EducationFeaturedNationalVOLUME 15 ISSUE # 14

A sorry state of education in Pakistan

The Annual Status of Education Report compiled by Idara-i-Taleem-i-Aagahi makes depressing reading. It is based on a survey conducted in 155 rural districts covering 92,008 households. According to the report, education quality is extremely poor in rural districts in Pakistan, with 41pc of surveyed fifth graders unable to read a story in Urdu and 45pc unable to read sentences in English.

The report said that 41pc of students in grade five could not read a second grade level story in Urdu, Sindhi or Pashto, while 45pc of fifth graders could not read second grade level sentences. Worse still, the survey found that 84pc of third graders could not read second grade level sentences, and 43pc of fifth grade students could not do two-digit division.

In a separate section, the report has underlined the problem of missing facilities in schools, stating that 39pc of primary schools in Pakistan do not have usable water facilities for students and teachers, 41pc do not have usable toilets and 56pc do not have computer labs. There is an endless litany of problems. According to the report, 98pc of government primary schools do not have ramps for disabled students and 96pc do not have disabled-friendly toilets. The report also found a decline in the number of children enrolled in private schools; 23pc of children between six and 16 were enrolled in private schools in 2019, compared to 30pc in 2014. The report said the shift to government and public sector schools increased the enrolment share from 70pc in 2014 to 77pc in 2019.

The report found out that the attendance of teachers in public and private schools stood at 89pc on the day of the survey. Private school teachers were reported to have better qualification at graduate levels – 40pc compared to 33pc in government schools; however, when it came to master’s qualification a larger percentage of public sector teachers had higher qualification than their private school counterparts. The report found prevalence of multi-grade classrooms all across the surveyed districts, highlighting the problem of teacher shortage.

According to the report, only 59% of government schools have toilets. This, despite there being ample evidence to show that access to sanitary facilities improves enrolment and the general health and well-being of students. Even a few private schools lack toilets. The fact that anyone would pay for their children to go to the 11% of schools that do not even have a toilet is perhaps the most damning indictment of the government school system.

The problems are complex but the report authors have offered only simple solutions, namely to include the addition of missing facilities into the main school budgets rather than treating it as a separate development head. There is a strong argument here. Instead of just trying to increase enrolment while standards go down a hole in the ground, basic facilities need to be added first.

Unlike many of the problems making headlines these days, this is most definitely not a problem caused by the incumbent government. Unfortunately, Prime Minister Imran Khan has done little to alleviate it, with education being one of the critical areas that saw budget cuts. Yes, the ruling party does have some ideas to improve higher education, but they will all be for nought if children can’t even read a wall clock.

The findings of the report ring an alarm bell about the state of our education. Given this, it is of little comfort to learn from the report that there has been improvement in learning outcomes compared to previous years. The report says that 17pc of children were reported to be out of school in 2019, the same as the previous year. However, a survey of 20 urban centres across Pakistan found that just 6pc of children were out of school. Similarly, according to the report, Azad Kashmir, Gilgit-Baltistan and the Punjab have recorded a slim annual increase in enrolment – between 1pc and 2pc.

Regarding the progress and challenges to the Article 25-A of the Constitution, as well as progress towards the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 4, the report said the government has endorsed and is committed to meeting the SDGs by 2030 to end poverty with an educationally entitled society as elaborated in SDG-4, its seven targets and three means of implementation. But these are mere words without any sign of follow-up action.

The story of education in Pakistan is a story of neglect and callousness. With 40pc of the population living in urban areas, educating rural children is a big challenge for the government. But little is being done to bridge the gap. There is shortage of funds as well as trained teachers. Reports like the one compiled by ASER have their value. But they would be of greater value if while pinpointing the problems they also outline feasible solutions.