Saturday September 18, 2021

Out of school

September 15, 2021

Education has never been much of a priority for any government in Pakistan. Be it civilian governments or military dictatorships, all have paid lip service without allocating adequate funds to enable all our children to go to schools. Now a latest study titled ‘The missing third’ by the Pak Alliance for Maths and Science has revealed that over 20 million children between the ages of five and 16 years are out of school. This figure is not new; a few years ago similar numbers were presented in an earlier report. The disappointing fact is that despite repeated reminders, no major efforts have been taken to solve this issue. Per the new figures, Balochistan is at the worst disadvantage in the country with the highest proportion of out-of-school children – 47 percent of all children in the province are out of school. In Sindh the proportion is reported to be 44 percent. Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Punjab appear to be slightly better; even there the percentage of out-of-school children is 32 and 24 percent respectively. That means nearly half of the total number of children in Balochistan and Sindh don’t attend any school, whereas one-third in KP and one-fourth in Punjab are out of school.

What can we expect from the future of a nation where such large numbers of children are deprived of getting access to education? These figures are alarming and it will take a lot of effort, energy, time, and resources to enroll that many children in schools. The disparity between boys and girls is also disturbing – the difference in their enrollment ratio is nearly eight percent. The same applies to the urban and rural divide. In rural areas, as many as 77 percent of children remain out of school. That means three out of four children don’t have access to education. This situation is not the work of the pandemic or any other new phenomenon. Essentially, it is the grinding poverty coupled with the higher cost of sending children to school that is the primary cause. In addition to the opportunity cost, it is the declining quality of school education in government schools that discourages parents from enrolling their children in educational institutions. Parents belonging to the lower economic strata need their young children’s support in earning livelihood and that need forces them to send their children to work rather than to school.

Moreover, early childhood education is also a most neglected area in the country with hardly any provision in government schools. Privately-run early-childhood education centres are expensive and out of the reach of poor parents. This puts such children at a clear disadvantage compared to those in well-off families. Even if financially challenged families manage to enroll their children in primary schools, the dropout rate at the end of class five is preposterous. All this calls for allocating more resources to education in the country. We have never spent more than three percent of our GDP on education. In most cases, our spending hovers around 2-2.5 percent of GDP. Even that amount goes to non-development educational expenses such as salaries of teachers, leaving hardly anything for the development of educational facilities in government schools. Unless governments – both at the federal and provincial levels – decide to spend more and wisely, the situation is unlikely to change in the near future.