What’s a more potent antidote to extremism: Invasions and guns or money for schools?
That was not a trick question and you don’t get gold stars for the right answer.
Activists have long told us that getting an education was a great way out of poverty and a crucial ally to economic growth. So it was good to read last week that Canada plans to send Pakistan more aid with a special emphasis on bolstering the Pakistani education system. About time.
For a stark and bloody reminder of where parents turn when public education fails their children, remember the siege at Lal Masjid standoff in 2007 —not in a remote part of Pakistan but in the capital, Islamabad. Two radical brothers established a Taliban-style compound that taught its students the virtues of vigilantism and suicide bombings. More than 100 people, including women and children, died after a bloody standoff with government forces.
Schoolgirls who survived were sent back home —many to rural areas without schools for them —where they told reporters they missed their books and where they passed on what they had learned to village children.
Parents wouldn’t have sent their girls and boys to the Lal Masjid compound if there were schools nearby.
That gap has been filled by the now notorious “madrassas.” Unlike secular schools, “madrassas” focus on religious education. That isn’t the problem. Rather, it’s who funds them.
Not everyone who goes to a madrassa blows himself up, but I am not naïve enough to think they’re all about love and God either.
If poor governments don’t invest enough in schools, you can be sure boys get priority when they do. It’s either harsh reality — boys can work and support family — or misogyny — in May, 90 Afghan girls were hospitalized with five slipping briefly into comas after the Taliban staged the third poison gas attack in as many weeks on girls’ schools. Sometimes it’s both.
In a 2004 report, the U.S.-based Council on Foreign Relations explained why girls’ education was worth the investment: it delivers huge returns for economic growth, political participation, women’s health, more sustainable families, and disease prevention.
Surely returns like that deserve gold stars?