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Wednesday May 29, 2024

Education emergency

Around 48 per cent of schools in the country do not have toilets

By Abdul Sattar
April 15, 2024
This photograph shows students attending a class at a school on the outskirts of Lahore. — AFP/File
This photograph shows students attending a class at a school on the outskirts of Lahore. — AFP/File

The PML-N is usually criticized for ignoring the human development index. Its detractors say that the party focuses on worthless infrastructure projects that, according to them, are primarily meant to benefit vested interests.

Critics blame the party for its lavish spending on initiatives that many believe do not help ordinary Pakistanis. The argument goes that such projects lead to a mushroom growth in vehicle imports, adding more to the country’s energy bill and forcing the government to borrow more funds to run day-to-day affairs.

But the PML-N is not the only party that has focused its attention on such capital-incentive initiatives. The PPP and the PTI have also followed the same path. For instance, despite his vociferous opposition to the Metro bus project in Lahore, Imran Khan launched the same project in Peshawar, ending up spending more on this than what the PML-N spent in Lahore. The party also started several road, underpass and flyover projects, asserting that human development could not be achieved by building roads and motorways.

The local government of the MQM, during the Gen Musharraf tenure, also carried out massive infrastructure projects in Karachi, most of which ended up adding more vehicles to the traffic load. The metropolis now seems to be a jungle of bikes and other vehicles, with citizens finding it hard to reach their destinations on time.

This addition of vehicles could also be one of the factors making Karachi the least livable city with an extremely poor quality of air. Before the MQM, the JI local government also indulged in this mania of mega projects.

The PPP is no different. It has also undertaken massive, non-productive and capital-intensive projects. The province’s spending is also skewed. For example, while it has some of the best hospitals in the country with ultra-modern machinery – NICVD and the GAMBAT Institute of Medical Sciences where patients come from all over Pakistan – millions of people in the city are deprived of pure drinking water, leading to the epidemic of hepatitis. An effective sanitation system is still non-existent, while the existing basic health units and education institutions are in shambles.

Even the very underdeveloped Balochistan could not escape the fever of capital-intensive projects. Besides launching the Safe City project in Quetta, policymakers in the country have come up with initiatives that require heavy investment. Although the province has witnessed growth in flyover and road construction, its socio-development indicators are the worst. Malnourishment in the province is the highest in South Asia while health, education and sanitation have not seen any major improvements for decades.

Pakistan’s human development index is poor. According to the UN Human Development Index (HDI), Pakistan ranks 164th out of 193 countries. In 2022, Pakistan had a HDI value of 0.540 and a global ranking of 161 out of 192 countries. In 2023, the country dropped three places to 164 in the global ranking. This is quite depressing.

One of the ways to improve this is to invest in education. So, amid this gloomy scenario, it is encouraging that Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif has vowed to put around 26 million out-of-school children back into schools. The PM says that the federal government will declare an education emergency in the country and provide all possible resources to educate children from low-income backgrounds.

The PM vows to replicate his idea of free education for underprivileged children by setting up Daanish Schools in Azad Jammu and Kashmir, Gilgit-Baltistan (GB), and remote areas of Balochistan and Sindh.

The school reportedly will be set up on 30-acre land and provide free education and accommodation to children living in low-income areas in Islamabad and its suburbs. The school will be built in Kurri at an estimated cost of over Rs5 billion.

It may be mentioned that in 2017-18, the Pakistan (Punjab) Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey (MICS) was carried out by the Bureau of Statistics, Punjab, in collaboration with Unicef, as part of the Global MICS Programme. This was during Shehbaz Sharif’s tenure as the chief minister of Punjab. For this survey, Unicef provided both technical and financial support; government funding was also allocated for it.

The findings indicated that the PML-N – which ruled the province several times since the 1980s – did not take a keen interest in promoting education. The survey found that the primary education completion rate in Punjab was 66 per cent. This rate was higher in urban areas than in rural ones. The completion rates declined for middle school to 56 per cent, steeply for junior secondary education to just 39 per cent, and further dropped to 30 per cent for the senior secondary level.

At all levels, rural and poor children had completion rates below average for all of Punjab, whereas urban and richer children had completion rates above average.

The report noted: “In particular, children belonging to the poorest quintile have much lower completion rates than other groups. The gap between the completion rates of children from the richest and poorest wealth quintiles remains high at all levels of the education system.

“In primary, 92 per cent of the children from the wealthiest quintile complete their education, compared to 33 per cent from the poorest quintile. Furthermore, while 72 per cent of children from the richest quintile complete junior secondary education, only 10 per cent of children from the poorest quintile do so.”

Daanish Schools may help a few thousand students, but the amount that is being spent on them could be diverted towards improving existing schools in collaboration with provincial governments. For instance, this school will be built with a huge investment of Rs5 billion. This whopping amount could be used to provide better toilets, water and building facilities to more than 20,000 schools.

Around 48 per cent of schools in the country do not have toilets, boundary walls, electricity and drinking water. One wonders why this huge amount cannot be used to ensure the provision of these basic amenities instead of considering new buildings and carrying out personal projection.

In Punjab, the PTI government that took over in 2018 did not pay enough attention to the Daanish schools. What is the guarantee that this school will not be affected by a change in government?

It is also estimated that around Rs17 billion is spent annually on the printing of textbooks by the provincial and federal governments. If students are encouraged to use used books, the saved money could be spent on upgrading existing schools, encouraging millions of parents to send their children to state-run schools.

Can we imagine sitting in a place which does not have pure drinking water, electricity and toilet facilities for hours? It is time for the government to think more about the actual problems than just establishing a few buildings and taking credit for them. Another crucial step will be to slash the non-productive sector of the budget, raising the education budget to 4.0 per cent of the GDP.


The writer is a freelance journalist who can be reached at: egalitarianism444@gmail.com