IS there any way to fix our education system? It is infuriating to see no substantive improvements in this sector despite reaffirming education as a fundamental right, ongoing education reforms and advocacy campaigns.
Education indicators either remain stagnant or show marginal progress as the latest Pakistan Social and Living Standards Measurement Survey (PSLM) 2013-14 reveals. A review of the progress in key indicators from 2007-8 to 2013-14 paints a depressing picture.
I will limit my analysis to Sindh alone. As far as I can recall, this is the first time that the PSLM report clearly blames Sindh’s poor performance as a factor that negatively affected progress at the national level. It says: “The coverage of the public school system has slightly decreased to 54pc in 2013-14 from 56pc in 2011-12. Here again the decline is mainly due to decline in enrolment in government schools in Sindh rural, where it has declined to 52pc in 2013-14 from 59pc in 2011-12.”
The PPP has been in power in Sindh since 2008 and derives its political strength mainly from rural Sindh where education is in a state of shambles. Isn’t this enough indication of PPP leaders’ commitment to the people of the province? The people of Sindh have always criticised the central government for ignoring the province and favouring Punjab. This is true to a great extent but we can no longer justify this stance because the provincial government itself has caused more deterioration on every front than one can blame ‘other forces’ for.
Education indicators in Sindh show a complete lack of political will.
The PSLM’s data about population 10 years and older that has ever attended school or is currently enrolled in school is a case in point. Sindh shows a decline of 2pc from 58pc in 2007-8 to 56pc in 2013-14, while the other three provinces show marginal improvement. Within this indicator, the data shows that girls’ participation rate has remained stagnant but that of boys has actually decreased.
Child labour is on the rise in rural Sindh due to poverty, and perhaps this is one of the factors behind the decline in boys’ participation rate. Proper research into this emerging phenomenon could help develop strategies to reverse the trend.
Data about population that has completed primary or higher level education indicates a mere 2pc increase at the national level from 47pc to 49pc. The news from Sindh is even worse: it shows a decline of 1pc from 49pc to 48pc. Interestingly, however, the percentage among girls for this indicator has slightly increased from 36pc to 37pc. Perhaps
stipends for girl students and other similar schemes to encourage girls’ education in the province may have contributed towards this. In terms of urban and rural areas trend, there is 1pc decrease in the former and 3pc in the latter.
With regard to the net enrolment rate between 2007-8 and 2013-14, the percentage of children aged from five to nine years enrolled at the primary level from class one to five went up from 55 to 57 at the national level. In this, one of the most important education indicators, Sindh’s performance has been pathetic. The net enrolment rate has declined from 51pc to 48pc! Among boys in the rural areas it has shockingly gone down from 51pc to 44pc. This is a particularly worrying trend because most NGOs tend to focus on urban areas, choosing to remain within their comfort zone.
Moreover, while the net enrolment in government schools at the national level has declined from 34pc to 33pc, in Sindh it went down from 37pc to 28pc. Further, if we look at the primary-level enrolment in government schools as a percentage of the total primary enrolment, it has significantly reduced from 65 to 60pc at the nation level.
Punjab indicates a 2pc decline while Sindh reveals a shocking 14pc decline from 73 to 59. This trend is even more pronounced in urban Sindh where it has decreased from 53pc to 38pc. These findings throw light on the bitter truth that the public has no faith left in government schools. Sadly, there is no evidence of strong will at the government level to restore the public trust.
No change has been observed in terms of an increase in the literacy rate in Sindh among the population aged 10 years and older. From 2007-8 to 2013-14, the figure remained stagnant at 56pc; the real literacy rate will surely be even less than that. The already dismal situation has been exacerbated due to the strong nexus among vested interests in government, donor agencies and NGOs. Time and again, it has been proved that we cannot improve education through lip service or half-hearted initiatives.
Lastly, despite its extremely poor performance in the field of education as well as other areas, the PPP has virtually swept the local bodies’ first round of polls in Sindh. Public accountability through the vote thus appears to be a distant dream.
The writer is a freelance contributor on education, and has worked with national and international organisations in Pakistan’s education sector.
Published in Dawn, November 19th, 2015