ACCORDING to a report in this paper, KP’s school dropout rates remain high despite Rs130bn being pumped into the province’s education sector in the past six years. Previously, an annual report stated that out of the total 51.53m children (between the ages of five and 16), 22.84m were out of school ie nearly 44pc. This is despite the claims of success made by the authorities and reforms being introduced. Some of the reforms mentioned include raising teacher salaries; monitoring teacher attendance (to combat the problem of ‘ghost schools’); teacher training workshops; and improving existing infrastructure and facilities. Undoubtedly, these are laudatory and necessary steps. So why does the national dropout rate continue to be so high? Firstly, unemployment rates amongst graduates are high. The economy is unpredictable, and coveted government jobs are few and difficult to acquire. When parents, or children, see their ‘educated’ family members unemployed or struggling to make ends meet, they assume their own education is a waste of time. Secondly, a lack of monitoring and disciplinary action against teachers who engage in corporal punishment and bullying, or neglect children’s learning and safety by way of an unprofessional or indifferent attitude, also results in a high dropout rate.
Lastly, Article 25-A of the Constitution states that the state must ensure free and compulsory education for all five- to 16-year-olds. But even if government schools provide free education and books, parents cannot afford other expenses such as uniforms, shoes, bags, notepads, stationery or transport. Often, struggling parents pull children out of school to earn, help with domestic chores or take care of their younger siblings. Girls suffer even more. Some parents remove their daughter from school when she hits puberty. They fear harassment and ‘shame’ — both at school (their concerns are due to the presence of male teachers and staff) and on their walk to school, since many parents do not have the time to accompany their children. However, regressive attitudes around ‘honour’ are often a cover for more legitimate security fears. And even if children complete primary schooling, secondary and higher schools are even more scarce and at greater distances. Research shows that enrolment (including for girls) increases when the state provides free transport to and from school. This can be seen in Islamabad, where the Federal Directorate of Education has distributed 60 buses among government schools and colleges. Education is a universal right. In countries like ours, it has become a privilege.
Published in Dawn, October 11th, 2018