Beyond Madrasas

Possible Implications of “Beyond Madrasas” Report on US Aid to Pakistan and on Education in Sindh Province

By: Khalid Hashmani

A recent report “BEYOND MADRASAS – Assessing the Links between Education and Militancy in Pakistan” was discussed at a USAID sponsored event in Washington DC on Thursday, June 23, 2010. The report is written by Rebecca Winthrop and Corinne Graff; both are Fellows of Brookings Institution.

In addition to the presentation of the report, Dr. Rajiv Shah, USAID Administrator and US Congress Representative Nita Lowey spoke on the occasion. A panel discussion that included Bruce Riedel (Senior Fellow, Brookings), Dr. Ayesha Siddiqa (Senior Visiting Professor at Johns Hopkins SAIS), and Steve Inskeep (Host at National Public Radio – NPR) followed the key note speeches. The moderator for the event was James Bever, UDAID Director of the Afghanistan/ Pakistan Task Force. The report presents nine (9) Key Findings and notes 13 Policy Implications. If the actual US Aid policies on education aid to Pakistan are tuned to what this report says, a large amount of assistance will go to the privatized primary and secondary education. This change has a potential of harmful affect as many government schools in rural and poorer areas of Pakistan (particularly in Sindh) would be transformed into private schools. Eventually these private schools will close down after the US Aad dries up as the poor people would be unable to afford high fees of private schools.

Dr. Rajiv Shah, (USAID Administrator) in his remarks made a point about “Evidence-based Approach” in resolving issues. Keeping with that tone, a considerable amount of data and evidence was presented at the discussion.


The report makes comparative analysis of expenditure on education by Pakistan compared to other countries, areas, and regions:

Country/Region/ Literacy Enrollment Expenditure as

Category Rate Primary (%) % of GNP (2007)

United States 99% 92% 5.7

World 84% 87% 4.9

Developing Countries 80% 86% 4.5

Sub-Saharan Africa 62% 73% 4.5

South and West Asia 64% 86% 3.8

Pakistan 54% 66% 2.8

Pursuing the same theme, Congresswoman Nita Lowery emphasized that increasing access to education can reduce risk of armed conflict and argued that no country has achieved substantial economic growth without achieving near universal primary education. She said that the 9/11 Commission concluded that increasing educational opportunities is essential to defeat global terrorism.

Talking about education she said that the educational system in Pakistan was in shambles and the reports provided by Pakistani officials are different from the actual statistics. Portraying a dismal picture of education in Pakistan, she said that only 54% of Pakistan’s population can read and was one of the very few countries in the world where illiteracy is increasing. Only 25% of Pakistani girls complete primary school and 30% of all students drop out of school before reaching the 5th grade.

Congresswoman expressed appreciation for the promise by the present government to increase funding for education from 2% to 7% of GDP. She concluded by saying that “we must work with the ministry of education and other donors to ensure that systemic reform is undertaken, including improving hiring and accountability procedures.”


The primary author of the report Dr. Rebecca Winthrop said that the three main headlines from the report are:

* Increasing educational attainment will very likely reduce the risk of conflicts in countries such as Pakistan.

* Improving Education in Pakistan should be an important part of the US strategy in promoting stability and security in Pakistan.

* Access and quality are equally important to improving the education and hence the conflict.

She provided the following additional statistics about the state of education in Pakistan:

* Pakistan is one of the top countries in the world with the largest number of out of school children (6.8 million children between the ages of 5 and 9).

* Only one-third of young people receiving secondary education, the same rate as for sub-Saharan African region and far below the same indicator for South Asia.


Dr. Winthrop provided the following data, which termed as the “robust data from a range of countries around the world”, to establish relationship between education and stability/conflict:

* An increase in the enrollment in secondary schools by 10% reduces risk of conflict by 3%.

* By increasing one year in the average schooling in the population of a country, it reduces risk of conflict by 3.6%.


Dr. Winthrop said Pakistan had more than 750,000 teachers working in about 140,000 government schools in Pakistan. She added that in most rural areas, schools were the only government institution with which local communities interacted on a daily basis. She summarized the following as the key problems of education in Pakistan:

* Overall, poor management of education.

* Many Teaching jobs are handed out as political patronage.

* There is very little accountability of teachers to the community, this results in high absenteeism and creation of ghost schools.

* Problems with corruption and exam results (instances where exam results were published in newspapers).

* Poor quality of education – Only two-thirds of students in grade three can subtract single digits; in worst schools, students could not recognize letters or numbers after 3 to 5 years’ of schooling.

* The bottom 25% of government schools are really bad and are sort of directly contributing to the environment that discourages leering of good citizenship skills.


