NLU Hosts Pakistan Education Minister Khalid Khan tells of progress in Malala Yousafzai's province

KhalidKhanNational Louis University is welcoming an education minister from Malala Yousafzai’s province in Pakistan, Dr. Khalid Khan, to its International Women’s Day event March 8. He will participate by Zoom teleconferencing technology.

Khan is an assistant education minister in Kashmir Patunkhwa province, where a young Malala Yousafzai was shot by the Taliban in her rural village for standing firm on her belief that girls have a right to an education. Malala survived, was awarded the 2014 Nobel Peace Prize and has become an advocate for girls’ rights and education throughout the world.

Khan spoke with NLU faculty and staff before the International Women’s Day event, emphasizing that Pakistan’s  government is opening universities to improve educational opportunities for all children, and girls in particular.

“We must pursue the drive for Planet 50-50,” he said. “Pakistan needs a generation of educated mothers. Without them, there is nothing that will change the sociology and economy of this country.”

Higher education is on the upswing. Khan explained KP Province only had 15 universities before 2011, but the province went on a building boom and now offers 24 universities.  Though women attend all of them, there are three, at Swabi, Peshawar and Mardan, which are strictly women’s universities. Many parents feel more comfortable sending their daughters to these sex-segregated schools, he said, where they will not be able to mix with male students.

While those developments are encouraging, statistics reveal that Pakistan is No. 2 in the world (only Nigeria is higher) for the number of children who do not attend school.  Pakistan has 52 million children between ages 5 and 16, and 25 million, mostly girls, do not attend school, according to Mosharraf Zaidi, writing in the New York Times. 

Pakistanis who champion girls’ right to an education still must convince Pakistani parents who do not value education for girls, however.

“For girls, the social taboo is probably the biggest thing,” Khan said.

But those attitudes are slowly softening. In his own family, Khan, 50, has seen the shift towards greater educational opportunities in Pakistan and KP Province. His sisters did not go to school, because that was the norm when they were growing up. However, his daughter is being educated, and his wife, who had a 10th grade education when he met her, is pursuing her doctorate.

“We’ve done wonders with access (to education), but maybe the quality needs more,” he said. “You need to have quality teachers. Some teachers are educated but not as good in interpersonal relations. To improve that, we are one province which linked promotion with training.”

Women are managing to persist, however, studying in the 11 departments the three women’s universities offer: economics, English, Urdu, political science, math, art and design, botany, zoology, literature, chemistry and psychology.

Female graduates are getting jobs, he said, with many working in teaching, nursing, physical therapy and medical technology, but also as engineers and journalists. The army had its first female pilot last year.

Khan does not need to look far to see evidence of women’s accomplishments. His boss, Farah Hamid, is the Secretary for Higher Education in KP province. And she’s a woman.