THE idea of community participation in education has now evolved from parent-teacher associations (PTAs) and parent-teacher committees (PTCs) in some areas, into school management committees (SMCs).
But despite this evolution, over the decades positive evidence of the impact of community participation on schools’ overall performance is few and far between as actual participation is nominal in most cases.
In Sindh the SMCs are one among major reforms being undertaken by the Sindh Education Reform Programme (SERP). SMCs are formed at each school level comprising parents and local community members with a mandate to contribute to the betterment of schools from the academic, administrative and physical environment aspects.
The SMCs’ specific responsibilities include providing complementary support to schools, assisting in raising and sustaining learning outcomes of students, protecting and enhancing school assets, monitoring classroom performance and teacher attendance and increasing and sustaining enrolment and reducing drop-out rates etc.
Moreover, the SMCs formed at the primary, middle and secondary and higher secondary school levels receive a fixed amount of funds on an annual basis from the Sindh government. Primary schools receive Rs22,000, middle schools Rs50,000 and secondary and higher secondary schools Rs100,000.
During the last fiscal year the Sindh government’s education and literacy department spent Rs1.2bn with a view to activate and revitalise the SMCs.
Since their inception the committees are facing various problems, from the selection of executive committee members to the release and proper utilisation of funds. Often the SMC chairman is recommended by the local ‘influential’ and is not accountable to its members in particular and the community in general.
General bodies of SMCs remain dormant due to lack of a democratic process. More worrying is the fact that in many instances women have been ignored under one pretext or another, reinforcing patriarchal norms and lessening women’s role as parents. In most cases even SMCs overseeing girls’ schools are headed by male members.
A recent survey released by the NGO Lead Pakistan lends credence to the above-mentioned observations. The survey was conducted with financial support from UKaid under the Advocacy and Innovation Funds for Education in Pakistan project. The survey was undertaken in two districts of Sindh, Sukkur and Khairpur, involving 40 schools — 65pc primary, 20pc middle and 15pc high schools.
The purpose of the survey was to gauge the effectiveness and efficacy of governance through the SMCs and school grants and propose remedial actions accordingly.
The findings reveal that only 8pc SMCs of girls’ primary schools, none at the girls’ middle schools and 33pc at girls’ high schools in Khairpur district were headed by female members while in Sukkur 31pc primary, 25pc middle and no high schools were headed by females.
Instead of challenging these biases and prejudices against women the education authorities silently accept them as established norms. One wonders, if women can become councillors from rural areas why can’t they take the reins of SMCs?
Further, the findings show a significant gap between the number of enrolled students and attendance of students. Students’ attendance in Sukkur and Khairpur was 47pc and 60pc respectively. This indicates a high level of enrolled/ registered students’ absenteeism. The survey also throws up the issue of double enrolment — students simultaneously enrolled in government schools and private or NGO-run schools.
So far, 42,000 SMCs have been established across primary schools in the province and more than 90pc are considered ‘active’, but the definition of active and inactive SMCs is unclear and confusing.
The findings on this score indicate some interesting facts; 90pc SMCs in Sukkur and 100pc in Khairpur considered active show funds’ utilisation at 20pc and 30pc respectively. The remaining SMCs have not utilised the funds on development activities of the schools and the funds were lying idle.
Further, as regards the administrative matters of SMCs (such as signing cheques, separate bank accounts, updating financial accounts etc), the activity recorded is at 75pc and above for both districts. However, its effectiveness in terms of contribution in kind, curriculum and policy formulation, does not match the claimed achievements by SMCs in the past three years.
A clear benchmark needs to be set so that the efficiency and efficacy of SMCs may be measured in a proper manner in future research studies.
Statistics on the condition of schools at the provincial level continue to paint a dismal picture. Approximately 10,000 schools are shelter-less while a large number of other schools are without basic facilities such as toilets, drinking water, electricity and playgrounds etc.
Moreover, 6,644 school buildings are considered dangerous by the education department. The quality of learning is so low that drop-out rates continue to be high and the transition of students from primary to secondary level is very low; hence the situation presents a big challenge.
The SMCs’ capacity is insufficient to tackle such gigantic tasks and one cannot find good examples where schools have significantly improved as a direct result of SMCs’ intervention.
The education department must think of innovative and creative ways to put life into these bodies and correct its priorities keeping ground realities in view. Without doing this it is another opportunity for vested interests to squander public money.
The writer is an adviser at the Social Policy and Development Centre, Karachi.