Lately, the Supreme Court of Pakistan has kindled a ray of hope for all those who wanted to see an educated and 100% literate Pakistan. Besides various other initiatives, taken during the past two or three years, the apex court had formed a committee on education reforms, with Federal Ombudsman Tahir Shahbaz as its chief and provincial secretaries, Law and Justice Commission of Pakistan (LJSC) secretary and vice chancellors of various universities as its members. The committee, admitting that 25 million children between five and 16 years of age in the country are out of school, has presented various recommendations which have been shared with the federal government for implementation.
The report strongly recommends to Prime Minister Imran Khan to declare an education emergency in the country to address the serious problems facing the sector currently. The report says that quality and uniformity of the education system, skill development and children out-of-school are the challenges that need to be addressed immediately.
The report says that a substantial increase in the education sector budget is required from 2.2% of GDP to 4% at the national level. It has been a long-drawn call for enhancing the education budget, though no political or military government in the history of Pakistan ever paid heed to it.
According to the HRCP report 2017, in financial year 2017-18, authorities again failed to fulfil their promise of allocating at least 4-6% of their GDP and at least 15-20% of the total public expenditure for the education sector. The federal government apparently increased the budget for the education sector by almost six times, compared with the previous fiscal year’s allocations; there was no mention in the budget documents that almost half of the previous year’s allocations for the sector remained unutilised. According to the Federal Audit Report, 47% of the total development budget, Rs. 1324.67 million, out of 2762.30 million, remained unutilised. The finance division had released only Rs8 billion, from the total allocations of Rs21 billion, to the Higher Education Commission (HEC) Pakistan, till the last month of fiscal year 2016-17.
During the previous financial years, the provincial Punjab government cut allocations for the education sector, as in the previous financial year. According to Alif Ailaan education initiative, allocation for education during the fiscal year 2017-18 was Rs345 billion (17.5% of the total budgetary allocations), which was one per cent less than the allocations made in the financial year 2016-17.
The Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa provincial government allocated Rs127.91 billion for the education sector. Out of which, Rs115.92 billion were allocated for primary and secondary schools, and Rs6.32 billion for higher education, making a total increase of 18% in the education budget compared with the last year. The higher education budget was increased by 31% and elementary and secondary education by 17%.
For the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), the allocations for the education sector in 2017-18 financial year stood at Rs12.8 billion, showing an increase of 9.4% over the previous budget. The revised estimate was the same as the budget estimate, i.e., Rs11.7 billion, suggesting that no information was available at the time of budget preparation.
In the Sindh education budget 2017-18, the allocation percentage for the development side had been decreased from 21.03% in 2016-17 to 20.06% in 2017-18, with Rs202.7 billion set aside for the sector.
For the financial year 2017-18, the total budget under pre-primary and primary education also went down from Rs55.3 billion in 2016-17 to Rs 50.9 billion.
In Balochistan, the provincial government earmarked Rs45 billion for education sector during 2017-18, though a sizeable part of the allocations went to ghost schools and ghost teachers. A report, officially released by the provincial authorities some months back, revealed that the Balochistan Education Department could not verify the presence of over 15,000 teachers during the verification drive, launched by the government three years ago.
In the total budget of Rs94.4 billion for 2017-18, presented to the Azad Jammu and Kashmir Assembly, the share of development was 25%; and the share of education in the development budget was Rs1.7 billion, or the fifth largest with a share of 7.3%. This amount is nearly twice the amount of Rs 852 million actually spent in 2015-16. Even the revised estimate for 2016-17 was Rs943 million. However, whether a jump of 88% in 2017-18 can be effectively utilised, is open to question.
Though the Supreme Court of Pakistan has been critical of the private schools on the issue of their exorbitant fee structure, the report citing the Pakistan Education Statistics 2016-17, said that private educational institutions were serving a considerable number of students (36%). It recommended that the government should bind private schools to rationalise the fee structure and enrol at least 10% children who belonged to poor families under corporate social responsibility.
While taking up this recommendation, the Supreme Court ordered the upscale private schools to furnish their respective audit reports and formed a committee to be headed by the federal ombudsman for finding an amicable solution to the issue of exorbitant fees being collected from parents.
The apex court said education is not a commodity that could be sold. There was a need to establish a regulator for monitoring private schools, added a member of the bench hearing the case.
Another crucial issue the committee focused on was regular review of the curriculum. The committee strongly recommended a review of the curriculum. It proposed that a special think-tank with experts be constituted at the national level for the purpose.
In December 2017, the Global Education Monitoring Report 2017-18 of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO), expressed concern over school textbooks in many countries including Pakistan, glorifying war and military heroes rather than teaching peace, non-violence and reconciliation. It said that just 10% of the textbooks across the world include explicit statements on the need for conflict prevention and resolution.
“Textbooks that glorify war and military heroes, exclude pluralistic perspectives or undermine other peoples or ethnicities can make teaching peace, non-violence and reconciliation difficult,” says the report. “Pakistani textbooks published after a 2006 curriculum reform still emphasised wars with India and largely ignored peace initiatives.”
An Urdu translation of Quaid-i-Azam’s famous speech of August 11, 1947, has finally found its way into at least one social studies book! This declares that religion is a matter for the individual citizen and not of the state. The speech had hitherto been kept hidden for fear of polluting students’ minds and weakening the Two-Nation theory.
The report also recommended a strong regulatory system for private schools. It said that parents and students were affected by malpractices of private schools. The committee proposed that each housing society should be bound to allocate plots for government schools.
As far as enforcement of Article 25-A of the Constitution is concerned, the report said a paradigm shift was required to prioritise education in terms of financial and human resources along with sufficient empowered institutions to monitor the development.
It is a good omen for the nation that the highest court of the country is paying special attention to one of the most important sectors of the country. It’s high time Prime Minister Imran Khan, who has been a staunch supporter of an educated Pakistan, gives topmost priority to the ever-neglected sector. His party is in power or a major ally in the ruling alliance at the centre as well as three provinces of the country.
It will be helpful for the authorities concerned if they focus on some parts of the HRCP Report on Education, which highlights province-wise issues and suggest some solutions also.
In Sindh province, one of the major issues being faced by educational institutions is lack of sanitation and water facilities. One-third of schools in the country have no water or basic sanitation or toilets. Only half of all government schools have usable toilets.
In the province, where Pakistan People’s Party has been in power for almost two decades, 100,000 students leave school in the first month every year due to the absence of basic facilities (such as water and sanitation). According to a survey conducted by the Pakistan Fisherfolk Forum last year, around 95% of public schools along the Sindh coastline do not have drinking water or washrooms for students. Also, there are around 4,000 schools in the province that did not have washrooms at all.
In Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province, where the PTI is to be in power for another five years now, teachers are overburdened with additional tasks which are distracting them from classrooms. The All Teachers Coordination Council claims that compared to past governments, the PTI government has done nothing for teachers, except for harassing and mentally torturing them. Teachers have been protesting for their basic right of timescale promotions, but the government has been using delaying tactics to deprive teachers of their rights.
In Punjab, the biggest province of Pakistan, poor quality and a rural-urban divide in access to education, are some of the major challenges facing the education sector. The situation is exacerbated by the lack of facilities and the apparent shortage of good teachers. The government is good at SOP-driven initiatives, but the human element is required to inspire a classroom. Motivating teachers and giving them incentives to improve quality must be a focus of the relevant authorities. It is good that for improving the quality of teaching, the government had revamped teachers training programmes under the Quaid-e-Azam Academy for Educational Development (QAED). The federal and provincial governments need to focus more on enhancing the literacy rate in the country and improving the quality of education being provided to students in the educational institutions.