It is hardly surprising that our public sector education system has completely failed, with recent findings stating that a majority of children within it barely learnt to read or complete simple numerical tasks while the dropout rate at over 50 percent for the first five years of education stands at among the highest in the world. The reasons for this are to a great extent explained by an exclusive report in this newspaper detailing the misuse of funds totalling Rs13.53 billion by the reform support unit of the Sindh Education Department. Documents containing correspondence between the Audit Department, top education authorities in Sindh, and the World Bank show that the performance of the RSU set up in 2006 has been extremely poor. Today, 6,207 schools in the province are closed and thousands other lack the most basic facilities such as toilets, electricity supplies and even boundary walls. This has come about because funds worth Rs38 million were used without being properly accounted for on public-private partnerships and millions others on textbook distributions, school repairs and other heads apparently for corrupt purposes. The RSU itself has denied the claims and instead focused on what it calls inappropriate correspondence on the matter.
The question of who the Audit Department and its DG should have written to, or how they should have gone about this, is obviously irrelevant. The fact is that there seems to be a misuse of money provided by the government and donors on a massive scale. This is combined with incompetence in the management of affairs and evident indifference to the condition in which millions of children attempt to obtain knowledge. The government of the province must also stand accountable for allowing this state of affairs to continue for so long. In the face of this disaster, the action taken by the Sindh government and announced in the provincial assembly to suspend 2,500 ‘ghost’ teachers and take disciplinary action against 40 other teachers seems inconsequential. Last month, a report by NGOs stated there were some 40,000 ‘ghost’ teachers and at least 5,200; ‘ghost’ schools in Sindh. What is required is determined action to stem the rot and rescue our education system from the serpents that have enwrapped it in their coils and are squeezing out the life that still remains within it.