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Pakistan's Education System and Links to Extremism

Introduction

Pakistan's poor education system has increasingly become a matter of international concern. Lack of access to quality education, which in turn limits economic opportunity, makes young Pakistanis targets for extremist groups, some experts say. The World Bank says nearly half the adult population of Pakistan can't read, and net primary enrollment rates remain the lowest in South Asia. Experts say the system suffers from inadequate government investment, corruption, lack of institutional capacity, and a poor curriculum that often incites intolerance. In August 2009, chief counterterrorism adviser to the White House John Brennan, summing up a concern held by many U.S. terrorism experts, said extremist groups in Pakistan have exploited this weakness. "It is why they offer free education to impoverished Pakistani children, where they can recruit and indoctrinate the next generation," he said. There have been some efforts by the Pakistani government, Western governments, and the World Bank to reform the system, but serious challenges remain.

A 'Dysfunctional' System

According to the Pakistani government's National Education Policy 2009 (PDF), three parallel streams in education--public schools, private schools, and Islamic religious schools, or madrassas--have "created unequal opportunities for students." Of the total number of students going to primary school (grades 1 to 5), 73 percent go to public or government schools, 26 percent to private schools, and less than 1 percent to madrassas, according to the Karachi-based policy research institute Social Policy and Development Center. Within the public and the private sector, there are elite schools catering to a small minority of students. The majority of students attend low-quality private and public schools with poor curriculum, limited teaching materials, and inadequate number of properly trained teachers, or in many cases absent teachers.

"[N]o Pakistani leader has had the courage to implement serious...

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