By Salman Ali
The Convention on the Rights of the Child and many of the global education goals, including the Millennium Development Goals, aim at ensuring the right to quality education, which, unfortunately millions of children and women around the world are deprived of. Globally, some 67 million children remain out of school. According to the EFA Development Index, Pakistan ranks 106 out of 113 countries. Similarly, despite Pakistan’s annual economic growth being 4.1 per cent, growth in expenditure on education is less than 2.5 per cent.
It is also mandated in the constitution of Pakistan to provide free and compulsory education to all children between the ages of 5-16 years and enhance adult literacy. But an annual report released by Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) provides a glimpse into the performance of the education sector in the country, during the year 2016. According to the report, the year 2016 witnessed tiny improvements in a few areas of the sector, but continued to see a decline in many. The official figures showed that the number of out-of-school children decreased from 25 million to 24 million, but the adult literacy rate went down from 58% to 56.4%. There was only moderate improvement in the learning outcome score – from 2015’s 52.33% to 54.78% in 2016.
The most disturbing news of the educational year was that the federal and two provincial governments – Punjab and Balochistan – cut their budgetary allocations for the sector, despite showy claims of putting education first.
On the other side, the United Nations Global Education Monitoring Report 2016, released in September last year claimed that Pakistan was 50-plus years behind in its primary and 60-plus years behind in its secondary education targets. That means the country is set to miss by more than half-a-century the deadline for ensuring that all children receive primary education. The report said that Pakistan had the most absolute number of children out of school anywhere in the world, including 5.6 million out of primary schools, around 5.5 million out of secondary schools (48% of lower secondary school age children), and a staggering 10.4 million adolescents out of upper secondary school. According to the HRCP report, in 2016 there was no record of 15,000 teachers, and there were over 900 ghost schools in Balochistn with almost 300,000 fake registrations of students.
A study titled ‘Pakistan’s Education Crisis: The Real Story’ noted that the United States, Britain and the World Bank poured money into Pakistan’s stagnating public education sector, but the number of children out of school is still second only to Nigeria. The data collected by the Wilson Centre, however, noted improvement in teacher absenteeism, which dropped from 20% to 6% in Punjab during the past five years.
Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) led provincial government in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) has always claimed prioritising education and health. However, the HRCP report revealed that most of 28,000 schools in the province lacked basic facilities. Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Independent Monitoring Unit said in its May 2016 report that 26% of the government schools did not have potable water facility, and 10% had no boundary walls, despite the province facing a sensitive law and order situation. Also, 11% schools have no toilets and 34% have no electricity connections.
Different districts’ performance across the country was reported very poor. In Balochistan, according to a report, released by the Academy of Educational Planning and Management (AEPAM), a federal government institution, more than 1.8 million children are out of school.
The official data show that there are 13,279 government schools in Balochistan. Of these, 84% are primary schools with only 16% schools offering middle and higher education to students. Almost 54% of the total primary schools operate with only one teacher. Almost 26% government schools in Balochistan function with only one classroom. And across Balochistan, the condition of 83% of government primary schools buildings is “unsatisfactory”. Moreover, the HRCP report notes with concern that the federal as well as provincial governments’ priorities seemed misplaced in the field of education.
Education at primary level particularity in public schools is somewhat satisfactory in cities but in rural or remote areas of the four provinces, the state of education is pathetic. This is because the tribal lords are still powerful and hold influence in the area where they have electoral power. They don’t want the children of the poor to get quality education in the public schools, which is why they make no effort to improve the condition of these schools.
NGOs have been working to get rural areas’ children registered in public or private schools but to no avail. For this to happen, well-groomed teams should be formed to give lectures to the parents so they can be convinced on the importance of education for their children. But first we need to get rid of the feudal lords otherwise the situation will remain the same.
The writer is a social and political activist based in Lahore. He has done his Maters and MPhil in Communication Studies. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
The views shared in this article do not necessarily reflect that of the AHRC.