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October 29, 2015

To help 7.2 million out-of-school kids in Sindh, rising above politics is the key


October 29, 2015

The interest and involvement of all political stakeholders, be they in or outside the corridors of power, at the district and union council levels, is crucial for shaping the future of 7.2 million children of the province who are currently out of school.
Keeping political involvement in mind, the performance of schools in different constituencies of the province can not only be the best barometer to gauge the sincerity of political parties and leaders to the cause of education, but with the first phase of the local government elections only two days away in the northern districts of Sindh, rising above petty political differences over turf and influence at the tiers of union committees and councils will be the key factor for repairing the tattered education system of the province.
At an all-parties conference convened by the Institute of Social And Policy Sciences and Alif Ailaan, representatives of all political parties of the province with the exception of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf, amid the customary finger-pointing, did agree that improvement in the state of education in Sindh needed to be of the utmost importance for all wielding any sort of influence over the public.

Owning up to the problem
As expected, the Pakistan People’s Party received its fair, and also unfair, share of the blame. However, the bits of undue criticism also revealed its own callous attitude towards fixing the education system of the province when a sincere-sounding Khairunnissan Mughal, a PPP MPA and also a member of the Sindh Assembly’s standing committee on education, disclosed that except for her and another lawmaker of her party, none of the MPAs filed their responses when the education minister had moved letters asking them to identify ghost schools or teachers in their respective constituencies.
She called on everyone present on the occasion to help her in straightening out her own constituency. “I belong to Mirpurkhas district and

since I have been elected I have been making regular visits to the remote areas in my district,” she said. “I know how many autaq schools (being used as guesthouses by landlords) have been opened in areas that under the influence of an opposition party whose members are a bit too generous with their criticism.”
She accepted the contentious issue of teachers hired outside of merit by the previous education minister, Pir Mazhar-ul-Haq, who has now been sidelined from party affairs. “At least we own up to the problems. I don’t see anyone else doing that,” she said.
Before her, Muttahida Qaumi Movement MNA Dr Nighat Shakeel pointed out that though education was among the list of subjects labelled as “top priority” in the manifestoes of all parties, but when it came to actually doing something about it and chalking out plans for its implementation, political expediency always took precedence.
An MPA of the same party, Khalid Ahmed Khan, promised to do his bit in the Sindh Assembly for the formulation of the rules of business for Article 25-A. For bringing out-of-school children to schools, he suggested providing incentives to students who had completed their matriculation and then intermediate from government institutions. “Bicycles can be given to boys and sewing machines to girls who finish matriculation while cash prizes or laptops can be given to those who complete their intermediate,” he proposed.
“Even if parents end up utilising the cash prize, it is still a great incentive for poor sections of the society to send their children to school.”

Rural and urban politics
Earlier, Haji Shafi Jamote, a senior leader of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz, opined that it was undue political interference and the tussle of rural and urban politics which had destroyed merit at all levels in the province’s education system.
“Sindhi-speaking people are promoted and appointed from rural areas and Urdu-speaking people are promoted and appointed from urban areas in competition with each other,” he noted.
Haleem Adil Shaikh, the president of the Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid in Sindh, called for a ban on teachers’ unions. However, he added, parents needed a platform especially in the background of the private schools’ controversy.
Aslam Ghuari of the Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-Fazl called for opening “maktab schools” by deputing a teacher at each and every mosque, and holding classes there for children as well as their parents.
The representatives of nationalist parties including the Awami Jamhoori Party, the Sindh National Party, the Sindh Taraqi Pasand Party and both factions of the Jeay Sindh Qaumi Mahaz also participated in the convention while Manzoor Beg and Salma Waheed Murad represented the Jamaat-e-Islami and the All Pakistan Muslim League respectively.

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