BRUCE RIEDEL started his presentation by saying that “Pakistan is the epicenter of America’s struggle with al-Qaida and its affiliates.” He said that stakes were huge for the U.S. and pointed out the following statistics and information in support of his point of view:

* Pakistan is the second largest Muslim country in the world and will be the first by 2050.

* Pakistan has the fastest growing nuclear arsenal in the world.

* Pakistan has been an incubator for terrorism and extremism for at least 35 years and the United States has to bear some responsibility.

* According to every poll conducted in Pakistan, Pakistanis have “extremely antagonistic attitude” towards the U.S.A. Latest poll put President Obama’s approval rating at 7% (George Bush had a 9% approval rating in Pakistan when he left office).

* An Al-Jazeera poll last year found that 55 percent of Pakistanis believe that America is the number one threat to the future of their country. Only 18% said that their number one threat was India.

Summing up relationship between Pakistan and the U.S.A., Mr. Riedel categorized it as a “Roller coaster” swinging from incredible highs to chilly when the relationship was almost broken.

In an answer to a question about trust deficit between Pakistan and the United States, Mr. Riedel said it is much more than simply deficit of trust as there are deeply held perceptions among Pakistanis – drones didn’t start this. This goes back much deeper than that.

Dr. SIDDIQA -In answer to a question said that she did not think that Pakistan will ever spend more money on education and health than on defense because military was the largest stakeholder in Pakistan. She added that “In fact, it would be not unfair to suggest that the military in Pakistan is the state of Pakistan and probably the only functioning institution. She then expressed doubt that military was functioning and addded that a military that cannot win wars and yet get involved in politics does not know how to function. “Citing from her own study of 18 universities in Pakistan, which she called as private sector elite universities, she said the students in these universities are affluent from upper class and upper middle class socio-economic background. She continued that these are the kind of students who would most probably come to American and other Western universities for their graduate degrees. Her survey questionnaire had 143 questions with the sample size of 53% male and 47% female. The responses were liberal in a lot of contexts. For example, they would say no to the Taliban. They would say, yes, we should talk peace with India. However, their responses to other questions conveyed that they were as close-minded as students of other public and private universities. She quoted the following findings from her survey:

* 62 % thought that one of the biggest threats to Muslim ummah was starting United States followed by West, Israel and the fourth was India.

* Although these students talked about having peace with India and yet 69% of them said India was the greatest threat to Pakistan’s security, 62% said United States, and 43% responded that the greatest threat was their own army.

Dr. Siddiqa wondered how people can talk about citizenship skills when three other studies on education conducted in the past 2 years on youth, also showed that one most common denominator among all studies that the respondents replies indicated very little respect for the political process.

Summing up her presentation, Dr. Siddiqa said that media has also become one of the main sources of educating people indirectly. She added that although today’s media is quite diverse and has many tools, yet its spirit is not free at all. The spirit of the Pakistan media of the 1980s under the worst military dictatorships was far freer than the media of today. She concluded “This media has no spirit, no soul to stand up and change those images, change those vworld views that would make Pakistan a better place.”

STEVE INSKEEP – Mr. Inskeep recently spent time talking with students on the campus of the Punjab University. He shared his observations and learning experiences and added that it did not much longer to learn why these students had no friendly feeling towards the USA.

* The students asked Steve why America hates them so much and started giving stories about how they themselves have witnessed bombings; they themselves have been affected by bombings. They were certainly no fans of the Taliban and other radicals.

* The students seem to have solidly engraved impression that the United States was bombing them and that Blackwater and CIA were interfering in Pakistan.

* During his exchanges with the vice-chancellor of the university, Vice Chancellor told Steve that he was struggling with a situation, where a student group called Islami-Jamait- Tulba (IJT) had an element of control over the university. He learnt that recently a professor was beaten because he was the head of a disciplinary committee. IJT has been entrenched in the university for close to 30 years.

* IJT has enjoyed support from various governments, particularly during Zia’s regime. Now several professors once belong to IJT and he the Vice Chancellor is hard pressed to run the university as he would like.

* Mr. Inskeep felt that there were people here and there in Pakistan government who want to move the country in the right direction, who want to make progress. However, they are awaiting for ever illusive “consensus” to develop.

* Mr. Inskeep felt that constructing large and posh school buildings is not going to solve problem when most people in economically depressed areas cannot earn basic living and need their children to work in order to survive. What is the use if the Citizens Foundation (a private organization) that has build many schools if students could not afford its fees? He added that one has look at who is benefiting from those schools and questions such as how many students drop out once sholarships and freeships are not available?

