pakistan-children-school-670

Photo by Fahim Siddiqi / White Star

According to the recent survey launched by the Annual Status of Education Report (ASER), 23 per cent of six to 16-year-old children are out of school in the country; the number comes up to around five million. This, according to 2012 Education for All (EFA) Global Monitoring Report, makes Pakistan the country with the second highest number of out of school children. Of these five million, 63 per cent are girls.

Why are so many children out of school? The obvious reason is poverty and non-availability of a school close to home. Of course, when a family’s resources are limited education is not on top of the priority list. And when there’s no food on the table the child who should be in school is put to work so the family can at least survive. More girls are out of school because they are not the future breadwinners and are needed to help their mothers at home. When the mother is out to work the girl child can take care of the younger siblings.

To add to this is the fact that in many villages there are no schools to go to after the primary level. While boys can travel to a nearby village or town, the girls cannot and so they have no other choice but to drop out of school. Another important factor, especially for girls is the absence of toilet facilities in schools as it compromises privacy and girl students shy away from going to school. Experience in many developing countries have shown that provision of separate toilets for boys and girls in schools decreased dropout rates, especially among older girls.

The mindset against girls’ education that was quite prevalent till some years back is giving way to parents realising the importance of education for both boys as well as girls. Now parents do want to educate their daughters as well but a number of factors such as those mentioned above act as roadblocks.

We all are aware of the state of government schools and what sort of education is imparted there. Absence of teachers or teachers not willing to take classes, unavailability of furniture and books are common knowledge. What to talk about schools being converted into landlords’ Autaqs in rural areas.

Many parents also question the standard of education imparted in government schools which are the best bet where financial constraints are involved. It has been noted with concern that students enrolled in state-run schools are, in most cases and especially in rural areas, not at par with their counterparts in public schools (though there are exceptions, and some students from public schools have done exceedingly well). When parents see their child unable to compete with students from public schools in getting admission in professional colleges, or in acquiring a decent job after somehow graduating from college, it adds to their frustration and, considering it to be a waste of resources, they pull the others from school and put them to work in the hope that they will learn some skill and be able to earn their living.

“My son was going to school but when I heard about young people not getting jobs though they have degrees, I pulled him out of school and sent him to a mechanic to learn some skill. It will not leave him frustrated and unable to find employment after spending so much time studying,” says Fatima.

To us it may be a myopic approach but to a family that cuts corners to educate a child this makes sense. They did not make sacrifices to see the educated child failing to make ends meet. While education should not only be an end to land a good job, to the vast majority it is a means to break the shackles of poverty that they have been engulfed in for most of their lives.

As if sending children to school itself was not an expensive venture for low income families, they have to incur tuition expenses as well if they want their child to do well and are not educated enough themselves to oversee their child’s homework, revision, etc. When the parents are unable to help the child with his studies, ways have to be found to help him do his homework or else face the teacher’s wrath and so the poor parents have to send him/her for tuitions. This is an added expense and sometimes acts as a deterrent for parents to send their children to school. It would be so much better if schools catering to underprivileged children try not to give homework which the child cannot do on his own.

In this backdrop the Free and Compulsory Education Bill, recently passed by the Sindh Assembly, can only achieve its targets and objectives if these impediments are dealt with first and parents are motivated to reape the long-term benefits of education.

The writer is a member of staff.

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