Monday October 25, 2021

Girls in the classroom

November 30, 2018

The PTI government has thankfully completed its first 100 days in office amid the commotion of lofty claims, the search for a way out of the woods, and an oscillation around a number of pressing issues.

While the opposition has every right to pinpoint the forward and backward leaps by those at the helm of power, we shouldn’t expect much from an embryonic government to cure all the ills of a hugely flawed governance system in a country that has been lingering in a vicious circle mostly created by security reasons, which consequently gave birth to frightening social, religious and economic malaises.

Though the unrealistic claims and highly charged and self-righteous coterie of ministers and advisers can be irksome, honesty demands that a chance should be given to the PTI supremo to accomplish what he has been claiming for the last many years.

Among the few things on which Prime Minister Imran Khan has raised awareness – or at least been more vocal than other political leaders – are education and climate change. I consider his commitment to strengthen education to be honest. While it is a huge challenge to address, a commitment supported by finer policies and priorities can give better results.

There are a number of recent reports on the state of education in the country published by Pakistani and international institutions. Among them is the recent report on education for girls in Pakistan titled ‘Barriers to girls education in Pakistan’, by Human Rights Watch; ‘Pakistan Education Statistics 2016-17 Report’ by the National Education Management Information System (NEMIS) and the Academy of Educational Planning and Management (AEPAM) (2018); the annual global monitoring reports and ‘Sustainable Development Begins with Education: How Education Can Contribute to the Proposed Post-2015 Goals’ by Unesco; ‘Annual Status Education Report (ASER 2017)’; ‘Missed Opportunities: The High Cost of Not Educating Girls’ by World Bank (2018); ‘Beyond Basics, Making 12 Years of Education a Reality for Girls Globally’ by the Malala Fund; and ‘Five Years of Education Reforms. Wins, Losses and challenges for 2018-2023’ by Alif Ailaan.

A summary of findings in relation to Pakistan and its provinces in all these reports are especially revealing. Around 22.8 million children are out of school in Pakistan – the second highest number of any country in the world. More than 50 percent of out-of-school children are girls. Two thirds of the poorest girls between the ages of seven and 12 have never attended school.

Only 2.7 percent of GDP is allocated to education against the allocated target of four percent of GDP. There is no specific strategy to improve access to education for girls.

Millions of children in Sindh are out of school and more than half of them are girls. Around 4.8 million girls aren’t enrolled for secondary education. There are 38,132 primary schools and only 291 higher secondary schools.

Though the Sindh Education Sector Plan (SESP) is committed to improving equity, access, quality, accountability and financing in the province, there has been little progress for girls’ education. While the total education budget in Sindh increased by 39 percent between 2014-15 and 2017-18, there has not been any significant increase in school enrolment figures. Therefore, lack of secondary schools means that dropout rates remain high.

Most of Sindh’s education budget is currently allocated to recurring expenses, such as teachers’ salaries, which leaves little room for capital investment in infrastructure. The promised funds aren’t released on time and often remain unused at the district and school level. For the year 2015-2016, Rs134 billion of the allocated Rs148 billion was spent.

In Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, 2.4 million children are out of school and more than two-thirds (68 percent) of them are girls. Almost two million children do not have access to secondary education. There are 22,179 primary schools in KP and only 539 higher secondary schools.

Since 2008, successive governments in KP have made efforts to improve school facilities and infrastructure, increase budgets, and invest in teachers. During the last five years, KP is the only province that has regularly allocated more than 20 percent of total budgets to education. In 2011-2012, the total allocation for education stood at Rs63.17 billion. This increased to Rs123.07 billion in 2016-17. However, substantial challenges remain.

Budget increases have largely fed into recurrent and salary-related costs rather than towards development and the construction of new schools.

Around 1.9 million children in Balochistan are out of school and more than half (51 percent) of all them are girls. According to statistics, 1.3 million children are missing out on secondary education. There are 11,627 primary schools and just 42 higher secondary schools.

Since 2013, Balochistan has made some progress in curtailing teacher absenteeism, identifying ghost schools, and partially addressing the inequality between the numbers of primary schools and the number of middle and high schools. Between 2011-2012 and 2016-17, the budget for education rose from Rs22.66 billion to Rs48.61 billion. However, significant challenges persist.

While the recurrent budget for expenses, such as teacher salaries and learning materials, has risen each year, the development budget for infrastructure, missing facilities and teaching materials has declined. The current education development budget stands at Rs6.44 billion against a recurrent budget of Rs42.18 billion. Balochistan has also consistently allocated significantly less to education than all other provinces.

In Punjab, 10.5 million children are not in school – which accounts for more than half of all of Pakistan’s out-of-school children. Nearly half of these children are girls. Eight million children are not enrolled in secondary schools. There are 36,990 primary schools and just 680 higher secondary schools.

Since 2003, Punjab has made significant efforts to reform school infrastructure, teacher management, and overall governance within the education sector. But given the scale of the problem in the province, the need for a renewed focus and increased resourcing is urgent.

The 2011 Punjab Education Policy estimated that Rs3,387 billion would be required in order to achieve an enrolment rate of 98 percent of all children between the ages of five and 16 by 2024–25. While education budgets have increased since 2011, they fall far short of the required levels that currently stand at Rs296.19 billion for 2016-17.

Looking at this bleak picture, one cannot help but agree with the findings in the Human Rights Watch’s report that “across all provinces, generation after generation of children, especially girls, are locked out of education – and into poverty”.

The HRW report further asserts that “many of the barriers to girls’ education are within the school system itself. The government [of Pakistan] simply has not established an education system adequate to meet the needs of the country’s children, especially girls”.

The Right to Education Act 2012 guarantees every child between the ages of five and 16 the right to free and compulsory education. However, the act hasn’t been implemented. As a result, girls are left without the education they need to build a better future for their families, communities and country.

The current government mantra for ‘uniform’ education is to be replaced with equitable and inclusive education. The challenges in educating girls in Pakistan are tantamount to a society prone to poverty, extremism, human rights violation, domestic violence and exclusive socialisation that is detrimental to the very existence of the country.

Education is the key for a prosperous, self-reliant, independent, healthier and cleaner society. Although the challenges are immense, they can be addressed if the incumbent government focuses its priorities on work rather than on mere optics, which has remained the visible policy for the last 100 days.

The writer heads an independent

organisation dealing with education and development in Swat.

Email: [email protected]