LAHORE: Around 89 per cent of children in Punjab between six and 16 years of age are now enrolled in schools, as compared to 86pc in 2016, according to the eighth Annual Status of Education Report (Aser) report 2018, which was launched on Monday.

The report suggests promising trends in terms of access and quality. Around 3,000 volunteers and citizens, who were trained as enumerators, visited the 36 districts of the province, including 1,070 villages. They gathered information from 21,370 households and 57,349 children between the ages of three and 16 years.

For 2018, the Aser rural survey assessed 45,498 children between five and 16 years of age on Urdu and English languages, and arithmetic competencies. The report aims to examine what has been achieved, especially since 2010, when Article 25-A was introduced, making education a fundamental right for children aged between five and 16 years. It also tracks progress of SDG 4 measuring learning outcomes at the lower primary level.

The report was released by chief guest Muhammad Mahmood, the schools education secretary. Representatives from the Punjab Education Foundation, Punjab Engineering Council, universities and civil society organisations were also present.

Govt schools show improvement in provision of basic facilities

The report advocates that the narrative on education must change dramatically under the current democratic dispensation.

Mr Mahmood said that Aser had always been consistent in providing data on education. “In the last few years, the focus of the government has been access over quality,” he said. “Now, the government is constructing its programmes and paradigm around learning. Our policy includes curriculum training and assessment.”

Ms Shahida, the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (Unicef) education officer, said that collecting information was not easy. Unicef had also been conducting a large-scale assessment and the findings were not different from Aser’s.

Aasiya Khurram Agha, adviser to the education minister, said that the ministry was committed to working towards improving the quality of education, as some of the trends were a cause for concern.

Findings of the report on ‘access’ stated that proportion of out-of-school children decreased to 11pc in 2018 as compared to 2016 (14pc); Punjab has recorded an overall 3pc increase in enrollment. Compared to the national gender gap in out-of-school children – more girls out of school than boys, the ratio in Punjab is 5.5pc for each gender.

Overall, government schools have witnessed a surge of 8pc (62pc) in enrolment for early childhood education, whereas private sector holds 38pc of total enrolment.

The survey also highlights that overall in Punjab girls are on a par with boys in terms of literacy and numeracy; however the numbers vary by districts. Rural girls’ enrollment has been increasing since 2014, from 41pc to 43pc in government schools and from 42pc to 44pc in 2018 in private schools.

This year, the percentage of mothers completing primary education has gone up to 49pc.

According to the report, the government sector shows improvement in school facilities with a progressive improvement in private schools. At least 94pc of government primary schools had boundary walls and 93pc private ones. Functional toilets were available in 98pc public and 94pc private primary schools in rural Punjab. Furthermore, 95pc of all surveyed government primary schools in Punjab and 94pc of private primary schools had useable water facility.

Meanwhile, funds/grants to government schools declined since 2016: 50pc public primary, 43pc public middle and 48pc public high schools received grants in 2018, while the numbers in 2016 were about 70pc, 73pc and 67pc, respectively.

Regarding digital literacy, presence of solar panels in households and schools, 78pc of households across all rural districts of Punjab have mobile phones, 49pc use Whatsapp and 70pc text messages for communication, revealing higher trends than 2016. Across rural Punjab, 18pc of households use solar panels as an alternate energy source.

There are impressive gains in urban areas also. In Punjab, according to the 2017 census, urban areas comprise 37pc of the population as compared to 63pc in rural. The urban data for 2018 has been collected from 5,034 households, 13,234 children aged three to 16 years.

Aser is managed by Idara-i-Taleem-o-Agahi (ITA) in partnership with nine key civil society and partner bodies.

Published in Dawn, March 19th, 2019