Thursday May 30, 2024

Out of school, out of mind

By Shahid Siddiqui
November 24, 2018

Education plays an important role in shaping our society. In the age of the knowledge economy, this role has become all the more important. Education can be used to alleviate poverty, strengthen the economy, and bring change at a personal and societal level.

Pakistan is a fortunate country as a large percentage of its population comprises young people. According to the National Human Development Report, 64 percent of Pakistan’s total population is below the age of 30 and 29 percent is between the ages of 15 and 29. By educating our youth, we can prepare them to play an active part in the knowledge economy.

The current literacy rate of Pakistan is 58 percent, which is one of the lowest in South Asia – just above the literacy rate of Afghanistan. Despite the tall claims and promises, successive governments have failed to deliver on this count.

One obvious reason for the low literacy rate in the country is the meagre amount of funds allocated for the education sector. For instance, the allocation of funds for education is around 2.2 percent of GDP, which is one of the lowest figures recorded among South Asian countries. As a result, 22.6 million children haven’t been able to attend schools. This is a huge number and reflects the sheer waste of potential human resources.

The other dimension of this problem is that 35 percent of children drop out from schools by the time they reach class eight. Unfortunately, Pakistan has emerged as the country with the second highest dropout rate among children. This situation has been aggravated by the rapidly growing population, with an increasing number of students dropping out of school. One of the major reasons for this is the lack of financial resources. Similarly, a large segment of our children attend schools that lack basic facilities. The parents of these children don’t have enough financial resources to send them to private schools.

While hearing a case last month about the lack of facilities at public schools, the chief justice took serious notice of the non-implementation of the Supreme Court’s orders. He referred to Article 25-A of the constitution that stipulates: “the state shall provide free and compulsory education to all children of the age of five to 16 years in such manner as may be determined by law”. The CJP formed a committee to look into the issue of out-of-school children and recommended suitable means to bring these children towards mainstream schooling.

The committee, headed by the federal ombudsman, comprised renowned educationists, provincial secretaries and representatives from the federal government. The committee held several meetings and deliberated at length on the ways and means to implement Article 25-A of the constitution. It has now come up with a comprehensive report that has already been submitted.

It is pertinent to refer to Prime Minister Imran Khan’s first address to the nation in which he underlined the critical concern surrounding out-of-schoolchildren. He expressed his government’s resolve to tackle this issue by bringing these children towards mainstream schooling. In this context, the committee’s report becomes even more important. Given below are some of the major recommendations made in the report on how to implement Article 25-A and ensure the provision of educational opportunities for out-of-school children.

First, the report states that there is an urgent need to declare an education emergency to deal with the major educational challenges faced by the country. Second, there needs to be a substantial increase in fund allocation from the current rate of 2.2 percent of GDP to four percent of GDP at the national level. A minimum allocation of 25 percent must be sought for the budgets of the provinces/region to reach key targets in four years. This would entail capacity-building at the provincial and district levels so that funds can be properly utilised and aren’t lapsed or allocated to other sectors.

Third, the committee’s report recommends that we must construct new schools in the public sector, and prioritise the recruitment and training of a large number of teachers. Ghost/non-functional schools must also be made functional and basic facilities that are lacking at existing schools ought to be provided on a fast-track basis.

Fourth, it is also vital that double shifts are introduced at all schools where a sufficient number of students are available. However, public schools must also facilitate informal schools in the evening. Implementing this would also require “an additional recruitment of teachers and staff with budget”.

Fifth, the efforts of the National Commission for Human Development (NCHD) and the Basic Education Community School (BECS) to promote literacy and the enrolment of out-of-school children has been noteworthy in the past. Merit-based management with enhanced funding – 50 percent annually – is required to expand the network and meet all requirements.

I have reproduced only a few recommendations from a long list given in the report. However, the important question is: what will be the fate of the court-appointed committee’s report? Will it land up in the piles of neglected reports and policies that we have seen since 1947? The primary reason for the failure of policies and committee reports is the implementation dip. Let’s hope that the new government makes use of this report that contains some concrete and realistic recommendations.

The writer is an educationist.