Focus education

September 25, 2022

Almost 19,000 schools have been destroyed in the floods

Focus education


n estimated 11 million children are affected and may not return to schools immediately with 33 percent of Pakistan having been inundated due to the nationwide apocalyptic floods and climate change emergency.

Given our extremely poor education indicators these are very grave times; almost 19,000 schools have been destroyed. According to government statistics, the net enrolment rate for primary education is 64 percent, middle 37 percent, and matric 27 percent. For longer than ten years the literacy rate has stagnated at 60 percent.

Resultantly, more than 22 million children 5-16 years old were already out of school, a majority at post-primary levels; these numbers are bound to spike. Foundational learning levels dwindled due to Covid-19, highlighted by the ASER survey 2021 and learning poverty of 10 year olds surged to 80 percent (WB, 2021). Education is already sustained by a paltry 1.5 percent of the GDP. With this extreme crisis, has the opportunity to transform education washed away, or does the layered crisis present a possibility to engage citizens and decision makers boldly in search of a Great Design for Learning fit for the purpose?

The crisis facing the education sector is no less severe than the one faced by Manchar Lake that has been transformed into a wasteland of human displacement.

For more than three decades, I have been in awe of the Manchar Lake which has a history of 8,000-10,000 years. It has been inhabited by the oldest communities or the Mohanna/ Mirbahar boat people. They have lived in harmony with water and wetlands. Manchar, once the largest natural fresh water lake in Sindh was breached on September 4, to save lives and lands. It had held severely toxic waters.

The breach displaced more than 100,000 people to save the densely populated areas from flood waters and the revered Sehwan Sharif shrine. Were the displaced people given prior warning and cared for? Did this really save the densely populated areas of Johi and Mehar where political bigwigs own land and reside? Or, was it the continued destruction of a revered wetland with vast biodiversity of fish, aquatic plants and habitat for precious migratory birds, as acknowledged in the Ramsar Wetland Convention 1971?

With two main sources of water supply reduced for Manchar, viz Indus River and hill torrents from the Kirthar Range, its most toxic source of water supply is the Right Bank Outfall Drain (RBOD-1)/ Main Nara Valley Drain (MNVD) constructed in 1993 alongside Indus river for wastewater disposal from Balochistan and Northern Sindh into the Arabian sea.

Due to its malfunctioning, the effluent waters emptied into Manchar are killing its ecosystem, undermining livelihoods and health of Mohannas, leading to deaths, affecting women and children disproportionately with severe water borne diseases. The inhabitants of the Indus have lost lives; more than 40,000 fisher folk have been forced to migrate from the lake symbolic of an ‘ecological suicide’; the fish catch reduced from 700 tons annually in 1970 to merely 75 million tons. In short, the largest fresh water lake of Asia lies in shambles, made toxic and breached by blatant social injustice.

Education has met with the same fate in Pakistan. The killing of Manchar Lake is high treason against nature; the Mohannas are domestic refugees, stripped of identity, their rich culture and entitlements. My encounters with the unique Mohannas in 1992 on the Indus near Mianwali and in 1997 on Manchar Lake itself pushed me to explore enabling people/ children’s right to education when working with Professor Anita Ghulam Ali, the managing director of the Sindh Education Foundation (SEF). She commissioned a study to investigate ways to save Manchar and the Mohannas, providing them their right to education and livelihoods within their ecological setting. She boldly demanded action from the political bosses, but that was brushed aside.

Education and learning in Pakistan is a fundamental constitutional right, aligned with SDG 4. Ahead of the Transforming Education Summit (September 18, 2022) summoned by the UN secretary general, it is the perfect time for Pakistan to take some bold steps. The learning ecologies are imploding with choked pathways, inaction and impositions of overloaded and often irrelevant exclusionary curriculum, content, language, pedagogies and assessments. This can be transformed through eight urgent actions:

Recognise and reject the current education blueprint in Pakistan as an irrelevant colonial legacy unable to meet targets set in 75 years in non-performing systems.

Redesign education from foundational years, child’s conception to tertiary education and lifelong learning through non-linear holistic, inclusive and sustainable universal design principles of representation, expression and engagement of diverse learners, profoundly committed to eco systems and climate change actions.

Every child in Pakistan should be accounted for within her/ his local jurisdiction through the child registration card at birth as a smart tracker for entitlements to health services, nutrition, education and protection from all violations.

Create a social contract with child at the centre, between homes and schools/institutions, where parents/ families and teachers participate jointly to create agency and learning opportunities for the child; the myth of passive uncaring family/ home must be set aside.

Curriculum, pedagogies and workforce preparation must be crafted for the whole child capable of agency with foundational learning and not in reverse where the child/ learner is a passive recipient of knowledge, largely overloaded and irrelevant.

Craft learning opportunities through interactive and hybrid platforms of face to face and tech-based approaches mainstreaming innovative content and approaches that have worked through crowdsourcing partnerships at local, national and global levels.

Embed health/ nutrition services and social protection in education facilities and local areas for a sustainable model of governance that nurtures and protects learners.

Ensure progressive financing of at least 5 percent of GDP for decent education and learning as a survival investment for social justice, productivity and nation building.

The writer is the Idara Ta’leem-o-Agahi CEO, Pakistan Learning Festival (PLF) founder and the Education Commission commissioner. Email:

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