A policy needs to be formulated for early childhood education system at the village level
During my wanderings around remote areas, I came across a primary school that was built in 1888, probably the second oldest in Pakistan after the Karachi Grammar School opened in 1847.
The original building is cast in stone. It is located in one of the oldest towns of the Punjab, named Jabbi Sharif. Situated in the district of Khushab on the Sargodha Mianwali Road, the area is famous for pink salt.
Our notorious neglect of primary education, despite Article 25-A making it compulsory, is reflected in the fact that the Government Primary School, Jabbi, was the only school in this location until 1980. The influential people of the area and the family associated with the shrine that adds the suffix Sharif to Jabbi, were all educated here.
In 2017, the government of Punjab expressed inability to run some 5,000 schools. These were handed over to the Punjab Education Foundation (PEF), which in turn worked out public-private partnerships to restart them. The oldest school in Jabbi was one of them. It was assigned to the National Rural Support Programme (NRSP). At the time of the takeover, there were only 30 students registered in the school. The staff strength was just three. Teacher absenteeism was rampant. Necessary facilities, such as separate toilets for girls and boys, clean drinking water and play area were missing. The building, old as it was, needed restoration and additions.
In 2017, the government of Punjab expressed inability to run some 5,000 schools. These were handed over to the Punjab Education Foundation (PEF), which in turn worked out public-private partnerships to restart them. The oldest school in Jabbi was one of them.
The NRSP, as per its mandate given by its great founders, Dr Akhter Hameed Khan and Shoaib Sultan Khan, linked the school with the community for participatory ownership. A school committee was set up to manage its day-to-day affairs.
Qualified female teachers were recruited and trained to deliver quality education. The old building was renovated and new rooms were added. All missing facilities were provided. Talking to well-informed teachers and enthusiastic students was a pleasant surprise. All had been duly vaccinated. Teachers had assisted in getting the B Forms for all the students.
All these developments showed up in the results. It was 100 percent for three consecutive years of 2018, 2019 and 2020. A repeat performance is expected in 2021. As elsewhere, the policy of handing over non-functional schools to the non-government sector is paying dividends. However, there are concerns that procedural delays at the PEF end may undermine the achievement of the laudable objectives of the initiative.
There are also issues of the thoughtless policy of the location of schools. The number of children in the school in Jabbi has increased from 30 to 103. It could be much more, but the myopic Punjab School Education Department chose to set up two high schools for boys and girls, one girls primary school and an elementary school in close vicinity.
Not to be left behind, private sector has added another. Quality now depends on the provision of early childhood education. This is where the School Education Department could have added value. A policy needs to be formulated for early childhood education system at the village level.
The author is a senior economist, writer and speaker