FeaturedVOLUME 17 ISSUE # 21

Education really a top priority of Sindh?

On June 15, 2021, Sindh Chief Minister Syed Murad Ali Shah presented the provincial budget for financial year 2021-22 and delivered his ninth consecutive budget speech. Like all his previous speeches, he declared education the topmost priority of the Pakistan People’s Party government while announcing “enhanced” allocations for the sector.

TOPMOST priority! Every year. Very interesting. It would also be very interesting to share the fact with the readers that the “most forward looking political party” of the country with the Oxford educated leadership ever, has been ruling the province for the last over 40 years, excluding not more than seven, eight years when it had to remain powerless. But still 52% of children – 58% girls (Unicef report) in the age group of 5 to 16 years, are out of school; out of total 49,103 schools, 5,922 are without basic facilities like toilets, drinking water, electricity or boundary walls, while 37,705 have only one of these facilities (report presented in Sindh cabinet last year); around 70% of schools are without science teachers and laboratories; 4,364 schools in interior Sindh are without shelter while 10,516 are working in a single room; 18,660 schools have only one teacher, while 12,136 are without any teachers, and the list of such failings and deprivations goes on.

But we return to the original topic, and have a look at the allocations, made by the PPP Sindh government for the education sector for financial year 2021-22. Reading out his speech in the assembly, the chief minister said that the highest percentage of resources had been diverted towards education in 2021-22. “It will see an increase of 13.5% over the allocation of the financial year 2020-21. So, for the next financial year, we propose to enhance the budget for education to Rs. 277.5 billion, from the previous Rs. 244.5 billion.”

In the outgoing fiscal year, the annual development programme allocation for the education sector was Rs. 21.1 billion, which comprised school and college education, universities, empowerment for persons with disabilities, and skill development. And in 2021-22, the government earmarked Rs. 26 billion for the sector, the minister announced. According to the proposed allocations for 2021-22, the budget for the school education and literacy department has been increased to Rs. 222.102 billion.

The school education and literacy department has been allocated Rs. 14 billion for 117 ongoing schemes and 186 new schemes. Most schemes are for upgrading existing government schools from primary to secondary levels, rehabilitating and improving schools, providing furniture, basic and missing facilities, construction and reconstruction of existing dangerous school buildings.

Perhaps the allocations would also help open schools which had been closed last year for lack of either teachers or students. The provincial school education secretary told the Sindh High Court on March 10, 2021, that 6,866 public schools across the province had been closed due to lack of teachers, while 7,974 were closed for a low number of students attending them. Isn’t it surprising that more than 6.2 million children in the province, and a majority of those living in interior Sindh, are out of school, but the government was forced to close “costly newly built” school buildings for lack of students.

And what about those school buildings? For what purposes the buildings are used when no students come to attend them?

The opposition leader in Sindh Assembly, Haleem Adil Shaikh, disclosed in February 2021 that the school buildings in interior Sindh had been turned into cattle pens. He said the provincial government had constructed school buildings with millions of rupees, but those were being used as cattle pens by influential people. He claimed that 70% of schools in interior Sindh had been closed and the buildings were being used as cattle pens. Millions of rupees, allocated in the budget, are provided for the assembly members’ proposed educational schemes, who first make money in the process of construction of buildings through their relatives and friends, and then convert the buildings into their autaqs (guest houses) or cattle pens when students do not attend them for lack of teachers and other facilities there.

According to a report, at least 30 primary girls and boys schools were inoperative and 10 school buildings turned into Autaqs (guest houses) in Dadu district of Sindh. The education secretary also informed the SHC that posts of 32,510 primary schoolteachers and 14,039 junior elementary school teachers had been vacant in different districts of the province.

The chief minister announced Rs. 1 billion as “grant-in-aid’ for education management organisations (EMOs) for handing over the management of various schools to them. That clearly shows the provincial government’s intentions of gradually handing over schools to private parties, though “Article 25A of the Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, 1973, provides for free education to all children of aged five to sixteen as a fundamental right and its provision is a responsibility of the State.”

However, the chief minister declared the Sindh Education Foundation a major arm of the government for public-private partnership in the education sector, which currently holds a portfolio of around 475,000 students in 1,800 schools and centres across the province. The foundation will be functionalising around 500-800 viable government school buildings under its public-private partnership model, the CM announced.

According to the budget speech, the government allocated Rs. 6.6b for the purchase of furniture and fixtures, Rs. 6.1b for new activities with the help of international donor agencies and Rs. 2.3b for free textbooks, amongst other expenditures. And God knows what fraction of those huge funds would be used for the real head, for which the amounts have been allocated.

For FY 2021-22, the budget for college education in Sindh has been increased by 11.8% to Rs. 22.8b. An allocation of Rs. 4b has been proposed in the annual development programme 2021-22 for 43 ongoing and 64 new schemes. A sum of Rs. 100 million has been allocated for Bakhtawar Cadet College for Girls in Shaheed Benazirabad, being described as the first institution of its kind in Pakistan. Interestingly, the institute is named after a Bhutto family daughter, and the city is named after her mother, Benazir Bhutto. Besides, Rs. 292.55m has been earmarked for seven cadet colleges in Sindh.

The chief minister also announced five new public colleges. “We have kept Rs. 1 billion of the endowment fund in the next fiscal year 2021-22,” he said. Rs. 120m has also been allocated for the Sindhi Adabi Board, Jamshoro. There is also a grant for IBA Community Colleges and allocations also increased by 50% from Rs. 80m to Rs. 120m. Some 17 new degree colleges will also be established in districts of Hyderabad, Jamshoro, Sukkur, Shikarpur, Jacobabad, Sanghar, Umerkot and three districts of Karachi division — Korangi, Malir and West.

According to the budget proposals, the grant for public sector universities has been increased from Rs. 11.07b of the outgoing year to Rs. 13.314bn for the upcoming financial year. Also, Rs. 416.516m has been allocated for the Sindh Higher Education Commission for FY 2021-22. An amount of Rs. 1.2b has been allocated for scholarships to students securing A1 grade in SSC and HSSC in the educational boards of Sindh, which must be appreciated by all, if implemented on merit.