution, it succeeded in getting the Muslim Family Laws Ordinance promulgated five years later. This confirmed women's rights to inheritance and improved their position in regard to marriage and divorce. During the first decade and a half following the independence of Pakistan, women's prospects looked fairly promising, including in the field of education.
Of significance to women's status in Pakistan were two significant movements in its neighborhood propelling the Pakistani society into two diametrically opposite directions. First was India, where the high status of women, on a level of equality with men, was guaranteed under the country's constitution of 1950 and implemented in politics and law ever since. The other was the rising tide of fundamentalism in post-Shah Iran and in Talibandominated Afghanistan, which has adversely affected the status of women and of female education in many countries of the Muslim world, including in Pakistan.
Major setbacks came during the decade-long conservative regime of President Zia-ul-Haq and his Islamization program, beginning in 1979. Several laws and ordinances were aimed at prejudicing women's position under the Muslim family law and the enjoyment of democratic rights. In 1986 a revision in Pakistan's Penal Code provided that "whoever by words, spoken or written, or by visible representation or by any imputation, innuendo, or insinuation, directly or indirectly, defiles the sacred name of the Prophet Muhammad shall be punished with death or imprisoned for life and shall be liable to fine." The law was used indiscriminately against anyone but more particularly against women and minorities.
Improvements in education, including female education, occurred during the brief first administration of Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto (December 1988-August 1990). The momentum continued during the next three administrations, indicating the people's rejection of Zia's Islamization program. Such steps were partly also the result of long-term pressures from international donors. In March 1990, the World Conference on Education for All met in Jomtien, Thailand. Prior to the conference, UNICEF, the UNDP, the World Bank, and UNESCO, the sponsors of the meeting, had declared "Education for All" as their top priority. They had impressed on Pakistan's bureaucrats and businessmen that their country would not make progress without a healthy, well-educated population. The developing countries meeting in Jomtien pledged to concentrate on providing universal education, including that of females. Thanks again to the continuing efforts of the world agencies and some of the participating countries at the conference, the heads of state and governments of nine large countries—Bangladesh, Brazil, China, Egypt, India, Indonesia, Mexico, Nigeria and Pakistan—met in New Delhi in November 1993. Representing three-quarters of the world's illiterate population and huge numbers of the world's outof-school children, they pledged to institute urgent and appropriate policies to promote education for all. Accordingly, in 1994 the Social Action Program, an expensive joint effort of the government and the donor agencies involving $8 billion to be spent over 5 years, was inaugurated in Pakistan.
The reason for the low rate of education among females is primarily attributed to religious and social conservatism, which inhibits the movement of girls outside the home. Research conducted by Pakistan's Ministry of Women's Development and by international agencies in the 1980s and early 1990s showed that "danger to women's honor" was the parents' most crucial concern. Moreover, except in major urban centers, women are not expected to work outside the home, and more often than not it is prohibited. Even in the cities, those who do not go on to higher education (and such numbers are very high) have few employment options. Increasingly, however, because of economic pressures and rising numbers of nuclear family units who do not have the benefit of the social insurance provided by traditional extended families, many more young women have taken up employment outside their homes, and their husbands have "acquiesced." In 1981 the census reported only 5.6 percent female employment; only 4 percent of all urban women held salaried jobs. By 1988 that figure had increased to 10.2 percent. In 2000, it was estimated that the female employment had risen to 13 percent.
The governments in Pakistan have generally been less than enthusiastic in augmenting employment options for women or in providing legal support for women's participation in the labor force. Therefore, a majority of women end up doing domestic chores or making or marketing handicrafts or embroidery products, figures for which are not entered into the labor statistics of the country. Officially, therefore, only 13 percent of women were shown as a part of the labor force. In fact, false notions of "propriety" induce families to conceal the extent of employment or work among women. All these factors—social and religious conservatism, restriction on the mobility of women, fear of "losing honor," perceived loss of dignity and status—have contributed to the widely held perception among parents in conservative urban families and generally in rural areas that the academic curriculum in schools is irrelevant to women's future roles as homemakers.
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