The Gender Gap in Primary Education, 1996-97

In three of Pakistan’s four provinces, less than half of the girls ever enroll in school compared with 50 to 80 per cent of the boys. In contrast, nearly all the children in the district of Rawalpindi go to school. The effort and investment needed to eliminate the gender gap and achieve education for all in these different settings will be quite different.

In the Community Voice in Planning initiative, CIET methods were used to look behind the indicators to identify the gender gap components which could be changed at local, district and provincial levels. This meant systematically collecting and analysing local data on the known causes of the gender gap, and identifying which of these could be acted on in the different settings. Specific, cost- effective actions with high impact were identified and discussed in the communities and by local and provincial planners.

As expected, the link between the mother’s education level, her potential influence on the decision surrounding education of her daughters and the number of girls attending school was found in all districts. In the North West Frontier Province alone, where the gender gap is the widest, it was estimated that around 650,000 more girls would go to school if their mothers had received an education. Across the country, girls were also twice as likely to enrol in school if their mother could influence the decision. However, the father is the sole decision-maker in more than 80 per cent of the homes, and with nine out of ten women in rural areas having no education, the real challenge was how to strengthen the voice of women on the subject of education.

Making fathers more aware of the importance of female literacy was a first step. More than 300 focus groups, 150 with fathers, were held across the country to discuss findings. The results were also used by local NGOs to apply for grants to start adult literacy programmes for women.

Steps at district and provincial level included support for parent-teacher associations. This was designed for the active participation of mothers and should have a positive effect on both increased enrolment and decreased drop out rates and help to create trust and dialogue between teachers and parents. In rural North West Frontier Province, it was found that a child whose parents did not meet the teacher was 14 times more likely to drop out of school than if parents and teachers were in contact.

In Sindh, partnerships with NGOs helped communities form parent-teacher associations where none had existed. Some 3,600 association members were also trained to be able to act as an interface between the local government and the community. Similar actions were undertaken in the other provinces.

Increased satisfaction with teachers could help reduce drop out rates across the country, and in Sindh it was identified as the most important way to keep girls in school. Asking the girls what they thought about the teachers, many girls expressed a concern about the male teachers. Some girls in the Larkana district said they were asked to do favours in their homes or for money for “invisible things.” Some said the teachers simply did not show up to teach. As a follow-up action, the local government in Larkana started a programme to recruit and train local female teachers. The need to recruit more female teachers was also identified and acted on in the Balochistan province.

Extra charges, such as bribes to teachers, unofficial fees and payment for text books that are supposed to be freely distributed by the government, increase the cost of educationquite substantially in Pakistan. Together with inefficient use of public resources and lack of transparency in resource allocation, this remains one of the biggest barriers to achieving universal access to primary education. Detailed information on school costs to households provided the basis for estimating levels of petty corruption and how costs could be reduced. With lower costs, an increase of 20 per cent could be forecast for enrolment rates in Sindh and North West Frontier Province.

Existing policies to reduce costs only rarely benefitted the communities. Many parents and teachers were unaware of the free distribution of text books by the government and the removal of the requirement for girls to wear school uniforms. Communicated more effectively, these policies could increase the number of girls in school.

Helping girls with their homework was another way to reduce drop out rates in all areas surveyed. A girl between 9-12 years old was five to six times more likely to stay in school if she received help at home.

Attitudes toward female education among local religious leaders (Pesh Imam), also played an important role. Getting the religious leaders to promote girls’ education could be particularly effective in the rural parts of Kalat district in Balochistan and in the Sindh province as a whole.

In rural Dera Ismail Khan district of North West Frontier Province, parents said they’d be motivated to send their girls to school if free drinking water was made available. Building latrines in the schools was found to be an effective incentive throughout the province and in Balochistan province.

Even with limited resources for education in Pakistan, Rawalpindi district shows that it is possible to close the gender gap and get more children into school under the current conditions in the country. Nine out of ten children of primary school age go to school there, with nearly no difference in enrolment rates between boys and girls.

Communication strategies in all provinces helped to add transparency to the process and press government officials for change. “The government system needs transparency so that everyone knows the evidence and who’s responsible,” commented Mr Zia ul Islam, Secretary of Planning and Development in the Sindh provincial government. Journalists were often part of the data-gathering, and facilitated many of the community discussions around the findings. This enabled them to report first hand on facts and community views.

Executive summaries of the reports on this project for each of the participating provinces (BalochistanNorthwest FrontierSindh) and Rawalpindi district in Punjab are available from the Library.