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The progress, prosperity and development of a nation depend on the potential of its population in terms of workable knowledge and skill, something that can only be achieved through quality education. In Pakistan where approximately one third of school children are out of schools it is only a domineering dream to think of competing with nations in terms of socioeconomic development.

The literacy rate and quality of education at the primary to tertiary levels in other countries is far ahead of us. In comparison, our public education system is failing. There are depressing figures about out-of-school children, reports about lack of girls’ education, ghost schools and absent teachers almost everyday in the newspaper.

It is beyond doubt that many of the ills of the fragile state of the public education system are due to the unprecedented political and financial corruption within the state’s machinery that descends from the ministry of education to the very door of a local school. All the processes of appointment, recruitment, transfer and posting of teachers involve hefty money. A poor educated man cannot become a teacher but someone with potential to stuff Rs400,000 into the pockets of politicians and bureaucrats has the chance to become one.

Therefore many of the appointed teachers are either incapable of teaching or have no interest with the teaching profession. For them it is just a lucrative investment in a highly profitable business. No business could generate at least Rs25,000 per month on an investment of only Rs400,000 without any risk and pay back the total investment amount in just one year while earning solid dividends other than the business of getting a teaching job in the government education sector. Meanwhile, the elite get more powerful whereas the deprived, oppressed and powerless poor communities are robbed of their basic right of getting an education.

Do parents and communities realise who is responsible for the dilapidated condition of school education in our country? Communities usually respond to this question by saying that the state or government is responsible for their miseries. At the same time they will not have the courage and capacity to correct the government’s wrongdoing. If honest and sincere people are appointed at the district and provincial level administration the ills such as teacher absenteeism, ghost schools and ghost teachers will certainly disappear giving our children access to a real free and quality education. Otherwise the public education system in Pakistan will get worse.

In the current scenario the steering of countries’ policy-making platforms are not in the hands of the countrymen or the ministries, rather it is controlled by the International Monetary Fund (IMF), World Bank, United Nations and the other donor agencies. The education policy is the same as the economic policy of Pakistan as it is driven by neo-liberal market forces. It is a system where social welfare and societal justice is a scathing rhetoric and only competitive market worthiness has any meaning. Poor people are poor because they have no market value so why bother about their education, health and socioeconomic development? Let the market forces decide about their fate!

This attitude is one of the most deterring factors responsible for the lack of quality education in our country. People sitting in provincial and district offices of education cannot be blamed for it alone, the issue lies in the broader system of policy making and decision making. The most neglected but important stakeholder in the formation of public education policy are the parents and communities around the schools. The lack of social and economic capital of these poor communities does not allow them to even raise their voice regarding the matter. When they talk about the issues they do it with fear of punishment and abandonment by the powerful.

There are hundreds of projects sponsored and planned by donor agencies across Pakistan but the end result is still the dwindling quality of education here. Projects that start and stop never accomplish their stated goals and are never meant to achieve anything. These projects are meant to create market spaces for education on the plane of consumerism. It is the main reason for the push and rapid mushrooming environment of private schools both in the rural and urban areas, which are also attended by the children of government school teachers as they can afford their fees. Only the really poor and marginalised have to resort to government schools.

A genuine desire and will to improve the access and quality of education in the public sector is not possible without effectively involving the community. It requires developing a deep, meaningful and sustainable partnership with communities by involving them in policy formulation and reform processes. Establishing poorly-equipped school buildings and appointing politically-motivated incompetent teachers would be like dumping money.

Successful partnerships can only built on a foundation of shared values and goals of mutual benefit, a sense of ownership, welfare attitude and flexible, integrated operating procedures. Consideration of the local contextual realities of each area is one of the most important elements which can be only defined and made workable by the immediate communities. n

The writer is a researcher at Aga Khan Univeristy-Institute for Educational Development.