The South Asia Forum for Education Development in collaboration with the Foundation Open Society Institute, Department for International Development, National Commission for Human Development and Oxfam/Novib conducted a household survey in Pakistan to collect statistics regarding the status of education in Pakistan for the year 2011. The statistics for Punjab are simply shocking. Let me summarise them. Almost 50 percent children of class II cannot read a sentence in Urdu or in their mother tongue while 66 percent children of the same class are unable to read a sentence in English. Fifty-two percent children cannot solve two-digit subtraction sums, 70 percent 5-16 year-old children failed to solve three-digit divisions, and 83 percent could not read a story. In government schools, 48.7 percent of class III students were able to read sentences while the corresponding figure of private schools stood at 62.3 percent. Of the 9,604 children of the 3-5 age group, 48.7 percent were not enrolled for pre-schooling, and 21.8 percent of five-year-old children are out of schools. School enrolment in government schools among children of between 6 and 16 years decreased from 67.2 percent in 2010 to 66.9 percent.
Attendance of children in government schools stood at 84.7 percent as per register and 80.9 percent according to the headcount on the day of visit. The teacher’s attendance in government and private schools is 85.4 percent and 89.6 percent respectively. Alarming, isn’t it? It should be above 90 percent at least if we want to see an educated Punjab in the next five years. Out of 16,050 mothers in the sampled households, 69.6 percent agreed to appear in literacy tests, 12.4 percent were not available, and only 41.6 percent could read simple sentences in their mother tongue while 58.4 percent fall in the illiteracy category. Now that’s where the problem lies. The report further says that girls lag behind in enrolment in rural areas. Here the issue becomes graver. These illiterate girls will make illiterate mothers and bring up children – the future of Pakistan. And we are just doomed.
Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif is very proud of his free-laptops scheme, while Nawaz Sharif termed it the fruit of his struggles spanning two decades. But the question is: is it a fruitful step? The project must have cost billions of rupees to the government exchequer at a critical time when we need to save every single penny. In short, the project was not at all necessary. What was essential was to improve the above-mentioned figures following a reasonable plan. But the real issues are ignored. Instead, a sort of election campaign has been launched in the guise of the laptop-distribution scheme. The government is about to fulfil its five-year term, and the basic issues are still unsolved. For how long will we continue to ignore the real issues? These funds could have made the educational status of Punjab better if only the government’s think-tank had bothered to think about it.
Muhammad Ahsan Kazmi