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KARACHI: Panellists at a policy dialogue on ‘Access to basic education and development in Sindh’ said on Wednesday that “we talk too much about higher education and too little about basic education, but development is linked to the quality of education at the primary level”.

The event was organised by Reform Support Unit of the Education and Literacy Department at Shaheed Zulfikar Ali Bhutto Institute of Science and Technology (Szabist).

“There may be no science teachers in Loralai where they are needed badly but five in Quetta because the one in Loralai got herself transferred to Quetta where she now has not much to do,” said former governor of State Bank of Pakistan Dr Ishrat Hussain while giving an example of how backward districts were deprived of basic education. He suggested doubling or tripling the salaries of teachers in such areas to give them an incentive to teach there.

He also said that there was a need for better allocation of resources. “We build 500 primary schools without caring to even find out if they are needed where they have been built,” he said.

Sharing her views about hindrances in bettering education in the province, Szabist chancellor Dr Azra Pechuho said the problem lay in creating people for the job market. “We need human beings who are made through education but here we also have the urban-rural divide where district education officers [DEOs] are unable to think policy. We have inducted people who don’t know how to do their job,” she said.

“Not concentrating on the quality of education in the early stages, we promote the children from one class to the next and it isn’t long before they are to appear for their board exams. That is how we see rampant cheating at that level. Think of quality when you think education and the quantity of students will increase automatically.”

She also spoke about the importance of good teachers who could also act as mentors. “We have so many different teachers’ training courses to raise the standards of teaching here but the DEOs are sending the same teachers, who may be friends with him, for these trainings and the courses for teachers are not taken advantage of,” she said.

Atyab Tahir, CEO at Amantech, said there was a need for building the basics starting from the classroom. “We need aptitude tests to see which students would benefit more from vocational training,” he said.

“The China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, trade with Iran and Tharparkar opening up will give way to blue collar jobs. We are here to discuss primary education but the aptitude of students is defined more at the middle and high school levels so there is need for those, too. We also need to create awareness that the skilled labourer is a productive member of society, who is to be respected as much as any doctor or engineer here,” he said.

Agreeing with Mr Tahir, Dr Ishrat Hussain said Pakistan, India and Bangladesh had a young population. “If provided the skills, they can make you a global workforce,” he said.

Adding to that education secretary Dr Fazlullah Pechuho said that it would be great to link skills with degrees. He also said that there was an unfair distribution of the education budget. “Here we spend around 80 per cent to 90pc of our education budget on the salaries of human resource that is unable to deliver. This is so because for the last 30 years, we have been recruiting without merit. Another thing that is being done is encountering absenteeism and absconder teachers. Thanks to the biometric system now we caught 8,000 absentee teachers in one month,” he said.

“We also don’t know the real figures of enrolment in schools in order to calculate the dropout rate of students. Around 99pc children in Sindh don’t even have ‘B’ forms. How to monitor them. Everyone wants the enrolment in schools to go up but how can they do this while making policies in Islamabad? You have to visit the interior [of Sindh] to help education there.”

Published in Dawn, May 26th, 2016