Not only are teachers not available in sufficient numbers, there is also no system of regular training. Teacher absenteeism is also common
All political parties in Pakistan agree in principle that education is the basic human right of every child. In their election manifestoes, they place education in their priority lists but nothing has ever been done. Pakistan’s Constitution also declares it an obligation of the state to educate all children without any discrimination. Article 25-A of the Constitution says: “The state shall provide free and compulsory education to all children of the age of five to 16 years in such manner as may be determined by law.”
However, the ground situation has always been pathetic, no matter if civilians or the military ruled the country. According to reports, around 25 million girls and boys in the five to 16 age groups are out of school while 23 percent of these children are of primary school age. This proportion increases with the rise in the level of education; almost 85 percent of children do not reach the higher secondary level. The report, which is based on the data of the federal government’s National Institute of Policy Studies (NIPS), says that more than half of the country’s out-of-school children — about 52 percent — live in Punjab, 25 percent in Sindh, 10 percent in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, seven percent in Balochistan, three percent in FATA, two percent in Azad Jammu and Kashmir, and one percent in Gilgit Baltistan.
Currently there are 52.91 million children in Pakistan between the ages of five and 16. Statistics show that only 27.89 million attend an educational institute (government or private), leaving 25.02 million children out of school. There are currently 5.1 million children of primary school age out of school. What is of serious concern is that the report also reveals vast regional disparities in providing girls with equal opportunities for education. Nationally, 15.9 million boys, between the ages of five and 16, are enrolled, compared to just 11.9 million girls. As a result, 13.7 million girls and 11.4 million boys are out of school. Region wise, the greatest disparity is in FATA, followed by Balochistan and Punjab. In FATA, 78 percent of girls are out of school compared to 47 percent of boys while 72 percent of girls in Balochistan are out of school with boys at 60 percent.
An analysis of the country’s education arena shows that poverty has much to do with lack of access to education. It has been found that the number of the out of school children increases as income levels fall. Among children belonging to the poorest households, 57 percent are not in school while it is 26 percent in the upper middle class and 10 percent in rich homes. The proportion of such children decreases up to the age of eight but then rises sharply, so that by the age of 16 more than 55 percent of children are out of school.
What are the reasons so many children are out of school? Two fundamental problems are shortage of funds and the absence of infrastructural facilities. A recent survey by a non-governmental organisation shows that in 34 percent cases, people do not allow girls to get enrolled because of the incomplete school infrastructure: lack of the requisite teaching staff, drinking water, boundary walls, toilets and other facilities. To accommodate the increasing number of children no new school buildings are being built. Not only are teachers not available in sufficient numbers, there is also no system of regular training. Teacher absenteeism is also common. It is widely alleged that merit is ignored and teachers are appointed on political grounds. Education experts are of the opinion that unless these impediments are removed education will remain inaccessible for a large number of children in Pakistan.
Amina Ahmed, a journalist and a lecturer, said, “The education crisis in Pakistan can be tackled but the first and foremost need is to enhance budgetary allocations for the education sector and ensure that they are efficiently and effectively spent. Moreover, emphasis should also be placed on teacher and staff trainings. I have a firm believe that verbosity or tall claims will not serve the purpose. All governments at the Centre and provinces will have to make education their top priority to achieve the goal of a literate and educated nation,” says Amina.
According to the UNs Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO), Pakistan has almost 5.5 million children out of school, the second highest number in the world only after Nigeria. Pakistan also has the highest number of illiterate adults in the world, after India and China. UNESCO’s report on the state of global primary education points out that Pakistan is among 21 countries in the world that face an “extensive learning crisis”. On UNESCO’s index, which is based on a number of indicators such as enrollment, dropout rates, academic performance and literacy, Pakistan scores low in every area.
Broadly speaking, global standards of primary education are in a shambles in south and west Asia, and western Africa. Countries in these regions, including Pakistan, are behind in virtually every index. Pakistan has the dubious distinction of belonging to the poorest category that features 17 countries from sub-Saharan Africa, Mauritania, Morocco and India. According to UNESCO’s findings, private schools provide a better standard of education than government institutes. The index shows that children even in low fee private schools outperform those enrolled in the top tier of government schools, showing the government’s crumbling educational infrastructure. However, even in most private schools, 36 percent of grade five students cannot read a sentence in English, which they should be able to do by grade two.
The most damaging part of the UNESCO report relates to inequalities in education within the country and the impact of the rich-poor divide on educational attainments: “Geographical disadvantage is often aggravated by poverty and gender. In Balochistan, only 45 percent of children in grade five could solve a two-digit subtraction, compared with 73 percent in the wealthier Punjab province. Only around one-quarter of girls from poor households in Balochistan achieved basic numeracy skills while boys from rich households in the province fared much better, approaching the average in Punjab.”
A serious education issue is availability and quality of teachers. In the list of countries that have the highest shortfall of teachers, Pakistan was the only non-African country to feature on it. Nigeria was the highest on the list, requiring 212,000 teachers. The study said that between 2011 and 2015, 5.2 million primary school teachers were required globally to make sure that universal primary education is guaranteed. As historical experience has proved, political interference should stop so that appointments are made on merit. In the larger context, we need to study the education system of countries like Sri Lanka to find out how they managed to achieve such a high rate of literacy within a short time.
The writer is a social and political activist who lectures in media studies. He can be reached at email@example.com