Mr. Inskeep concluded his presentation by saying “I think you have an immense number of very granular practical problems which is why I think Dr. Siddiqa is right to say that the government has to buy in, local and provincial governments as well as the national government, have to buy in because otherwise those very specific and individual problems don’t get dealt with.”

DAVID SPRAGU is an official with USAID, who has worked about seven years in education in Pakistan, said that his impression is same as Dr. Siddiqa’s. He said it would seem that Americans want education to succeed more than the Pakistanis do. He added that there was no leadership in the country to promote a good government-run education system. There is a religious system; there is a military system; and there are the feudals and other priviledged who have the access to the elite schools.

Concluding his brief remarks he said that he was skeptical that an outside donor is going to be able to make difference. There is very little USA can do until there is a commitment from Pakistan. He said that the first thing that is needed is to sit down and talk to Pakistan to do better than spending meager 1.6 percent of their GDP on education. It is not sufficient just to put increased percentage in a policy paper. Pakistan knows this but is it willing to do something tangible about it?

Discussing the point about US Role in Curriculum, Mr. Riedel said US should not get involved in is devising the curriculum or how Pakistanis study Islam. He added that it is “a recipe for disaster” and that US should be much more involved in the practical issues of supply side rather than try to get into the issues of curriculum reform. Dr. Siddiqa asked the question if a government is not willing to change the curriculum, if a government is not willing to make the essential changes and investment in the education system, assistance provided under Kerry-Lugar bill will not bring about any tangible changes.

SYRUS QAZI (Counselor at the Pakistani Embassy) – He said that agreed with much of what was said in the discussion. he added that Pakistan is good at coming up with policy papers. Pakistanis know what their problems. But, unfortunately when the time comes to implement, somehow, Pakistanis fall short.

Mr. Qazi added that the problem of education is related to the larger problem of governance in Pakistan. Whatever policies were made in the past, for instance, in two years’ time, a military interregnum or something happens that those policy papers are shelved. Then, others in power start new policy papers. He summed up “unless we get the political basics of the country right, which we hope – and I think we are now on the way to do that – this will keep happening to very excellent policy papers that we will keep coming up with.”

In defending the present government of Pakistan he said that in spite of the criticism and doubts of the people of Pakistan, much has been accomplished in the last two years. He cited the Gilgit-Baltistan package, the Balochistan package. He added that not all Baluch are happy, but progress has been made.

Pakistan will eventually focus to allocate 7 percent of GDP. It may not succeed fully but it will definitely make some noise of at least trying to do it.

In a follow-up comment Dr. SIDDIQA asked the Counselor to take the points made in the discussion, she asked the Councilor to ask the senior government officials as to why Pakistan has worse bureaucrats posted in the education ministries? That would to change to demonstrate that the government is serious in tackling the issue of education.

Who runs Madrasas and what is their impact?

Several of the key findings of the “Beyond Madrasas” report deal with who operates madrasas and their impact on education and militancy. The following are the highlights:

1. The number of madrasas is not increasing to fill the gap created by Pakistan Government’s inability to meet the demand for public education

2. Madrasas are not the primary cause of of the rising militancy in Pakistan.

According to the report most of the madrasas are run by five religious boards with sectarian orientation. Four of them are Sunni and include Deobandi, Ahl-e-Hadith, Barelvi, and Jamaat-i-Islami and one is Shia. Their teachings focus on their interpretation of Islam and Islamic traditions The report says that there is no reliable data on their funding sources for madrasas. The general feeling is that foreign countries including the USA are either supporting them now or they had supported them in the past.

Dr. Siddiqa expressed that the report tries to communicate that madrasas are not that bad and that something else is worse. Despite spending 500 or so million dollars, there is very little to show by way of changes in madrasas because madrasas would not cooperate. One gets the feeling that the report’s view from the perspective of an overanxious funding organization which wants to make some contributions and despite a lot of effort and money it is not being able to do it.

Dr Siddiqa reiterated that madrasas do pose a serious problem as they have peculiar kind of socialization and attract children that dropouts from other schools and for other reasons.

Misplaced Inferences of the Report with respect of Private vs. Public Schools

The following comparative Private, Public, and Madrasas Statistics is included in the report:

By Percentage range of Enrollment

Government 64-67 %

Private 29-33 %

Madrasas 1-7 %

Province-wide Statistics by Number of Institutions

Province/Country % Public % Private

Balochistan 85% 15%

Khyber-Pakhtoonwa 72% 28%

Punjab 58% 42%

Sindh 79% 21%

Pakistan 67% 33%

* The report justifies private education by saying that approximately 33% school children in Pakistan attend private schools. However, it is clear from the above table that although Sindh and Balochistan have serious education access problems, the religious militancy is low because there are very few private schools in the heart-land areas of two provinces.

