The literacy rate reached 68 percent in 2019. Pakistan continues to face problems in the education sector
Shahid, who hails from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, had always hoped for a good education leading to a successful career. Perhaps, he thought, one day he would own a business. His parents had moved to Rawalpindi in hopes of a better life. Shahid would soon learn that things were not so simple. He did initially enroll at a public school, but soon dropped out on account of the family’s low income. At the age of nine he joined his father who works at a garbage dump.
The literacy rate in Pakistan reached 68 percent in 2019 but the country continues to face problems in the education sector.
A constitutional amendment has made free and compulsory education for all children from five to sixteen years a fundamental right. However, more than 22.8 million Pakistani children aged between five and sixteen years are currently out of school. This makes Pakistan the country with the second highest rate of out-of-school children behind Nigeria.
The problems stem from an assortment of reasons, beginning with the provisionary means. The resource allocations, physical as well as human, are way short of the requirements. Over the years, the quality of education at government schools has also declined. The decline has been well documented but that fact has not resulted in much improvement. There is a huge shortage of teachers and most schools are ill-equipped. The curricula are often outdated. Even the children finishing school are not adequately prepared for the job market. Technical and communication skills, as well as the general knowledge required to function in the society do not form an integral part of the curriculum. The teacher to student ratio for an average government school, according to the GlobalEconomy.com, was 33 students in 2000 47.63 in 2016. In 2018, it was 44 students per teacher.
Only 2.4 percent of the GDP is spent on education. Access to vocational or technical education is limited. There is very little training and facilitation for teachers and other school staff. The Covid-19 pandemic has exposed multidimensional inequalities in terms of access and outreach.
Over the years, the quality of education at government schools has also declined. The decline has been well documented but that fact has not resulted in much improvement. There is a huge shortage of teachers and most schools are ill-equipped. The curricula are also often outdated.
Every now and then, the country does affirm declarations on improving the education system. These include the Convention on Rights of the Childe 1989, UNDP’s Development Goals 1990 and the Sustainable Development Goals 2015.
Socio-cultural barriers, particularly gender disparity, are a major contributing factor. According to the UNICEF, nearly 10.7 million boys and 8.6 million girls are enrolled at the primary level. The numbers drops to 3.6 million boys and 2.8 million girls at the lower secondary level.
Early marriages, child labour, poverty, safety and mobility of girls are also significant obstructions. Female enrollment is 45 percent lower in rural areas than in urban areas compared to a 10 percent gap for male children.
How does one begin to reform a system that requires decades of sustained attention to register the desired improvement? Experts at the Institute of Development and Economic Alternatives say this begins with a deep dive research. They say most government officials tasked with reforms, understand that existing structures must be repurposed to transform public schools, their teachers and at-risk communities.
Perhaps the best way to proceed is to decentralise the education sector. Instead of insisting on a single curriculum children should be taught whatever is regionally most appropriate. The provinces need the capacity to collect the necessary data and efficiently analyze it. They also need a top-down approach linking governance to school clusters and develop the capacity to deliver on-site teacher training. There is also a need for consistent provision of support programmes and flexible financing options for schools.
The KPK and the Punjab have made some progress in this direction by introducing reforms that are responsive to the local needs. They’ve managed thus to develop a semblance of an infrastructure that hosts on-site trainings, holds technical capacity for Education Departments to support teachers at a district level and have the ability to collect, utilise and analyze data for better planning. Their assistant education offices are now managing between 10 and 40 schools. In Sindh, t’alukka officers are still managing up to 100 schools. With appropriate investment these changes can be expected to pay off in the long run.
The writer is a data analyst at Intellia adviser and has previously worked at the Institute for Development and Economic Alternatives. She can be reached at email@example.com