A protest demonstration, organised outside the Karachi Press Club on November 12, was perhaps the first of its kind, rather unique in nature. A group of people protested, not for any political party, not for any job, not for payment or increase in salaries, not against any police brutality, but for their children’s right to “quality education”.
Fed up with the rotten-to-the-core education system in the Sindh province, and the country at large, they demanded that children of the nation must be imparted a better, quality education. To register their protest, they wanted to move towards Governor’s House, as they wanted to present him a charter of demands.
However, the provincial government authorities felt threatened by these few hundred unarmed persons. They were warned against moving ahead, and then fully armed cops were let loose on them.
The police used water cannon and teargas against the protesters. Dozens were injured and at least one dozen were arrested and bundled into police vans. SP Saddar Tauqeer Nazim told the media later on that a case was registered against the protesters by the Artillery Maidan Police Station. Social activist Alamgir Khan, the protest leader, and others were booked for “violation of the red zone, and pelting the police with stones”.
Alamgir Khan has a long list of examples to prove that the quality of education in Sindh was poor. The social activist shot to fame last year after spray-painting the images of former chief minister Sindh, Qaim Ali Shah, on open manholes and along the piles of garbage to draw attention to underlying administrative issues of Karachi city.
Talking to Cutting Edge by telephone, Mr. Khan says that corruption is rife in the Sindh Education Department. Annual allocations range from 2.1 to 2.8 per cent of the GDP. There are at least 40,000 ghost teachers, and 5,229 ghost schools in the province, despite allocation of Rs145.02 billion budget for education. 60% schools remain without drinking water facility, 40% without electricity, and 35% without any boundary walls.
Many of us are witness to the deteriorating conditions, ghost schools, teachers, high ratio of dropouts, poor infrastructure, corporal punishment, low standard curriculum, untrained teachers, copy-culture and many more. Even in Karachi, around 170 posts of headmasters are lying vacant for the past three years. In such circumstances, how can a quality education be given children?
The examination system has been corrupted to the core. One can buy a matriculation, intermediate or graduation degree for 10,000 to 50,000 rupees even today. You can get a masters degree also if you can spend a hundred thousand rupees or a little more. Almost all papers are leaked out before the start of the papers in matric and intermediate examinations, and by offering 500 to 1,000 rupees to the invigiselators, you can use unfair means in solving papers with impunity, Alamgir Khan continues, depicting a picture of education in the province.
And the result is obvious: 52pc of class five students could not read Urdu, Sindhi or Pushto, 46pc couldn’t read sentences in English while 48pc couldn’t do two digit division in arithmetic.
According to the Annual Status of Education Report (ASER) Pakistan-2016 launched in September this year by the Idara-e-Taleem-o-Aagahi (ITA), many children may be attending schools, but they are not learning much. ASER volunteers visited some 83,324 households to see how 255,269 children were being educated. They also visited 5,540 schools in Sindhi areas.
According to the survey findings, teacher attendance in government schools remained 87pc and in private schools it was 92pc. The children’s attendance was 83pc in government schools and 84pc in private schools.
Dr. Baela Raza Jamil, the trustee for Idara-e-Taleem-o-Aagahi (ITA), Centre for Education and Consciousness (CEC), says that the ASER Report 2017 clearly depicted that despite improvement in access to education in various parts of the province, the quality of education had not improved. Many children are attending schools but they are not learning much, she adds.
Alamgir Khan and Dr Baela have many more experts to second their views. Edward Davis, senior education adviser, Department of International Development, said that the report told him two stories: One story is that of the rich boy, who is going to achieve higher education, and the other story is of the poor girl who will fall way behind.
Dr. Monazza Aslam is a D.Phil. in Economics from the University of Oxford and a Visiting Researcher at the Institute of Education, University of London. She tells Cutting Edge at a seminar in Islamabad recently, that complete lack of education for many as well as the poor quality of education imparted to millions of others – measured by low learning outcomes – undermines competitiveness, growth and hinders efforts to alleviate poverty. She repeats with concern that more than half the children, who are in class 5, simply do not have the competencies expected of them at the end of class 2. That means after at least five years of formal schooling, these children have not even mastered the competencies expected of them after two years of primary schooling.
“If we realise and recognise that a well-educated, literate and numerate workforce is critical to generating and sustaining growth in this rapidly changing world, the cadre of children we are developing will be simply unable to compete in this globalised world,” Dr. Monazza believes. The social and economic implications of this cadre of ill-prepared individuals – both those who did not enter the education system at all or dropped out and especially those who entered with dreams and expectations but where the system failed them – are disquieting.
The education economist says that Pakistan stands at a crucial juncture in its history, and perhaps never before has the value of education been so well-established than it is today. Suggesting a solution, she says that perhaps the most important education reform agenda needed today is the need to prioritise interventions that focus on outcomes rather than on inputs alone. A teacher who is unable to cater to the needs of children either because he/she is not well trained, or does not have the necessary skills or resources, will not be effective in delivering quality education.
Dr. Monazza Aslam says that there are countless examples and anecdotes of how fundamental a teacher is in a child’s life. A good teacher can alter the life of an individual for the better. An absent teacher or a poor quality teacher will also alter the life of an individual, but adversely, with repercussions for the entire country.
Alamgir Khan totally agrees with the education economist. He believes that Pakistan does not have a choice today. We will have to provide our children with meaningful and valuable quality education. The only way to transform the country and get ourselves back on our feet is to overhaul our education system and give quality education to our upcoming generations.
Mr. Khan is well aware of the fact that the ills in the education department and system could not be eliminated overnight and the dream of provision of quality education to the upcoming generations could not be realised in weeks or months. It will need continuous and collective effort by all stakeholders for years in the shape of a campaign, adds Alamgir Khan. He pledges to lead this campaign in Sindh province, despite the odds and to overcome all hurdles. It is to be hoped that the enlightened people of his province support him in this most exigent of causes.