Bridging education gap

Bridging education gap

Once envied by other provinces, education system in Sindh has now hit the rock bottom. Mired in nepotism and corruption, education system in the province has almost collapsed. The incumbent Secretary of Education Department has confessed that some 13,000 persons were illegally recruited in the department during the previous tenure of the government.

The accused officials of the department while deposing before the court divulged that these recruitments were ordered by the erstwhile minister for education Pir Mazhar-ul-Haq to use as a political ploy to influence imminent elections of 2013. This is just the tip of the iceberg. Details of corruption in the department are astounding.

A district education ranking conducted by Alif Ailaan project depicts an abysmal state of education in Sindh. Even an insurgency-ravaged Balochistan has outshined Sindh. The recently issued report of 2014 mentions that of the total 12 million children between the age of 5 and 16 years more than half i.e. 6.1 million are out of school in Sindh. These include 3.5 million (i.e. 56 per cent) girls.

The report reveals that Sindh’s children score poorly in reading and mathematics compared to rest of the country. 59 per cent students in class five cannot fluently read Sindhi or Urdu, 75 per cent cannot read a sentence in English fluently and 71 per cent can’t do simple two digits division. According to overall district ranking, no district from Sindh found place in top 50 districts of the country, whereas Balochistan has three districts in the list.

In the ranking of primary schools, Karachi was the only district of Sindh that appears among the top 50 districts, whereas Balochistan has three districts in the list. Likewise in the middle school ranking, Hyderabad is the only district of Sindh among top 50 districts, compared to four districts of Balochistan.

Similarly, Annual Status of Education Report (ASER) 2013 made startling revelations about faltering quality of education in Sindh. On certain accounts, even FATA outshined rural Sindh. According to the report, 67 per cent of class-3 children could not read sentences in Urdu/Sindhi compared to 64 per cent in FATA who could not read sentences in Urdu/Pashto. Similarly, 43 per cent of class-1 children cannot read letters in Urdu/Sindhi as compared to much lesser 23 per cent in FATA. In Mathematics, only 29 per cent children enrolled in class 5 can do two digit division in rural Sindh compared to 37 per cent in FATA.

The real rot emanates from a far deeper issue of poor governance manifested by politically driven recruitments and transfers of teachers and administrative staff, teacher absenteeism and lack of accountability.

According to a recent survey conducted on the orders of the Supreme Court, there are at least 6,164 non-functional and ghost schools in Sindh mainly due to faltering governance. It implies that every 7th school in Sindh is either a ghost school or nonfunctional. Hence 3 out of 4 ghost or nonfunctional schools in Pakistan are located in Sindh.

Before the 18th Amendment, curriculum, syllabus, planning, policy, centres of excellence and standards of education were part of Concurrent List of the Constitution of 1973. Under the 18th Amendment, standards in institutions for higher education and research, scientific and technical institutions were retained in the Federal Legislative List part-II under the supervision of Council of Common Interest and everything else pertaining to education sector had been devolved to provinces. Another landmark decision was insertion of Article 25-A which makes it obligatory on the state to provide free and compulsory education to all children of the age of five to sixteen years.

While the Sindh government takes pride in progressive legislation and policy making, delivery on ground is equally retrogressive. Sindh government was the first provincial government to legislate for free and compulsory education as a fundamental right, but it is unable to make it compulsory for teachers to show up in the classroom. The province has established Teachers’ Education Development Authority but has no mechanism to expel thousands of almost illiterate teachers nesting in the department. The province was also the first one to establish the provincial Higher Education Commission yet most of its public sector universities are bereft of credible and competent oarsmen.

Politically bewitching clamour of "lack of resources" has also lost its charm. The Education Department is more resource-starved these days. The Education Ministry owns the largest pie of the budget cake. In 2013-14, the Education Department of Sindh received Rs135 billion share from the total outlay of Rs585.91 billion, which is a sizeable 23 per cent. However, Rs118.66 billion (88 per cent) of this was meant to meet recurrent expenses, leaving meager resources for development side. Salaries and other employee-related expenses such as pensions and allowances gobble up Rs94 billion. A chronic deficit of infrastructure and quality of teachers face an unrelenting drought of resources.

The major challenge is, however, efficient and judicious utilisation of the allocated resources. During the last three years, resource consumption remained 61 per cent, 92 per cent and 88 per cent respectively but the situation seems dismal this year as the first nine-months spending trend is alarmingly poor standing at 58 per cent.

Like other provinces, Sindh also has a chronic challenge of low enrollment, urban-rural and gender disparity and a yawning gap of illiteracy.

According to the Pakistan Social and Living Standards Measurement (PSLM) Survey 2012-13, literacy rate in Sindh is 60 per cent. Gender disparity is evident from the fact that only 47 per cent female are literate as compared to 72 per cent male. The rural-urban gender disparity is even more alarming as only 22 per cent rural women are literate compared to 70 per cent in urban areas of Sindh. Similarly, overall literacy rate in rural areas of the province is 42 per cent compared to 77 per cent in urban areas.

The myth of social barriers in education is now obsolete. Insufficient number of schools, shabby infrastructure and inadequate school facilities put severe strictures on access to education. Insufficient number of higher grade schools is a major cause of dropouts, especially for girls. 38 per cent children drop out after passing their primary education and a bigger hemorrhage occurs after Secondary level where almost 78 per cent students reach Higher Secondary level. This is explained by the number of schools at various levels.

The province has 42,900 primary schools but there are only 2,429 elementary and middle schools. This means there is only one elementary/middle school against 17.6 primary schools. Likewise, there is one college against six Higher Secondary institutions. Shambolic planning is evident from the fact that half of the schools in the province are one-room schools and half of the schools are one-teacher schools.

According to official data of 2010-11, 21 per cent schools are shelterless, 13 per cent schools buildings are dangerous, 45 per cent schools are without boundary walls, 53 per cent schools do not have water facility, 46 per cent schools are without toilet blocks, and 62 per cent schools are without electricity in Sindh province.

A more formidable challenge is to bridge the enrolment deficit in the province, which is currently only 44 per cent. It needs a greater political verve and injection of considerable resources to augment school enrollment which is yawning with the rapid population growth.

According to a study "Financial Implications of Article 25-A: Case Study of Sindh" conducted by Institute of Social and Policy Sciences (I-SAPS), Sindh needs to invest Rs260 billion every year to increase current enrollment rate of 44 per cent to 98 per cent by 2025-26. Estimates indicate that allocation of Rs3908.9 billion, with an average increase of around 14.56 per cent, will be required for achieving 98 per cent enrollment rate by 2025-26.

To achieve this herculean target, the Sindh government needs to enhance per child annual cost from the current Rs13,618 to Rs33,019 by 2025-26. The study suggests that by taking 2010-11 as base year, projection indicates that 83,874 additional classrooms and 3,612 additional schools would be required by 2025-26. This would also require increasing number of teachers from 144,610 to 326,745. All these estimates are confined to meet mere numbers. Standards and quality is a separate arena that would require both sagacious political priorities and generous allocation of resources.

If governance of the education sector is not improved drastically, the 18th Amendment and 7th NFC award would not bring any fruition for Sindh. While resource constraint is a reality, yet the problem is less of resources and more of governance of educations sector in Sindh.

Bridging education gap