THE section on Pakistan in Transparency International’s Global Corruption Report on education highlights familiar, disturbing facts about the state of public education in this country, particularly the menace of ‘ghost’ schools. The report pinpoints corruption as the key factor responsible for bringing down the edifice of public-sector education in Pakistan. The presence of ghost schools — institutions which only exist on paper yet whose staff regularly draws salaries — in the system means that not only is the future of countless children jeopardised by depriving them of education, but precious state funds — said to be in the billions — also disappear into a black hole. The Supreme Court had earlier this year set up a commission to report on ghost and non-functional schools, but despite the apex court’s efforts it appears little has been done to address the issue by provincial administrations. In fact, a few years ago in Sindh, where along with Balochistan the problem of ghost schools is particularly acute, a senior bureaucrat was reportedly transferred for publicly criticising the state of education. This is a small indication of the power corrupt elements wield within the state machinery.
Better management and accountability are essential if the woeful condition of public schools is to improve. As the TI report recommends, audits by government inspectors, verified by independent third parties, are needed to determine if schools physically exist and if they are being used to impart education, and not for other purposes. Independent verification is important as government monitors have been known to fudge reports. Hiring of teachers must also be more transparent and merit-based. Instead of stuffing education departments with political appointees and favourites, qualified, dedicated teachers must be hired to serve in their local areas instead of those who show up once a month to collect a pay cheque. Local communities must also play a larger monitoring role where schools are concerned. In sum, the state must realise the gravity of the matter: for extremely short-term gains, corrupt elements are lining their pockets at the expense of the future generations’ education.