IF those who wield power in Pakistan think that the nation can progress when tens of millions of its children have either never been to school, or have dropped out, they are fooling none but themselves. The sobering reality is that Pakistan has the second highest out-of-school population in the world — around 23m children aged between five and 16 years — while many of those who do make it to school drop out before completing their studies. These lost generations will face poverty, exploitation and a lack of opportunities throughout life. Recent figures given by the Sindh government indicate the challenges that the high dropout rate poses. The province’s caretaker chief minister was informed on Tuesday that the school dropout rate in Sindh was 54pc, while over 50pc of the province’s women could not read or write. These twin challenges — high dropout rates and female illiteracy — are portents of a demographic disaster in the making. If the problem is left unaddressed, provincial and national development plans will be scuttled.
Nationwide, dropout rates are a matter of concern, though the situation in Balochistan and Sindh is particularly acute. According to Unicef, enrolment figures dip considerably for both boys and girls between the primary and lower secondary levels, which indicates that a large number of students drop out as they reach higher grades. The UN body also notes that credible data and measures to monitor retention rates are weak. There are numerous factors contributing to high dropout rates, including poverty and difficult access to schools. Experts have called for non-formal schooling solutions and alternative learning pathways to address such a huge population of out-of-school children and those that drop out. Civil society and education activists have long been warning about the ‘education emergency’. However, despite the Constitution’s Article 25-A calling upon the state to provide free and compulsory education, millions of children remain deprived of a chance to learn and build a brighter future.
Published in Dawn, September 21st, 2023