KARACHI: Despite a steady increase in education budget over the years and legislation to make school education compulsory and free for children, the fact that 6.2 million children in Sindh aged between five and 16 years do not go to school is a cause for concern.

This was stated in a conference organised by the Institute of Social and Policy Sciences (I-SAPS) in collaboration with Alif Ailaan in which quite a few parties of Sindh were invited to discuss their role in the betterment of the education sector.

I-SAPS Senior Researcher Ahmad Ali highlighted the current state of education by sharing a few statistics and then laid down a 14-point agenda that the government and the political parties should be taking.

“The current education crisis needs to be treated like a political and technical issue. Karachi is sadly considered to be a graveyard of education reform,” said Mr Ahmad.

Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) Senator Nihal Hashmi highlighted the need for transparency in the recruitment of faculty. He said: “In Punjab, no teacher can be appointed on the basis of political affiliation. They have to go through the entire recruitment process.”

Mr Ahmad shared that in 2014-15, the education sector made up 22 per cent of the overall budget in Sindh, but the increasing inflation was not taken into account. “This year the fund for education should be at least 30 per cent of the entire budget keeping in mind the inflation rate,” he said.

The importance of non-salary budget was emphasised that included expenditure on improving learning environment in classrooms and other measures that together improve the quality of education. Although Rs33 billion was allotted for this purpose in 2014-15, only Rs11.52 billion was actually utilised, it was said.

Mehtab Akbar Rashidi of the Pakistan Muslim League-Functional (PML-F) said a lot of money was being put into education, even in non-development sector but adequate utilisation was the core issue.

“No one comes on merit, there is a quota system in place but even that is not fulfilled,” said Muttahida Quami Movement lawmaker Irum Azeem Farooque.

Other party members also seemed to agree that implementation of policies was the main problem. “This is not a problem of money or budget, it is of governance,” said Dr Rajab Ali Memon of the Sindh Taraqqi-pasand Party.

“Out of the 0.75 million children who do go to school only 0.15 million end up completing all 10 grades,” said Mr Ahmad adding that this drop-out rate was taking place although the budget allotted to the sector was increased every year.

It was also shared that there were only 10 per cent middle and secondary schools in Sindh, whereas the rest were primary schools.

“To counter the staggering drop-out rate of children, schools need to be upgraded and higher budget allotted to the development of secondary schools to accommodate middle and high school students,” he added.

Some of the more staggering findings were the non-proportionate students to teachers ratio found in schools across Sindh. In Government Boys High School, Naukot, Tharparkar, there were 840 students and only one teacher whereas in Government Boys School, Usman Goth, Karachi, there were seven teachers for only three enrolled students.

“The ratio set by the government is one teacher for 40 students, we can at least try to maintain that,” said Mr Ahmad.

Even with the little budget that is utilised, how much have the children learn? The results were miserable to say the least. “Children in only four districts of Sindh — Karachi, Tharparkar, Umerkot and Mirpurkhas — were able to score 25 per cent or more in Mathematics and English at primary level. The rest scored less than that, considering that 33 per cent is the passing grade.”

It was observed that the districts which seemed to do well at primary level could not pass at secondary level, indicating a declining standard of education.

All the parties signed the declaration, while the MQM and the PML-F committed to present it on the floor of the house and make government accountable on all the agreed points. But there were no representative of Pakistan Peoples Party and Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf present in the conference.

Published in Dawn, May 22nd, 2015

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