While our private education system has gained in size and reputation over the past two decades, unfortunately this has come at the expense of public education which has suffered from a number of problems over the years. Private schools are not the answer. They are also part of a larger problem.
For all intents and purposes, the government has absolved itself of its responsibility to provide free and quality education to its citizens. The exceptions to this may possibly be Punjab and KP where there is some semblance of governance left. In Sindh, by contrast, functional government schools are far and few, as is the case with Balochistan.
We have heard of ghost schools, of teachers being hired but not paid, ofcrumbling infrastructure and how hundreds of schools have been encroached by different persons.
In the past there has been talk about limited resources, but this is not the real issue when it comes to public education.
According to Mosharraf Zaidi, who runs the Alif Ailan education initiative, there are 25 million boys and girls out of school. This is nearly half of all children in the country.
Of those children who do go to school, the vast majority receive an education of poor quality. 48% of government schools are in a dangerous or dilapidated condition and lack basic facilities such as furniture, bathrooms, boundary walls, electricity and running water. The findings of Alif Ailan show that on any given day, 18% of teachers are absent from the classroom. At the same time, corporal punishment is widespread and remains unchecked. Significantly, budget allocations for education are insufficient and funds that are available are not spent effectively.
Our own media group has started the Aao Parhao education initiativewhich celebrates and recognizes teachers across the country. This campaign, which is a CSR initiative of the Express Group, has received a tremendous response from all corners of Pakistan. But the findings of the campaign leave us food for thought.
Amongst findings of the Aao Parhao campaign is the understanding that merely increasing education budgets will not solve all the problems that our education system is facing. Budget increase needs to be supplemented with its proper utilization, earmarking significant amount of funds for development and non-salary components and spending more on in-service and pre-service teacher training. These are some of the steps which, if undertaken, can ensure a better educational system in the country in the days to come. So far this is not happening.
In a report written by Abdullah Alam for Aao Parhao, Pakistan is spending around 2 per cent of its GDP on education, which in fact is quite low, when compared with our neighboring countries. This year, in 2014-15, the federal and provincial governments allocated Rs641 billion for education which is an increase of 11 per cent compared with the previous year’s allocation. This is not enough. Considering this huge public spending on education, a question that pinches the common man is why the educational situation is not improving in public sector institutions.
Although, many factors contribute to it, under-spending is one of the issues which needs to be addressed by all the provincial governments especially Sindh and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (K-P) who could not spend 23 per cent and 16 per cent of their allocated education budgets in 2013-14.
The underlying issue remains corruption and poor governance. While there is an increasing awareness to focus on education by the government, which comes from constant prodding from external sources like the World Bank and a number of other international organisations, that will remains to be translated into action.
Money continues to be siphoned or not used. Teacher hiring remains a controversy because ministers want to sell the jobs to the highest bidder. We only revise our textbooks to suit our ideological beliefs but little is done in terms of quality improvement. Cheating remains a problem in most examinations conducted by the government. That is why almost all institutes of higher education now have entry tests in place.
One wonders how long we will continue to treat education in this way. Governments may come and go but if we have a generation of poorly educated people, they will remain a headache for us for years to come.
Published in The Express Tribune, May 4th, 2015.