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Home to school

Published Apr 19, 2017 06:56am


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THOSE who lynched Mashal Khan are educated people. Obviously, the quality of education that they and many others have received leaves much to be desired. How to improve the quality of education right from the grass roots?

In line with the model elsewhere we have schools for children close to their homes, but we have miserably failed to give these schools sufficient teaching staff or facilities.

Alif Ailaan’s website says that 40 per cent of school-age children (ie 24 million) are out of school. The majority of those who go to school access only a poor quality of education. On any given day, 11pc of teachers are absent from the classroom. The government has failed to implement Article 25-A of the Constitution, which makes education the right of every child from five to 16 years of age. Forty-five per cent of government schools lack basic facilities including furniture, bathrooms, running water, electricity and boundary walls. Budget allocations for education are grossly insufficient.

Given how many facilities are missing in schools, it may take ages to gather the funds required for their provision. Making sure that teachers are there in the required numbers is even trickier, while the difficulties involved in having quality teachers are simply unimaginable. Making education compulsory across the country may not even be on the policy agenda in the foreseeable future.

Can we think of an alternative model to improve the quality of education? Rather than making an effort to provide primary schools closer to home, maybe within a radius of say two kilometres, how about having primary schools within a radius of, say, 15km from home. What are the advantages? We can have fewer and bigger schools, thus reaping scale economies. This would help overcome the scarcity of good teachers. The cost savings can be used to raise teachers’ salaries. This will attract better teachers to the profession.

Fewer but better-equipped schools might be the solution.

In the school-near-home model, a large number of children walk to school. They cannot use transport to reach school even if they have the resources — there are no roads that connect remote villages to schools. In these remote areas, children still manage to reach school because the latter is located at a walking distance from home. How will children reach their school if it is located 15km away?

The solution lies in constructing decent roads that will take children from homes in remote villages to schools in towns in school buses funded by the state. The extra costs involved would be in developing roads from villages to towns and providing, maintaining and running school buses. What will be the savings? Instead of having 10 schools with maybe 200 children each, we may have just one school with 2,000 children. The benefits are likely to outweigh the cost and even if this is not the case, the access to good teachers would be enough to justify the additional costs. Moreover, private schools that cannot serve children in remote areas may find it feasible to operate in towns.

The rationale of the school-near-home model is to reduce travel time for children, but walking to schools does not do so. A distance of 15km with low-intensity traffic between villages and towns could be covered within half an hour on a road of average quality. Children in urban centres also spend the same amount of time travelling to schools.

The state of healthcare is no different from the state of education. We have Basic Health Units and Rural Health Centres close enough to home. But just like schools near home these are marred by the absence of equipment and staff. It makes sense to have well-equipped and better-staffed health facilities a bit farther from home than to have these nearer home but without the equipment and staff.

The roads from remote villages to towns would not just be roads from home to schools. They would also be roads from home to hospitals and from home to markets. To make growth inclusive, we need this kind of bottom-up connectivity — from villages to towns, from towns to cities and then from cities to metropolises. Connectivity from Karachi to Kashgar would form the top tier. First let the villages and towns of Pakistan trade amongst themselves. We can think of facilitating trade between Karachi and Kashgar later.

The road from home to school reflects a bottom-up development paradigm while the road from Karachi to Kashgar reflects the top-down paradigm. Which one to choose? Developed societies settle such questions by way of independent bottom-up research and debate. To set the debate rolling, one can begin with hashtags like #HometoSchoolRoad and dedicate the proposed paradigm to Mashal Khan.

The writer is associated with the Pakistan Institute of Development Economics and Air University, Islamabad.

Twitter: @khawajaidrees11

Published in Dawn, April 19th, 2017


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The views expressed by this writer and commenters below do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.

Comments (25) Closed

Fazal Karim Apr 19, 2017 09:30am

Locating schools fifteen Km away from children homes is not practical. Government which fails to provide water and bath rooms in schools can not be expected to provide roads and maintain them. Schools should as far as possible be within walking distance except remote areas. Management of smaller schools is easier and effective. The Head Master in spare time should also take classes. Competent and dedicated teachers are best guarantee of good education. If good teachers are not available in Pakistan we should get foreign teachers. Corruption and nepotism in recruitment of teacher should be eliminated. In 21st century we are following 19th century books and syllabus and expected wonders from the students. All over the world very good teaching materials are available, why cant we follow them. Lastly there should be zero tolerance for cheating in examinations, it not only results in poor performance in further education and life but encourage children to break laws in future life.

