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January 24, 2015

Experts blame poor management for Sindh’s education woes


January 24, 2015

Even though the education budget has witnessed a considerable increase in the past couple of years and the government too appears to be working hard to keep children in school, why is it that the crisis of education in Sindh seems to be deepening further?
It is because there is a glaring gap between policies and their implementation at the district and union council levels because of poor management of the allocated resources.
This was the consensus reached by a panel of educationists and government officials on Friday. They had gathered to discuss the findings of a report, launched by Manzil Pakistan, profiling districts and ranking them in terms of performance in education.
Besides the obvious infrastructural issues, such as lack of enough schools and basic facilities, the report also highlights ineffective school management committees, discrepancies in communication and coordination between government departments, idle district education officers and ineffective utilisation of budget and other resources as the main factors which continue to hamper progress in education.

Centralised planning
According to eminent educationist Shahnaz Wazir Ali, who is also the president of the Shaheed Zulfikar Ali Bhutto Institute of Science and Technology (Szabist), educational policies made at the national or the provincial level were detached from ground realities.
She said the key to streamlining all problems pertaining to education, be it policy making or funnelling resources and data, was good management. She added that one of the reasons for the persistent bad management of the education sector in the province was that its control remained to be centralised with the government.
“There is excessive work for the minister or the secretary who is not supposed to be inundated by transfer and posting requests,” she said. “Even a sincere education minister can’t do much if he has to sign transfer requests all day!”

Moreover, said Ali, education planning needed to be devolved to districts. Another reason for the bad management was also poor collation, verification and analysis of data which resulted in a budget which did not address the educational needs.
As an example, she cited the 30-year-old system of Education Management Information System which provided data which though accurate, was also static, in terms of the number of physical infrastructure of government schools.
She believed that devolving education planning to the districts and empowering the district education officers will not only reduce the workload for provincial government but also bridge the gap between officials at the helm of affairs and those responsible for its implementation. “Important decisions are being made too far from schools where they are supposed to be implemented,” she said. “Delegating and de-centralising makes monitoring and planning more manageable and reliable.”
Planning and development secretary Shereen Narejo demonstrated the need for district-wise planning with figures pertaining to enrollment. She said there was a huge gap after primary education because of the dearth of middle and secondary schools.
“The overall drop out rate from grades one to 10 of children in Sindh is 82 percent,” she said. “Of them, around 40 percent of the children drop out between grades five and six.”

Useless for market
Continuing the thread of discussion, former governor of State Bank of Pakistan, Saleem Raza, said short-sighted policies together with poor management of their implementation caused some regions to perform better than others.
Raza said one of the failures of the education system in Sindh was its lack of usefulness past basic literacy.
“There is no co-relation between students who leave high schools and access to job market,” he said. “The stark absence of an educational overseer results in the imparted education not providing students any functional or practical knowledge.”
Ameena Saiyid, the managing director of Oxford University Press, believed that lack of adequate data resulted in poor allocation and management of available resources.
She said over the years, enrollment in government schools had fallen considerably in favour of private schools because small private establishments had stronger governance and management.
She believed that implementation of policies also lacked because of political monopoly over the education system. However, the owner of one of the largest publishing houses in Pakistan, linked the monopoly to distribution of free books published by the Sindh Text Book Board, saying that other teaching resources should also be allowed in schools.

What to do?
For starters, the government can provide support and incentives to small schools, especially one-room establishments operated at homes.
Planning and development secretary Shereen Narejo said building more schools was not the answer to the myriad of problems faced by the education sector in Sindh.
Elaborating on this proposal, educationist Shahnaz Wazir Ali said it cost the government around Rs17,000 per year to educate a child. However, the cost can be reduced by more than half if the government chose to provide incentives and support to one-room schools with stronger monitoring of children’s performances.

Government’s perspective
Senior education and literacy minister Nisar Ahmed Khuhro joined the discussion just before it was about to end. However, he seemed to have plenty to say.
He narrated at length the criticism and the constraints he faced as the minister of education while outlining the various steps the provincial government had taken under his leadership in the past one and a half years.
He claimed that by various incentives the government had taken - which primarily included transferring and appointing teachers in closed schools and hiring teachers only on merit - the number of non-functional schools in the province, reported to be a little more than 6,000, had reduced by half. For this year, he said, the government had earmarked 10,000 schools whose infrastructure would be developed with the help of donor agencies.
Talking about the government’s Early Childhood Education (ECE) plan, he said 1,500 centres will be set up for small children and 750 locations had been finalised by the government in this regard. He said the first ECE centre had recently begun working in the Sujawal district.

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