* The report seem to rely on the Punjab example to build the case for private schools and says that about half of costs of education are borne by parents as parents are really interested in good education. Once again, forgetting the fact people in poverty-stricken areas of Sindh and Balochistan, parents are even hard pressed to miss out the help of their children in their daily struggle to earn their living are unable afford any fees.

* The report also says that “The government has failed to bridge the divide based on income, language, gender and region

* It appears that authors have been influenced by the strong lobby of large private school systems in Pakistan as they fail to recognize the clear relationship between the increasing number of private schools and the rising religious militancy in Pakistan. Two of the provinces (Punjab and Khyber-Pakhtoonwa) , where the religious militancy is substantially increasing have the largest percentage of private schools. In contrast Sindh and Balochistan, where religious militancy is the lowest have the lowest number of private schools.

* The report’s conclusion that the primary language of instruction in Government schools is Urdu and that in Private schools is in English, Urdu, and local languages may be true in other parts of Pakistan but is certainly not true for Sindh. In Sindh (except in Karachi, and parts of Hyderabad and some other cities), the primary language of instruction is Sindhi.

The report quotes many figures from its Punjab-focused study to justify its conclusion that what works in Punjab will work in other provinces. The report does not take into account that most large private school systems in Pakistan are either based in Punjab or in Karachi. These school systems will be the primary beneficiaries ifmuch of the US education aird is channeled through these school systems. These large private school systems are a bad news for poor areas of Sindh as they will invariably have no interest in ensuring prominent position of Sindhi language and sufi culture of religious tolerance and respect for all religions prctised by Sindhis.

Although the report by Dr. Winthrop is quite good in many respects, it seems that many of the perceptions and observations presented in the report are based on a study called the “Learning and Educational Achievement in Punjab Schools (LEAPS)”. The author vigorously advocated attendees to read the report and praised the group that had conducted the LEAPS study. Unfortunately problem with approach is that the autors did not venture out and visited local communities in Sindh and Balochistan so many of her recommendations are based upon their interviews with private school administrators in the Punjab province.

LEANNA MARR (A USAID official working on education-related projects in Pakistan) commented that excellent work is being done by private sector in Pakistan. She asked the question how can we take those lessons learned and models from the private sector and help the government schools, which is used by 70% students.

Dr Siddiqa commented that it is imperative that decision-makers be very careful in favoring private sector over public sector for assistance because there is no linear connection between private education and open-minded thinking. She added that one has to drive deeper to see what kind of education are the private schools imparting and what kind of citizens are being produced from those schools. Dr. Siddiqa admitted that the public sector has flaws. But, the public access has greater access and providing assistance to private schools at the cost of public schools would be very dangerous. She asked that the U.S. government must keep harping at Pakistani government to take on its responsibility.

In answer to a question, Dr. WINTHROP commented that there’s probably no political will in Pakistan for the needed improvements as Pakistani elite and the political leadership do not care about putting education front and center of the country’s agenda. However, the Pakistani masses do care about education so it is going to be hard and long process to transform and reform the government education system.

Main Conclusions of the Report

1. Demand for education within Pakistan far exceeds the ability of its government to provide. Other reasons such as household poverty, opportunity cost of sending a child to school versus having them to work are of lesser importance.

2. The Madrasas are a small component of overall education in Pakistan. They are not increasing to fill the gap created by government’s inability to meet demand and that Madrasas are not one of the primary causes of the rise in recent militancy.

3. Three aspects of education – Access, quality, and content are critical to promoting stability.

4. Poor governance in education sector creates huge discrepancies in the public education system inflaming people’s grievances against government.

5. Poor learning leads to inadequate development of core skills related to good citizenship and ability to find jobs.

6. The curriculum and teaching in government schools that is heavily militaristic and anti-India help create intolerance and condoning of violence to promote certain causes.

The comments by panelists emphasized that the focus should not be only on access but on quality and look at reforming system and governance in order to improve learning outcomes.

The report suggests focusing on the bottom 25 percent of the worst performing government schools using lessons learnt from private schools may be the best approach.


1. Link for Brookings Institution’s newly released report “Beyond Madrassas: Assessing the Links Between Education and Militancy in Pakistan”:

http://www.brooking 2010/06_pakistan _education_ winthrop. aspx

2. Full Transcript and and video clip of “USAID Discussion on Brooking Institution’ s Report “Beyond at: http://www.usaid. gov/press/ speeches/ 2010/sp100623. html


About the author: Khalid Hashmani is a Washington DC-based veteran human rights activist. He is the founding President of Sindhi Association of North America (SANA) and Chief coordinator of Sindhi Excellence Team (SET) that participates in advocacy activities on behalf of rural Sindhis.

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