Umair Apr 19, 2017 11:03am

Its not about quality of education......its about youth turning away from religion and having no concept of Islam and its teaching.

Asad Apr 19, 2017 11:50am

A thousand million is equal to one billion. And cost of orange train alone is around 200 billion (leaving the three metro bus projects aside). This amount alone is sufficient to provide the education and health facilities in sufficient numbers in all the districts of Pakistan. So, the issue is that of PRIORITIES and not "to gather the funds required for their provision".

Shahid Apr 19, 2017 12:34pm

We are looking at just one side of the picture. Everybody picks up the 25 million out of school children figure and then criticizes the government as the one solely responsible for this state of affairs. True, government is responsible mainly for the governance and quality related issues that plague this sector, and its budgetary allocations are insufficient. But also consider the fact that government run schools have increased in number over the years. Yet, the pace of population growth is apparently higher than this growth in schools, which is one of the reasons that there are so many children who are out of schools. Surely, growth in population cannot be attributed to government alone. Therefore, improving performance, quality and numbers of schools is one part of the solution. The other part lies in controlling the population growth rate. Otherwise, millions of children would remain out of school even in the future.

S. M. Naseem Apr 19, 2017 01:56pm

This is quite an absurd and reactionary article, coming as it does from a renowned Pakistani economist. "How about having primary schools within a radius of, say, 15km from home.", you ask. Simple arithmetic shows how absurd is the argument. Punjab Education Foundation recommends a primary school within 2 km each with 200 children. According to your proposal about 64 schools will be replaced with one large school with 12800 children! The logistics of daily handling so many children in one school and transporting them back and forth from their homes --and making at least 30 stops on the way -- is absurdly daunting and nightmarish to say the least. You give yourself away, when you say "Instead of having 10 schools with maybe 200 children each, we may have just one school with 2,000 children. What happens to the missing 10,800 children? Do they add up to AlifAilaan's 24 million figure?

BAXAR Apr 19, 2017 02:56pm

@Asad " And cost of orange train alone is around 200 billion (leaving the three metro bus projects aside)." That is what people ask for. A person living in Layyah prefers orange train in Lahore over a school in his village. That's the reality however foolish it seems.

manzoor Ahmad Apr 19, 2017 02:58pm

Not sure having more roads and bigger schools will solve this problem. Even the existing government schools fail to attract full load of students as their parents prefer them to go to private schools. In any event, the current government's focus has been entirely on roads at the expense of health, clean water or other basic necessities.

Muhammad zahid Apr 19, 2017 03:06pm

But who care?

Xulf Ali Apr 19, 2017 03:13pm

The need now is not only to build new schools in comparison to the population growth but to exclude the rigid concepts of so called morality from our syllabus. The whole education system needs to be revived. Our city has only 4 government high schools since last half century but its population has grown triple over the period of time. Thanks to the makeshift private schools even for sub-standard education. We just think but who will do it ?

qasim ali shah Apr 19, 2017 04:07pm

All the suggestions are viable but not in Pakistan. Even if these facilities were provided we will just narrow the gap between school-going and not-going kids. The real issue is not how many are going to school and how many don't; but is what we are producing? does it make any difference to have illiterate people or educated bigots? the main problem is two-fold: anachronous contents and ill-equipped teachers. Education sector has become a safe refuge for the dejected and rejected. If we managed it ,somehow, we will be able to add some sane and productive stuff to the mainstream society. otherwise, people who show some dissent with the dominant narrative will get killed like we witnessed in the case of Masha'al khan.

