THIS is with reference to the report ‘PM vows to get 26m out-of-school children enrolled’ (May 9). The larger issue of education, literacy as well as academic excellence needs to be seen at multiple levels. It will be infinitely more fruitful for all concerned if, instead of endeavouring to bring the dropouts back to schools, they are equipped with vocational skills through technical education.

The federal government can, and should, address the capacity issue in the provinces by opening technical education centres at the level of union councils (UCs). By learning vocational skills, the dropouts can lead a life of self-sufficiency, and in time become an asset for the country and nation.

The recent declaration of education emergency at the federal level will hardly have an impact, for education, under the 18th Amendment, is a provincial subject. In fact, the provinces may even call it an interference by the federation.

Back in 2014, I conducted a survey of government primary and secondary schools in Mirpur Sakro tehsil of Thatta district with the assistance of one donor non-governmental organisation (NGO). I visited all the 422 primary and six secondary schools in the tehsil. About 70 per cent primary schools were affected by teacher absenteeism. The situation, as I understand, is pretty much the same across the country.

Additionally, consultations with civil society and local educationists led to the conclusion that one UC needed only five to seven primary schools. Mirpur Sakro had about 20 UCs, which meant that about 120-140 primary schools were required for the entire tehsil. There were more than 600 primary teachers at the time, and if the relevant provincial department deputed them at, say, 120 schools, the schools could be made functional even after accounting for up to 70pc teacher absenteeism. Everyone in the group agreed that the government could save 50pc of the education budget if it reduced the number of schools. The government can then use the money thus saved on providing schoolchildren with nutrition and adequate transportation.

The education system in the country surely needs an overhaul, and only provinces can do it by taking steps in line with ground realities. Moreover, the federal government should keep a vigilant eye on the proceedings, and put in place some kind of accountability mechanism.

Aijaz Ali Khuwaja
Karachi

Published in Dawn, May 30th, 2024

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