Pakistani Teacher: ‘Social Taboos Are Responsible for Keeping Females Away From Education’

Girls in Pakistan are often deterred from going to school. Sadia Syed is taking steps to change that.
Sadia Syed advocates for girls' education each day in Pakistan. (Photo c/o Sadia Syed)
Oct 11, 2012
is a freelance writer based in San Francisco, who writes about economic crises and political snafus.

On the International Day of the Girl, Intel and will be celebrating the heroes making a real difference in girls’ education around the world.

Teaching young women technology in a land where power shortages are common is a real challenge. But Sadia Syed, an Intel Teach trainer at the Government College of Technology for Women in Lahore, Pakistan, is used to overcoming adversity.

 “The educational institutes do not have the necessary facilities for the students,” Syed says. “I even bring my personal laptop and Internet device for my student presentations in class. In this way, I am trying to bring a change on my level.”

For Syed to succeed in her goal to make all of her students socially aware global citizens, she must first compete with a society entrenched in male dominance and, often, terrible poverty.

More: Oppression and the Taliban Will Never Stop Dr. Yacoobi From Educating Girls in Afghanistan

According to the Federal Education Ministry of Pakistan, only 26 percent of girls and 12 percent of women are considered literate. Under oppressive Taliban rule, hundreds of girls’ schools have been shuttered in recent years, girls have been violently attacked for attending school, and many cannot afford the fees even if there is an open school in their area. “The social taboos in our conservative society are responsible [for keeping] our females away from education,” she says.

In a recent case, 14-year-old Malala Yousafzai was shot in the head by the Taliban for advocating for girls’ education. Yousafzai received the nation’s first national peace award from the Pakistani government last year, and was nominated for the International Children’s Peace Prize.

A Taliban spokesperson told the AFP over the phone that they carried out the attack because she continued to speak out against them. “She is a Western-minded girl,” Ehsanullah Ehsan said. “She always speaks against us. We will target anyone who speaks against the Taliban.”

Syed responded to the shooting of Yousafzai via email today. She said:

Today my head really bowed in shame and a wave of indignation spread all over that a 14-year-old girl is made a target in my country! What was her crime? Nothing but to raise her voice for girls’ education. Her public advocation for the cause annoyed those who want to spread their own brand of Islam and their own twisted ideology on the name of a religion that declares education mandatory for both men and women. The coward sick minds behind the attack have no respect even for the golden words of Prophet (PBUH) that ‘The one who is not kind to children is not amongst us.’

Malala is an embodiment of courage and hope for every girl who wants to get education as their fundamental human right. The voice and courage of this young lady kindles a new determination in me to work even more vigorously to spread the sparkles of knowledge in the lives of young girls of my country. As I do believe in this quotation: “Education is a progressive discovery our ignorance.”

Discouraging female education goes beyond the Taliban in Pakistan.

Syed says, “Since our society is male dominating and men’s verdict is considered to be final, the majority of men never encourage female intellect. Furthermore, parents seem reluctant to send girls out of homes. Female education is discouraged with the assumption that education is essential for career—since the majority of girls do not opt for careers, they [are believed to] not need to get an education.”

Whenever I encounter a reluctant parent, I always try to convince them to educate girls for the welfare of their being.

Whenever she can, Syed fights for girls’ basic human right to education and independence. “Whenever I encounter a reluctant parent, I always try to convince them to educate girls for the welfare of their being,” says Syed, who was the first female in her own rural Pakistani family to receive a higher education. “I have even started the same activity in my family, and resultantly girls are getting an education and some have reached secondary and graduate school.”

As a technology professor who also trains other teachers, Syed is eager to encourage her students to explore the world through every aspect of the Internet.

“After getting my Intel training [in 2009], I started the integration of technology into my curriculum,” she says. “Students upload their assignment on the Wiki, and I give them online feedback. Their class fellows can give their feedback by using different Web-based tools. I always encourage search-oriented activities and ask students to utilize different online tools for presentation in class as well. Before this, there was no tradition of using Web-based tools and research-oriented activities in my college.”

She considers how far some of her students have come since taking her class. One of her students was a shy young woman who had suffered from polio as a child. Once the world opened up to her in Syed’s Intel Teach classroom through her various tools of technology, the young woman found her voice. She developed into a vocal class leader and is now graduating from a local university. Syed says this makes her proud.

Kristin Kloberdanz is a freelance writer based in the San Francisco Bay area. She has written for Time, the Chicago Tribune and about everything from economic crises and political snafus to best summer beach reads.

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