NationalVOLUME 18 ISSUE # 39

Challenges faced by Pakistan’s education sector after flood devastation

The education sector across Pakistan, particularly in the Sindh and Balochistan provinces, the southern regions of Punjab, as well as parts of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, has been unable to recover from the impact of the super floods that struck in 2022. This year, heavy monsoon rains have once again inflicted further damage, extinguishing any hopes of the return of millions of children who were kept out of schools last year. The crippled infrastructure still awaits repair.

Approximately half of Sindh’s 40,356 schools have been either fully or partially damaged, affecting 2.3 million out of its 4.5 million students, as reported by local education official Abdul Qadeer Ansari. The extent of the damage can be attributed to the age of the school buildings, which are between 25 to 30 years old. Additionally, these structures were not designed to withstand the effects of flooding, despite the region being susceptible to some of Pakistan’s most severe weather conditions.

Even those schools that managed to withstand the ravages of the floods had to be converted into shelters for flood victims. In Sindh alone, more than 7,062 schools were repurposed as relief camps, further disrupting the educational landscape and the ongoing academic year.

Despite almost 15 months having passed since the disaster, only 2,000 schools are currently under reconstruction in Sindh. The reconstruction efforts have received significant support from the Chinese government and the Asian Development Bank. Abdul Qadeer Ansari estimates that it will take at least two more years to complete the reconstruction, with the new schools designed to be more resilient to climate challenges.

There are still numerous villages in Sindh where students remain unable to return to their school buildings. For instance, in the village of Maskran Brohi, around 115 students attended classes in a temporary learning center within a tent before the start of the summer vacation. This 72-square-meter tent lacked electricity, leaving students without lights and fans. Moreover, essential facilities like toilets and clean water were absent.

Zarina Bibi, the sole teacher in the village, expresses concern that students might have to continue their studies in the tent after the summer vacation since their school building has not yet been reconstructed. With temperatures potentially reaching up to 50 degrees Celsius even in August, the heat within the tent becomes unbearable.

Noorul Huda Shah, an activist and writer, laments the complete devastation of the education system in Sindh due to the floods. She notes that even before the calamity, primary education in the province was below par. The government schools were able to accommodate only around half of the school-age children, and girls, in particular, faced a high dropout rate after the fifth grade due to a lack of middle schools. With the added damage, the situation has worsened.

According to a UNICEF report, approximately 3.5 million children across the country have had their education disrupted due to the widespread destruction. Additionally, educational materials such as books, notebooks, blackboards, tables, and other furnishings, worth millions of rupees, have been completely obliterated.

Following two years of pandemic-related school closures, children now face the risk of further educational disruption, particularly in areas where a considerable percentage of boys and girls were already out of school before the crisis. Establishing temporary learning centers and alternative learning methods could help mitigate the adverse effects of the interrupted education, offer a safe space and improved protection for children, and contribute to a semblance of normalcy.

An official from the Sindh School Education Department acknowledges that education remains underfunded, both domestically and internationally. To date, only $8.8 million has been received from international donors. Failure to secure the necessary funds would continue to keep flood-affected children and youth out of school, exposing them to risks and jeopardizing their future.

Approximately 3.5 million children, especially girls, are at a high risk of permanently dropping out of school. A few months ago, members of the Sindh Assembly conceded that the provincial government had not given adequate attention to the flood-affected education system. An adjournment motion was presented by Sharmila Faruqui of the ruling PPP party, addressing measures needed to enhance the literacy rate in the province. She informed the assembly that over 20 million children were still out of school in the country, with more than 19,000 educational facilities damaged by the floods. Moreover, in the post-COVID-19 era, nearly a million children were unable to return to school. She stated that around Rs. 139 billion were required for reconstructing school infrastructure.

During the debate on this motion, it was revealed that around 60 million people in the country remained illiterate, with 20 million residing in Sindh. Unfortunately, Sindh was the only province to experience a decline in its literacy rate. This was due to children being found working on farms or in automobile workshops to support their families.

Nevertheless, Sindh’s Education Minister, Sardar Shah, claimed that the provincial government had initiated repairs on over 7,000 schools promptly. He announced plans to appoint 1,564 teachers for various subjects, as relevant details had been submitted to the Sindh Public Service Commission. Sharing budgetary allocations, the minister disclosed that the total fiscal budget for the education department was Rs. 252 billion. Of this, Rs. 192 billion were allocated for pensions and salaries, Rs. 44 billion for non-development expenses, and Rs. 15 billion for the development of the education system. He lamented that each school received a meager budget of Rs. 300,000 per year, which was insufficient to genuinely promote education. However, he did not elaborate on who should be responsible for allocating the necessary funds, despite his party having been in power in Sindh for nearly 15 years.