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Concerns with Pakistan's Afghan Refugee Education Plan

Pakistan’s education policy regarding Afghan refugees has been underwhelming, to say the least. 2019 marks the 40th year of UNHCR’s collaboration with Pakistan to help Afghan refugees attain what is their fundamental human right. For the year 2020-2022, 4 main objectives were identified by UNHCR.

  1. Access to quality primary, secondary and tertiary education

  2. Increase girls’ participation in education.

  3. Include refugees within the public education programs and systems

  4. Strengthen the linkages to education pathways

While the pandemic may have halted progress on the goals set by UNHCR, it is still interesting to see what policymakers choose to focus on and what they omitted from the report.

The first thing that is apparent is that the literacy rate of Afghan refugees over the past few decades has gotten worse. The 2nd and 3rd generation of Afghan refugees are less educated when compared to their predecessors. More importantly, this shows a bigger problem with the assimilation of these refugees into the general population.

Firstly, no special context or consolidated curriculum is created for Afghan refugees. They learn what is taught across Pakistan, including the entire nationalism-inducing curriculum of Pakistan. This is to be expected since Pakistan’s education budget does not include any specific quota for Afghan refugees either. Furthermore, with education being devolved to provinces in Pakistan, foreign collaboration with UNHCR also becomes difficult since they have to deal with different bureaucracies at the same time.

There’s a significant geographical concern with the implementation of a refugee-specific curriculum. Since a majority population of Afghan refugees actually live in urban areas and not in camps, it is much harder logistically to cater to the special needs of refugees. If this continues, the most likely statistical conclusion is that Afghan refugees' literacy rates would go closer and closer to the provinces they repatriated into. Of course, an intersectional lens tells us that this homogenization of literacy rates would not show the much more severe ideological impact such a policy would have on Afghan refugees.

In conclusion, while UNHCR’s report begins to scratch the surface of how Afghan refugees are being educated in Pakistan, it fails to understand the geographical limitations and implementation obstacles that plague Pakistan’s policymaking.

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