“The State shall provide free and compulsory education to all children between five and sixteen years of age in such a manner as may be determined by law,” says Article 25A of the Constitution of Pakistan.
Pakistan has failed to meet the target of education for all. There are around 25 million out-of-school children in the country out of which 50 per cent are girls.
The education scenario in South Punjab in particular calls for attention where student dropout ratio in public schools has increased over years due to the poor quality of education, according to a study titled “Identification of Barriers to Girls’ Education in Bahawalpur, Multan and Muzaffargarh”, carried out by the Society for the Protection of the Rights of the Child (SPARC).
Focus of this study is girl students but it also gives an overall picture. It says that private schools have grown by 69 per cent while the government schools have increased by 8 per cent only in the last 15 years — between 1998 and 2013. A sudden increase in dropout rate was observed after grade 3 in rural areas as well as in urban areas of these districts.
Sadia Hussain, executive director of Sparc, says that they found 49 per cent (pc) girls of school-going age out of school in Multan, 45 pc in Bahawalpur and 55 pc in Muzaffargarh though the National Plan of Action prepared in 2013 demands that all the provinces enrol 91 pc children by 2016.
A major reason for dropouts has been found to be the distance from home to school. A school more than 3 kilometres away is considered far away. Interestingly, it came to the fore that enrolment remained high where quality of teaching was good. Generally, school teachers are not even graduates in these areas. “There is no in-service training of headteachers in Muzaffargarh,” says Hussain, stressing on training of DEOs and EDOs as well.
Sparc underlines the need to impart skills to children in middle school and calls for Rs1500-Rs2000 support per month to the family of a girl child who goes to school.
Physical infrastructure at schools is discouraging too. Mostly schools don’t have washrooms. Twenty out of thirty school washrooms were non-functional, lacked running water and a bin. Many doors of school latrines did not have locks. Girls who live close by go home to use the toilet but sometimes they do not come back and miss the classes.
No boundary wall or broken walls encourage drug addicts to enter schools and threaten girls. Schools are short of staff in these areas. One teacher is teaching multiple classes in one room. Corporal punishment is forbidden by law but it is still being practised in South Punjab. There have been reported cases of dropouts from schools because of maltreatment by teachers, especially when girls fail to do their assignment.
Apart from reasons mentioned in this report, there is a common perception that landlords and sardars are the main hurdle in girls’ education.
Sardar Mir Balakh Sher Mazari, a politician who has huge landholding, challenges this perception. “It is nothing more than a myth now that landlords, sardars and local culture are a hurdle in girls’ education. Actually, the state itself is handicapped. Article 25A of the Constitution of Pakistan makes it mandatory on the state to educate all but it has failed badly.”
On the issue of girls leaving schools, Mazari says, “It is government’s duty to provide them conveyance and security in risky areas. There was no need to establish Danish schools in Southern Punjab. This money could have been spent on improving government primary schools.”
Asif Majeed, deputy secretary Punjab Education Department, says the government did build bathrooms and boundary walls in schools of South Punjab on priority basis. No one can claim the washrooms are non-functional, he says, adding, the government provides Rs50,000 Non-Salary Budget (NSB) to head of primary schools every year. He finds SPARC’s dropout ratio among girl students also exaggerated. Majeed only agrees with the point about poor performance of teachers which, he says, cannot be denied.
Hussain says the data in the report is accurate as it was collected after meeting with EDOs, teachers, students and their parents. She says schools are needed in every village to put an end to issues of distance and security.
While there are issues in the public sector schools for girls, there is unrest among the people about the news of privatising schools. There are reports that to improve the quality of teaching and raise the standard of primary education, the Punjab government has scheduled to privatise 5,000 public primary schools. In the initial stage, 1000 primary schools will be given under public-private partnership (PPP) in first phase.
Ahmed Ali Kamboh, Special Secretary Schools, Punjab, confirmed that the schools doing ‘bad’ would be given to NGOs under public-private partnership (PPP). The identified schools belong to remote areas where standard of education is very poor. Students won’t have to pay the fee.
“In this way the government will be able to address the issue of shortage of staff instantly because school administrations will hire the staff within no time while we will readjust the previous staff. Quality of education will improve. More than one million out of school students will enrol under this programme. And it will help us meet the millennium development goals,” he says.
Rana Liaqat Ali, Secretary General Punjab Teachers Union Association (PTUA), says, “The government does not want to recruit 30,000 teachers on vacant posts. It will hand over these schools to local NGOs, members of civil society and owners of private’ schools who are already running private schools.” The union secretary alleges they will shift their students into government school buildings and get Rs 550 per student from Punjab Education Foundation (PEF) also. “In this way school owners will save the building rent and hire teachers locally on low salary packages,” he says.