We at Mediolana usually have no problem with being prescient, but our 6th December 2014 blog post – Out With School, In With Militias? 2014 ‘A Year to Forget’ For #Students in Fragile States! – eerily foreshadowed the horrific events of earlier this week, when a school in the northern Pakistani city of Peshawar suffered an apocalyptic terrorist attack which left at least 145 people dead; 132 of these casualties were students.
This deeply sobering event brings into sharp relief the price that children in fragile states can pay for the simple act of turning up to class: amoral assaults on educational facilities by maniacs with machine guns is far from the sole preserve of the suburban United States. But it also serves to highlight the vulnerability of Pakistan’s school system on multiple levels. Can the (most?) troubled South Asian state can use this national tragedy as a springboard to sanity, or will the unspeakable orgy of violence unleashed on minors be just another signpost en route to dystopia? After some reflection, we believe that the answer lies in how Pakistan addresses three vital issues:
- Security. This week’s attacks merely underscore what numerous cases – including that of Malala Yousafzai, the joint winner of the 2014 Nobel Peace Prize – have shown: in recent years, Pakistan’s security situation has deteriorated to the point where the state is having trouble supplying one of the most basic amenities of all. Yet as things stand, it remains unclear whether there will be any improvement in this area in the foreseeable future: tactical errors and analytical lacunae continue to hobble the fight against the militant groups labelled ‘Taliban’ for convenience as much as for accuracy. As such, the descent into possible all-out civil war – virtually unthinkable in the year 2000 – is effectively continuing apace.
- Supremacy. The supremacy of the value of education – particularly public education – is something that has never been established in Pakistan since its formal inception in 1948; the formidable village school network that the (now divided) dominant province of Punjab vaunted as recently as the late-nineteenth century has never been adequately replaced. Rupees have instead flooded into military coffers to fight innumerable (and broadly unwinnable) wars – with a functionally-illiterate and malleable public hesitant to ask too many questions. Changing this will require a profound transformation.
- Success. Pakistan has not participated in any of the Programme for International Student Assessment (‘PISA’) surveys since that study’s inception in 1997; not a single one of its institutions feature in the Times Higher Education Asia University Rankings 2014 top 100. Both the Pakistani authorities and the general public have to recognise that for a country with the sixth-largest population in the world, this level of failure is simply unsustainable. While the victims of the atrocity at The Army Public School in Peshawar have rightly gained global attention, an entire generation of Pakistanis will continue to diligently and bravely attend school – only to be the future products of a less-than-mediocre structure.