New York, May 4 (ANI): Pakistani families living below the poverty line are turning to madrasas or Islamic schools, where their children are fed and housed while being taught a more militant brand of Islam, due to the deteriorating condition of public education in the country.
Though madrasas make up only about seven percent of primary schools in Pakistan, their influence has been amplified by the inadequacy of public education and the innate religiosity of the countryside, where two-thirds of the people live.
The elementary school in a poor village is easy to mistake for a cow shed. It has a dirt floor and no lights, and crows swoop through its glassless windows, The New York Times reports.
The concentration of madrasas in southern Punjab has become an urgent concern in the face of Pakistan's expanding insurgency. The schools offer almost no instruction beyond the memorizing of the Koran, creating a widening pool of young minds that are sympathetic to militancy.
In an analysis of the profiles of suicide bombers who have struck in Punjab, the Pakistan police said that more than two-thirds had attended madrasas.
"We are at the beginning of a great storm that is about to sweep the country," said Ibn Abduh Rehman, who directs the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, an independent organization. "It's red alert for Pakistan."
President Barack Obama said in a news conference last week that he was "gravely concerned" about the situation in Pakistan, and asked Congress to more than triple assistance to Pakistan for non-military purposes, including education.
But education has never been a priority here, and even Pakistan's current plan to double education spending next year might collapse as have past efforts, which were thwarted by sluggish bureaucracies, unstable governments and a lack of commitment by Pakistan's governing elite to the poor, The NYT says.
Pakistani families have long turned to madrasas, and the religious schools make up a relatively small minority. But even for the majority who attend public school, learning has an Islamic bent.
Literacy in Pakistan has grown from barely 20 percent at independence 61 years ago, and the government recently improved the curriculum and reduced its emphasis on Islam. But even today, only about half of Pakistanis can read and write, far below the proportion in countries with similar per-capita income, like Vietnam. (ANI)