ISLAMABAD: As the number of out-of-school children in the country reached 18.7 million, the federal cabinet on Tuesday approved a framework to bring them back to schools.
Education minister Shafqat Mahmood informed the cabinet that there were 18.7 million out-of-school children in Pakistan, posing a great challenge. He said one in every four children in the country had never attended a school.
Sources said the minister also briefed the cabinet that there was very slow progress on education participation, completion and closing of the gender gap.
He said Balochistan had the lowest participation rate and highest out-of-school children. The increasing public expenditure is not buying education, it requires focus on targeted solutions and increasing efficiency of financing. A summary presented before the cabinet on out-of-school children issue said Pakistan had 63.3 million school-aged children. The learning poverty rate (percentage of children that by age of 10 cannot read an age-appropriate paragraph) is 75pc. In addition, 55pc of working adults have not been educated for the jobs they hold.
Pandemic likely to exacerbate challenges to bring 18.7m children back to schools, minister tells cabinet
“These statistics reflect the dire situation of both foundational skills and their importance for productivity and growth. Only an educated workforce can contribute to economic growth. Inaction in bringing children and youth to schools and keeping them there will severely limit Pakistan’s potential for higher productivity and economic growth, and will maintain a sizable informal labour market and high poverty rates.”
It said the Covid-19 pandemic was likely to exacerbate the challenges of an already precarious education system by increasing dropouts, and reducing learning in the current generation and productivity on the long term.
The summary besides proposing other actions also said the government will utilise the existing curriculum to develop training materials for caregivers, adding there was a need to provide basic teaching and learning tools and aides.
“Rolled out in the most disadvantaged districts of the country first. This will be taken as an emergency, immediate action while the introduction of formal classrooms with minimum quality standards happens in a systematic and phased manner,” said the summary giving a roadmap.
It also called for rapid evaluation of the various early grade reading support initiatives introduced in the country (through USAID, Unicef and NGOs) to ensure more effective and viable approach to schools in districts with higher dropout rates.
The roadmap also proposed providing dedicated and free/subsidised bus/van services for girls and female teachers in secondary schools. It also called for providing additional teaching support or bridging programs for students who are re-enrolling after a period of time.
It said for urban street children, partnership would be arranged with humanitarian charity organisations such as Edhi Foundation to provide safe living conditions for the children and provide accelerated learning opportunities for them. The challenges of out-of-school children require a coordinated approach at the federal, provincial and district level. It also requires coordination at the programmatic approach and learning from each other.
This is even more important now that the dust has started to settle after the storm that Covid-19 had created in the education sector.
Meanwhile, the cabinet approved in principle a draft bill to establish an institute with a clear mandate to guide policy analysis and resource allocations through data assessment, research and analysis.
The Pakistan Institute of Education would be set up after merging the Academy of Educational Planning and Management and National Education Assessment System of the education ministry. The cabinet decided to refer the bill to parliament for legislation.
Published in Dawn, March 10th, 2021