PAKISTAN’S public schooling system has continuously fallen short of expectations as our children remain bereft of quality education and a nurturing learning environment. While the overall education crisis has much to do with inadequate planning and poorly spent budgets, it has been exacerbated further by what appear to be political motivations. According to recent media reports, the PTI-led KP government has shut down 1,000 primary schools, built previously, because of low student enrolment. The justification is that school buildings that have barely more than 50 students had bled the provincial exchequer dry. The criteria for constructing new schools are that they are built in districts where at least 1,000 people reside; and where there are no primary schools within a 1.5km radius of a proposed site. Reversing the stark statistic of 1.5m out-of-school children in KP indeed requires increased enrolment and quality education. Moreover, if enrolling girls is part of the mission, more schools close to villages and towns are essential for success.
Meanwhile, Chief Minister Pervez Khattak is tasked with identifying districts requiring additional schools, sanctioning construction plans and upgrading schools for higher education. Under the 2015 annual development plan, for instance, it was the chief minister who decided the location for 160 new primary schools — rather than district education officers who are ideally equipped to research gaps at various tiers of education. This is why the chief minister’s role has proven contentious as there are concerns that many schools are being built not on the basis of need but for reasons of political patronage. Given the PTI’s visible commitment to education, its party stalwarts must remember that accruing political mileage by opening schools in areas where they are not be required, so depriving other districts, is a disservice to the cause of education. The need for a revolution in the way schools are built, run and staffed calls for sustainable interventions, not ill-executed projects and misuse of resources.
Published in Dawn, December 14th, 2017