While much of our mainstream media debates how many children are out of school in each province, it often overlooks how many students are enrolled in schools and how much are the students learning there.
The quality of education for those who are in school matters because it is they who will become future doctors, engineers, teachers, lawyers, scientists, comptrollers, etc, who will shape our country’s destiny. How well they achieve their dreams and accomplish their goals depends entirely on the formative years of primary education.
Although the detailed result of the 2017 census will give us a more accurate picture of how many school-going children there are, the National Education Management Information System (NEMIS) also gives us an estimate. According to NEMIS reports, between 2007-08 and 2016-17, the total enrolment of students – which includes in public, other public and private institutions, from pre-primary to degree colleges – increased in Punjab, Sindh, Khyber Pakthunkhwa (KP) and Balochistan. But enrolment in public schools varied from province to province.
Punjab’s enrolment in public schools increased from 12.05 million in 2007-08 to 13.02 million students in 2016-17. There was a decrease of approximately five percent, 11.47 million, in 2008-13, during the PML-N-led coalition government. However, during 2013-17, enrolment increased by 11.9 percent. Enrolment in public institutions in urban Punjab has been on the rise. However, it had been going down in rural Punjab during 2012-13, but rapidly rose afterwards.
Sindh’s public school enrolment increased from 4.68 million in 2007-08 to 4.73 million students in 2016-17. There was an increase of 2.2 percent, 4.78 million, during the PPP’s tenure from 2008-13. However, 2013 onwards – also under the PPP government – enrolment went down by one percent, 4.73 million. In rural Sindh, enrolment has gradually increased from 2007-17, which makes up for about two-third of Sindh’s enrolment in public institutions. On the other hand, enrolment has been declining in urban Sindh since 2013.
KP’s public school enrolment increased from 4.08 million in 2007-08 to 5.07 million in 2016-17. The increase was 14 percent, 4.78 million, in 2008-13, during the coalition government of the ANP and PPP. Since then, under the PTI government, enrolment has increased by 6.5 percent, and currently stands at 5.07 million. In rural KP, which makes up for the bulk of KP’s enrolment in public institutions, enrolment consistently increased during 2007-17. Urban KP’s enrolment, on the other hand, has been decreasing in both public and private schools since 2013.
Balochistan’s public school enrolment decreased from 0.96 million in 2007-08 to 0.94 million in 2016-17. What is interesting is that during 2008-13, under the PPP-led coalition government, enrolment had increased by 14.4 percent, 1.12 million. But since 2013, under the PML-N-led coalition government, enrolment decreased by a massive 19.1 percent, coming down to 0.94 million. Enrolment in both rural and urban Balochistan has been on a sharp decline since 2013.
As far as learning scores are concerned, a National Assessment Report of 2016-17, based on a sample size of 30,000 students of grades 4 and 8, was released. Students of class 4 were tested on Urdu Reading and Writing, and Mathematics, while class 8 students were tested on English Reading and Writing, and Science. The results showed that students of class 4 of Punjab had an average score of 544, Sindh’s had a score of 509, Balochistan’s students scored 485, and KP’s students scored only 462. As for class 8 students, Punjab’s average score was 557, Balochistan was a distant second with a score of 482, Sindh’s score was 467 and KP’s was 457, even worse than Fata’s 465.
The report also showed that schools run by foundations such as the Punjab Education Foundation (PEF) and Sindh Education Foundation (SEF) had scored as good as private schools. However, KP and Balochistan only recently formed education foundations, called the KP Elementary Education Foundation and Balochistan Education Foundation respectively. Both the provinces should expand the foundations so as to make quality of education as good as the PEF and SEF. KP and Balochistan also need to conduct standardised tests for classes 5 and 8, the way Punjab and Sindh have been done for the past five years. This would also help improve the data that is available on learning outcomes at public schools. Sindh needs to expand the biometric verification system, and Balochistan needs to install one to ensure teacher attendance. The system has helped improve teacher attendance in Punjab and KP.
Lastly, on a positive note, since 2013 each of the four provinces has been recruiting teachers on the basis of merit via the National Testing Service (NTS). This should reduce nepotism and streamline the process of recruiting qualified teachers, resulting in more consistent and well-rounded teaching. This could only serve to benefit students’ learning and their grades.
The writer is a freelance contributor.