Any real hope in Sindh?

Education has long been the most neglected sector in the Sindh province of Pakistan. The largest number of ghost teachers and ghost schools has always been reported in this province. Hundreds of media reports have shown conversion of school buildings into cattle pens or autaaqs (meeting place for men) of waderas all across rural Sindh. Despite continuity of rule by one party, the Pakistan People’s Party, for over a decade, no consistency has ever been witnessed as far as education policy is concerned.


However, the Chief Minister’s House in Karachi witnessed a pleasant surprise on November 2, 2018, when the chief executive of the province, Syed Murad Ali Shah, chaired a meeting exclusively on education. He directed the education department to update school curriculum and textbooks in the province to align them with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), set by the United Nations for 2030. The SDG-4 stresses “Ensuring inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all”.


The chief minister must have been informed by the meeting participants that his province still houses 6,413,227 (6.413 million) out-of-school children, and 3,383,270 (3.383 million) of them are girls. He must have been apprised of the plan as to how the gigantic task of bringing them all to school would be met. The national press does not provide details whether the provincial chief executive was told about the gravity of the situation, and to what extent. However, Syed Sardar Ali Shah, the Sindh education minister, has some data and details to share with Cutting Edge.


He says that a comprehensive policy has been evolved to open new schools, upgrade the existing ones, launch a campaign to enrol all school-age children in schools, provide missing facilities in government-run educational institutions and appoint adequate in number and competent teachers to schools to provide quality education to children.


The minister says that in the first phase, 483 primary schools have been upgraded as middle and high standard schools, while buildings of 185 existing primary and secondary schools have been reconstructed. Also, 214 schools without shelter have been provided with new buildings and three new schools in Ghotki, Tando Adam and Umerkot have been established. He claimed that 2,632 deserted schools would be made functional by June 30, 2019.


Mr. Shah states that the provincial government has signed various agreements with foreign governments to fulfil the dream of providing quality education to children. Forty-three state-of-the-art high schools have been constructed under the USAID-funded Sindh Basic Education Programme, and 20 of them have been handed over to private parties, under the public-private partnership mode. Also, with the assistance of the Japan International Cooperation Agency (Jica), 45 primary or middle schools have been constructed in remote areas of the province.


One of the major reasons deterring students, especially females, is lacking facilities in schools. The minister’s attention was drawn to the findings of the World Bank report regarding the percentage of schools with basic facilities. According to the report, Punjab tops the list with 93 percentage points, Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa 44, Balochistan 26 percent, and Sindh with 23 percentage lags far behind all other provinces.


Sindh Education Department’s wing, the Reform Support Unit’s (RSU’s) own report also endorses the gloomy picture painted by the World Bank. According to figures given by the RSU, the total number of schools in Sindh is 42,383. Out of this total, 16,359 schools lack boundary walls, while 15,478 schools don’t have washrooms. Whereas, 18,128 schools are deprived of clean drinking water and 23,235 schools do not have electricity.


Reportedly, there are 2,010 secondary and higher secondary schools and almost all of them do not have science and computer laboratories. Moreover, over five thousands schools buildings are said to be in crumbling conditions.


Minister Sardar Ali Shah was quick to update Cutting Edge on the topic. He said that work had been launched to provide missing facilities, such as boundary walls, washrooms, drinking water and furniture, to 4,206 schools that had a high enrolment of students.


The minister also admitted the dearth of post-primary schools, missing facilities in 9,839 schools, existence of 17,701 schools with single teachers and 4,910 schools without shelter as major reasons behind a large number of dropout children in the province. However, he shared the good news that the 5,517 schools, which served as polling stations during the 2018 general elections, had been provided with missing facilities. As many as 1,366 schools in the province, which did not have the facility of clean drinking water earlier, had now been provided the facility, added the minister.


The minister admitted that despite having spent a development budget of Rs. 73 billion on public sector schools in the last 10 years in the province, the educational institutions still lack the basic facilities. He claimed that the government made heavy investment in school education during the last five years. A total of Rs102 billion were spent on the school education in the fiscal year 2014-15, Rs125 billion in 2015-16, Rs110 billion in 2016-17 and Rs122 billion in 2017-18.


Citing official figure, the minister said the government was spending around Rs2,515 per child, adding that he was expecting good results of the huge investment in the education sector. Sardar Shah highlighted another initiative of his party’s government under which 340,000 girl students would be provided a stipend of Rs3,500 each.


“We are providing free textbooks and even don’t charge examination fees,” the minister claimed, adding that over 30,000 teachers had been hired during the last 10 years on merit and 957 headmasters were recruited through the Institute of Business Administration (IBA). Some 40,000 teachers were trained through on in-service programme, he added.


The education minister believes that miscalculated priorities were yet another hurdle in development of the education sector. “Now the education department is conducting viability assessment of 15,214 schools with low or no enrolment of students and 15,000 schools with medium enrolment in order to ascertain the required number of schools and ensure that financial resources are invested in the right place.”


He said that during the November 2 meeting, approval was given to the High Priority School Infrastructure Project, under which 2,632 schools would be renovated by June 2019 in the first phase, while 1,928 would be renovated in the second phase. As many as 870 schools would be rehabilitated by end of the next year and another 4,685 would be rehabilitated by June 2022.

The Sindh chief minister must have chalked out some strategy for improving education standards and providing quality education to students in government schools. However, till date the provincial education scene presents a gloomy picture.


An education initiative, Annual Status of Education Report (ASER), findings reveal staggering student deficiencies in learning English, Arithmetic, and Language. 63 percent of the children from class V cannot read a class II level story text in Urdu and Sindhi. In English, only 19 percent of the surveyed class V students could read sentences, which should ideally be read by students from the second grade. Arithmetic learning levels also have gone down where only 24 percent of class V children could do a two-digit division, something that is expected in the second grade curriculum.


On the other hand, the report released by Alif Ailaan titled Pakistan District Education Rankings 2017, places Punjab at the top, and the Sindh province at number seven in the education scores for the provinces, leaving only the Federally Administered Areas (FATA) behind. The minister admits that primary education is the foundation of schooling and if the base is not firmly established, it will negatively impact later educational engagements i.e. middle and secondary, etc.


In response to all these appalling facts and figures, Sardar Ali Shah’s answer was banal: “Young party Chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari and youthful Sindh Chief Minister Syed Murad Ali Shah have decided to bring about an education revolution in the province. It’s a matter of a few years now that the education scene in the province will totally change.”