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“The day I found that my son could not even write his name though he was in grade 5, I became concerned about what was happening in his school, especially in the classroom,” says Syed Ghulam at the National Convention of Parents aptly titled ‘Parent Ittehad as Critical Mass to Demand Quality Education’.

Pakistan’s education woes are commonly known. According to the 2016 United Nations Global Education Monitoring Report, Pakistan is more than 50 years behind in its primary education targets. At present, with a national literacy rate of 64 percent and 7.8 expected years of schooling, Pakistan is far behind its South Asian neighbours (Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Sri Lanka and Nepal).

With the passage of the 18th Amendment to the Constitution in 2010 education was made a provincial subject. Article 25-A of the Constitution of Pakistan (2010) states “The State shall provide free and compulsory education to all children of the age of five to 16 years in such manner as may be determined by law.”

And yet, there are vast disparities in terms of education among provinces and cities. Islamabad’s literacy rate is 96 percent, but in Kohlu, Balochistan, it is only 28 percent. Literacy rate in Punjab is 60 percent, followed by Sindh with 56 percent, Khyber Pukhtunkhwa (KP) at 53 percent and Balochistan at 43 percent.

Disparities also exist between genders with literacy rate in rural areas for males being 64 percent as compared to 14 percent for females. Among out-of-school children at the national level, 53 percent are girls and 47 percent are boys. Within provinces, KP has the largest gap with 30.3 percent more girls out of school than boys and Sindh has 10.3 percent more girls out of school than boys according to the Pakistan Data Portal.

NGOs are stepping in where the government can’t or is unable to. For instance, Alif Ailaan, a non-profit organisation, launched the ‘Parent Ittehad’ (Parents’ Union) so that communities could work together with rural support programmes (RSP) at the union council level to identify and resolve education or school-related problems.

Parent Ittehad worked as an effective lobbying and accountability group. According to Bashir Anjum, social sector specialist at the Rural Support Programmes Network (RSPN), this led to the reopening of 125 closed schools, appointment of 57 new teachers and improved teacher attendance in 1,406 government schools. Another significant improvement was that 27 percent of the 93,199 out-of-school children (36,812 girls and 56,387 boys) were enrolled between April 2013 and August 2015.

Community activists and resource persons were trained by local support organisations (LSOs) to ensure that every child is enrolled and stays in school. The project covered 13 districts — Punjab (4), Sindh (3), Baluchistan (2) and Khyber Pukhtunkhwa (4) — and engaged communities in 144 union councils. RSPs also worked with the RSPN to create accountability mechanisms whereby organised communities can access and ensure quality education. 

“LSO members sent text messages to elected representatives (MNAs, MPAs), deputy commissioners and key officials of the education department on a daily basis to share the number of out-of-school children,” explains Anjum. “They would also inform them of their supply side needs and demanded immediate action.”

The Sindh Union Council and Community Economic Strengthening Support (SUCCESS) programme in Sindh, also initiated a six-year long (2015-2021) programme funded by the European Union (EU). Initial results show that education has mostly been viewed as a supply-side issue. Research shows that mere pumping of more resources in the education infrastructure would not automatically lead to improvement in enrolment and students’ learning outcomes. It was shown that unlike the popular perception of unavailability of school buildings, children are out of school more due to a host of governance and socio-cultural factors than mere unavailability of school buildings. The government must appreciate the demand side of education by improving educational governance.

Many parents do not see value in sending their children to school. Discussing the situation in detail Abdul Razzak*, a researcher from district Tando Allahyar, argues that most residents in the district believe that government teachers are not recruited on merit. “Teachers are not qualified enough and they do not turn up on duty either. Therefore, parents lose interest in sending their children to school.”

Allah Bukhsh* from union council Dad Khan Jarwar, district Tando Allahyar, echoes Razzak’s thoughts. “The actual teacher appointed here does not come to work. In his place, a boy teaches the class and gets 3,000 rupees per month by the actual teacher.”

Furthermore, research under the SUCCESS programme shows that while land was made available and school buildings were constructed, seven schools in Dad Khan Jarwar and one school in UC Masoo Bozdar in district Tando Allahyar are closed, as surveyed in June 2016. This is mostly due to poor governance. Abdul Rehman, a student of class 4, at Godoo Tahim Boys’ Primary School, Union Council Dad Khan Jarwar, says: “The only teacher in our school retired six months ago, and since then no one has replaced him. Therefore, me and my friends are out of school and help our parents in farm work.”

In the final analysis, a mere supply side view of pumping more resources in the education infrastructure would not automatically lead to improvement in enrolment and students’ learning outcomes. Qualified teachers must be recruited on merit and teachers’ attendance and performance must be monitored.

For this to happen, mere technological solutions such as having biometrics would not be sufficient unless communities are actively involved through genuine participation in school management committees. At the moment, most school management committees are dominated by those who do not have any stake in schools. The irony is that this includes local influentials who don’t even send their children to village schools. A policy shift is urgently needed.

  • Names changed to protect privacy and anonymity

The writer is Team Leader Research, Rural Support Programmes Network

Published in Dawn, Sunday Magazine, January 15th, 2017