Idrees Khawaja Apr 19, 2017 06:28pm

@S. M. Naseem Sir! The emphasis of the article is on development paradigm: which one to choose: Karachi to Kashhgar versus Home to school roads (which would also be the roads from home to hospital and from home to market) i.e. the emphasis is upon preferring bottom connectivity - between villages and towns, facilitating trade between villages and towns before we think of facilitating trade between China/Central Asia and Pakistan. Secondly 15 km is an could be 10 or 7 km whatever the maths makes it feasible ...the point is that scarcity of quality teachers can be addressed and of missing facilities can be addressed by having fewer and bigger schools.

tahir saleem Apr 19, 2017 06:30pm

good one sir, appreciate your insight and thought provoking article

Idrees Khawaja Apr 19, 2017 06:33pm

@manzoor Ahmad! True, the very reason that existing public schools spread everywhere are underutilized makes a case for having fewer and bigger schools moreover the article emphasizes upon preferring connectivity between villages and towns over Karachi and Kashgar if do not have the resources to undertake both.

arshad durrani Apr 19, 2017 06:47pm

Take the school to their door-steps,not away.It is important for the children,moreso for girls to be able to walk not more than thiry minutes to school.De-centralized control by ED and effective monitoring with the help of IT and mobility is the answer to slackness among teachers.Not the least important is constant training of teachers and updating curriculum.

Riman Apr 19, 2017 08:57pm

State play a vital role in quality education .And this is the responsibility of the Govt to provide all sort of resources to the state schools ,so the student may get quality education in their doorstep .Particularly Govt must granted poor student ,so the student may continue their education

Nasir London Apr 19, 2017 09:18pm

@Fazal Karim: It is the organisation and management of schools that needs urgent attention. I would suggest every school should have a foreign trained or a foreign head teacher who will monitor performance of teaching staff and keep an eye on the quality of education with less emphasis on dogmatic religious education. In the West primary and middle schools have broad based religious education where the students are taught the very basics of major religions of the world. My grandchildren go to both public and private schools in the UK. I being a muslim often am called upon to talk to students about Fasting, Prayers and Hajj and there benefits in every day life. Do our schools in Pakistan let the children know and understand other religions. If we did I am sure fanaticism will die down and we will have many more of the likes of Mashal Khan with free thinking minds.

aamir Apr 19, 2017 09:22pm

Great thinking I am a science teacher in a govt school and I also think about such a model for improvement in our educational system. In USA this model is practically in place and it is very successful. But schools with all necessary facilities and well educated teachers are far more easier to manage then remotely situated schools.

Nasir London Apr 19, 2017 09:27pm

@S. M. Naseem: the essence of the article is misunderstood.

Abraham haque Apr 19, 2017 09:48pm

@Fazal Karim sir all of those things that you mentioned are against our religion and culture

City Grammar school Apr 19, 2017 10:16pm

Highly qualified staff is available in each n every corner of the country. Motivate n equipped them with latest educational technologies

Bahadur Apr 20, 2017 03:19am

I have discussed this idea with few individuals. Since there is a shortage of teachers (or good teachers), we can use some Pakistanis or people from other countries speaking Urdu/Hindi from abroad. They can teach from their home in USA, Canada or any other country in the world busing internet. Of course we would need internet at schools too. Many people (from Pakistan) living abroad cannot leave their current country but they can afford to devote 5-10 hours every week to teach a course. If anyone likes this idea or wants to discuss this or other ideas further via email, please email me

Alba Apr 20, 2017 05:20am

Lecture halls for grammar school students with internet interactive closed circuit Large Screen TVs. Lots of animation. They can just sit and learn with a lunch period and a few breaks in between subjects. That could work in the city.

Illawarrior Apr 20, 2017 06:21am

@Shahid China faced similar population issues and took action to correct it. It was quite effective on many fronts.

Illawarrior Apr 20, 2017 06:26am

Other countries employ casual, relief teachers, to cover for when permanent teachers are off sick, though 11% absenteeism, sounds more like they are rorting the system, than genuine sick leave. If this is the case, it needs to be addressed through disciplinary action.

Nasir London Apr 20, 2017 06:51pm

@Bahadur: Remote teaching private tution etc via the use of internet (skype) is deployed extensively at homes and at schools abroad. Due shortage of good teachers in the country remote teaching is one possibility. A good HeadTeacher with proven management skils and few trained teacher will be required along with access to Internet at schools. Punjab Chief Minister introduced laptops to students, instead giving away laptops to individuals the money could be used to equip schools with Internet for use of the many more students.