Education is neither eastern nor western. Education is education and it's the right of every human being.
So says Malala Yousafzai who was shot by the Taliban a year ago for campaigning for female education and who now advises British girls not to take their schooling for granted. David Blair highlights how bad the problem is in Pakistan, and for boys as well as girls:
No one can doubt her courage, nor the inhumanity of her obscurantist tormentors. Yet it would be too easy to blame the Taliban for the lack of female education in Pakistan.
Instead, Malala is only the most vivid symbol of a deep-rooted problem that existed long before the birth of the Taliban - and affects areas of Pakistan which its gunmen have never reached. In the process, the lives of millions of boys are blighted, just as surely as girls.
The problem can be simply stated. Pakistan has neglected to build a public education system worthy of the name. No single leader or political movement can be singled out for blame: this is a calamitous national failure built up over generations.
Today, only 67 per cent of Pakistani girls and 81 per cent of boys go to primary school, according to the United Nations. That may not sound disastrous, until you remember that neighbouring India achieves close to 100 per cent for both genders, and even Uganda and Zambia manage more than 90 per cent.
When it comes to secondary education, the situation is far worse, with Pakistan's enrolment rate plummeting to 38 per cent for boys - and only 29 per cent for girls. Again, the poorest countries in Africa do significantly better, typically achieving around 50 per cent.
Then consider the fact that Pakistan's population exceeds 180 million, of whom almost half are children under the age of 18. If a big majority have no chance to go to secondary school – and a significant minority cannot even gain a primary education – then tens of millions of children are missing out.