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February 2, 2015

The right to education


February 2, 2015

The right to a free education for all children is still only a theoretical one in Pakistan. Our constitution makes education a guaranteed right up to the age of 16 but this is a clause observed only in the breach. Other than the perennially neglected Balochistan, nowhere is the situation worse than in Sindh, especially in its rural areas. The stark numbers were recently revealed in the Annual Status of Education Report by the Sindh Education Foundation and the Idara-e-Taleem-o-Aagahi. One-third of children between the ages of six and 16 do not attend school and the figure is even worse for children between the ages of three and six, out of whom 63 percent are not receiving any schooling. The country has long had a gender divide in education too as girls, even if they receive primary schooling, are usually pulled out of school early. This is why less than 10 percent of public schools in Sindh offer secondary education. The fault lies not just in a society that is yet to understand the importance of educating women but a provincial government and bureaucracy that is content in letting things be as they are rather than making the effort to enrol more girls and provide the opportunities that would make this education financially feasible.
Equally distressing is the shift in enrolment away from public to private schools. The report says that the percentage of students now in private schools is 17 percent, a stunning increase of seven percentage points in the last year. This trend is both worrying and understandable. There is already a problem of ‘ghost’ schools which exist only on paper; on top of that the schools that are physically present are barely functional. Over 40 percent of public schools, according to the report, do not have potable water or usable bathroom facilities. The idea that a school should provide students with a hot meal, something they may not get at home, seems not to exist. This explains why parents are increasingly choosing private

schools, which come with a host of problems of their own. Many private schools are solely money-making ventures that tend to charge exorbitant fees for substandard education. What the government, in Sindh and the rest of the country, needs to realise is that education cannot be treated like any other commodity which the private sector can provide in a more efficient manner. The profit motive should not be a factor when it comes to public services which will determine the future of our country.

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