ISLAMABAD: A ruling party MNA on Thursday questioned her own government’s emphasis on brick-and-mortar improvements in the capital’s schools, at the expense of the quality of education provided there.

“We are more concerned with what children are being taught and how the syllabus of government’s schools has been improved to bring the standard of education at a par with private schools. We also want to know if enrolment in government schools has improved, [we want to know] about high achievers and about improvements in other such soft components rather than investments in [infrastructure],” demanded Shahzadi Umerzadi Tiwana, the parliamentary secretary for petroleum and natural resources.

Her critique of investments in “hardware” came during a meeting of the National Assembly Standing Committee on Government Assurances, which was being briefed on measures taken by the present government to bridge the gap between the standard of education in public and private schools.

In his briefing, State Minister for the Capital Administration and Development Division (CADD) Tariq Fazal Chaudhry said that of the 450,000 children in the federal capital, around 215,000 studied in government schools and over 250,000 in private schools.

PML-N MNA questions minister over misplaced priorities of educational reforms

More than 12,000 children, he revealed, were still out-of-school and had been engaged as labourers in places such as auto repair workshops.

He proudly told the committee how the government had begun the process of repairing and rebuilding educational infrastructure that was, in several cases, nearly half a century old.

“Classrooms, halls, high-tech science and computer labs, clean drinking water and bathrooms have been provided in 22 schools, while the PC-1 for another 200 school buildings is ready,” Mr Chaudhry said.

He also informed members that 70 out of 200 new school buses had been acquired.

But this did not satisfy the parliamentarian from Lahore, whi observed that the government was more focused on the “hard component” rather than the “soft component”.

“We want to see a difference in our children rather than a difference in school buildings,” Ms Tiwana said.

Committee Chairman Mohammad Afzal Khokhar said he wished the funds being spent on new buses could be spent on constructing more schools in the rural areas, to provide children easy access to education.

The minister responded by saying that both the soft and hard components were important: while a separate budget had been set aside for new schools, work on improving the syllabus was in progress and teachers’ promotions and postings had been linked to their performance, he said.

He insisted that infrastructure was necessary to bring the children who studied in verandas into purpose-built classrooms, and claimed that enrollment was improving as more and more parents realised that government schools were worth sending their children to.

“We have also had parents shift their children from private schools into government schools,” the minister boasted.

The committee, however, demanded details of the funds being spent on infrastructure improvement, as well those used to uplift ‘soft components’ such as quality of education.

Members also asked for a comparison of the syllabi in public and private schools to be shared with the committee at its next meeting.

“We would also like to know how the government plans to enroll the 12,000 out-of-school children, which is a huge number,” Ms Tiwana said.

Responding to a question over the concerns of daily wagers, the state minister said that they were inducted without proper testing.

“We would prefer that they are subjected to proper testing and screening processes before they can be regularised. These are also the directions of the high court,” he concluded.

Published in Dawn, December 29th, 2017

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