THE figure is sobering: nearly 25m children in Pakistan currently do not go to school. This means that unless sincere measures are taken by the federal and provincial governments, as well as civil society, a whole generation of youngsters will grow up without the education and life skills needed to survive in a cut-throat world. Speaking at a news conference in Islamabad on Monday, the federal education minister said that the state will make all-out efforts to bring these children into the classroom. Noble as this goal may be, the state needs to unveil a concrete plan aimed at reducing the population of out-of-school children, reduce dropout rates, etc — ie it must come up with innovative solutions where earlier governments have not been successful. The girl child fares even worse than her male counterpart. According to a new Human Rights Watch report, the vast majority of out-of-school children are girls. It says, for example, that by the ninth grade, only 13pc of girls are still in school. That is an appalling figure that needs to be immediately remedied.
Where solutions are concerned, there is, of course, the issue of increasing government spending on education. Currently, Pakistan spends less than the 4pc to 6pc of GDP recommended on education. But beyond investing more funds in the education sector, there needs to be focus on learning outcomes. Getting children into school is one thing; making sure they are being taught — and taught well — subjects that will help them succeed in life is another. The education minister also hinted at improving quality in state schools, and talked of a uniform system of education. While uniformity in the syllabus may be important, it requires further debate amongst the federating units in the post-18th Amendment scenario. What both Islamabad and the provinces should immediately focus on is increasing enrolment and improving standards. Because the public school system has failed, parents who can afford it send their wards to high-fee private schools, while the poor have no option but to enrol their offspring in madressahs. True, the private sector has a role to play (without extorting money from parents), but it should not be a replacement for quality state schools that equip children with the tools to learn and thrive, and welcome both boys and girls equally in a conducive atmosphere.
Published in Dawn, November 14th, 2018