EducationVOLUME 15 ISSUE # 03

2.6m children still out of school

It seems Prime Minister Imran Khan’s party, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), currently in power in the Centre as well as two provinces, has taken a U-turn on it education manifesto also. Despite being in the driving seat for almost six years in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, it has failed to reconstruct hundreds of school buildings, destroyed by a massive earthquake in October 2005, and then devastating floods in 2010.

In every other speech, the premier stresses the importance of education by quoting examples from Islamic history and sayings of the Holy Prophet (peace be upon him), his party badly failed to implement its education policy in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa in its first tenure in power (2013-2018) in the province. The party, in its policy statement on education, given at its official website, pledges to: build the largest public-private partnership for education access in the developing world through vouchers for low-fee private schools and access to credit for educated youth to teach students in their communities; create an Education Fund for young entrepreneurs to develop technology and communication-enabled solutions to provide access to education in remote areas;  establish minimum standards for all public schools to ensure provision of facilities and a child-friendly learning environment; launch a nationwide literacy programme to engage 50,000 youth volunteers to teach literacy in exchange for university credits and many more.

However, party leadership’s seriousness towards the most important sector is also evident from the fact that it failed to update the party manifesto for the 2018 elections. The current policy on education was, in fact, pasted on the party website before the 2013 elections, and no updated version, or any five-year progress report, was shared ahead of the 2018 elections. Some of hollow slogans were exposed by Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa Assembly’s Standing Committee on Elementary and Secondary Education Chairman Taj Muhammad Khan in the start of the current year.

Quoting from the official figures, he told Cutting Edge by telephone that some 2.6 million children were still out of school in the province. He regretted that despite the passage of almost 14 years after the October 2005 earthquake, the Earthquake Reconstruction and Rehabilitation Authority (ERRA) had not constructed damaged schools in the affected districts. He said students were still forced to take classes under the open sky in Mansehra and Battagram and other districts. He said over 100 schools were still without buildings in the two districts of Hazara division, and most of children had either abandoned education or were forced to get education in expensive private schools. Over half a million students are enrolled in the two districts.

Like other provinces of the country, girls in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa also suffer as far as access to educational institutions and an enabling environment are concerned. In its second consecutive term, the PTI government has failed to ensure school education for all girls in the province. According to a report, recently released by the Education Department, education is still a challenge at the primary level with around 114 ghost or non-functional schools in the province. The staff at these non-functioning schools continue to draw salaries.

Another report, prepared by the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Education Department following the merger of FATA districts into the province, paints very bleak picture. The report states that about 40pc of children remain absent from schools and out of over 500,000 enrolled students, nearly 200,000 were found absent. Many of the students never attended school at all.

According to the report, Frontier Region Lakki had the highest number of absent children with 70pc not attending schools. The former Frontier Regions of Bannu and Tank followed with 60pc and 59pc absenteeism, respectively. The situation is not much better in the other former tribal districts and regions. What makes matters even more discouraging are reports that suggest the data may be painting a more positive picture than is actually the case. According to newspaper accounts, visits to schools were not surprise visits, as laid down in the regulations regarding protocol. The main reason for it appeared to be the fact that monitors were not aware of school locations and they needed local officials to guide them to schools. Therefore, it was not illogical to assume that the rate of attendance could be even lower on other days.

The Education Department report says that the data put together by FATA authorities officially showed that the literacy rate in the now merged districts is below 20pc in some cases and, in certain areas, it fell to below one per cent for girls. Despite the official information, very little appears to have been done by the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf provincial government or the federal government authorities over the years to improve the conditions.

Education campaigner Mosharraf Zaidi believes that the poor condition of government schools, a high rate of absenteeism among teachers and lack of motivation amongst pupils have all contributed to what is an educational crisis in tribal districts. Talking to Cutting Edge by telephone, he said that currently no other part of the world had a literacy rate of below one percent for its women. Following the merger, drastic measures are needed to bring the former tribal districts and regions on a par with the rest of the province.

The educationist said that Khyber Pakhtunkhwa had a literacy rate of 53pc with only the Punjab placed higher on the list with 59pc. Overall, Pakistan’s literacy rate is 58pc. This means a great deal of work was required by Imran Khan’s party to promote enrolment, attendance and quality education in the newly merged districts. The KP government and its education department will need to devise a strategy which could work effectively after consulting all stakeholders, suggests Mr. Zaidi.

Ziaullah Bangash, advisor to the chief minister on elementary and secondary education (E&SE), admits the provincial government is facing problems in implementing its education policy. In a telephonic talk with Cutting Edge, he says the government has assigned its local MPAs and councillors to convince the population in Kohistan districts to send their daughters to schools. He says in three districts of Kohistan, there are only two high schools for girls: one in Dassu, the headquarters of the upper Kohistan district, and another in Batera.

However, he claims, the PTI-led coalition government in the last five years placed education on top of its priority list. The last KP government spent Rs. 9.86 billion in the fiscal year 2014-15, followed by an allocation of Rs. 13.54 billion in 2015-16, Rs. 19.81 billion in 2016-2017 and Rs. 29.8 billion in 2017-2018, for the provision of some 10,000 basic facilities at 24,336 of 27,524 schools in the settled areas of the province, he shares details of budgetary allocations of five years with Cutting Edge. “The increasing allocations loudly speak for themselves how much importance the PTI government gave to the sector during that period,” he says proudly.

The minister says that the government initiatives and more allocations for the sector had helped build parents confidence and trust in the government schools. This, he added, was the main reason why parents had decided to pull around 150,000 children from private schools and move them to government schools.