EducationVolume 14 Issue # 05

High hopes, loud promises!

Maulvi Tajuddin Muhammad Khan is a staunch supporter and voter of Prime Minister Imran Khan in the NA-95 constituency (Mianwali-I). He lives in Dhup Sari village near Moochh Town, 30 kilometres away from Mianwali on the left bank of the Indus River, and serves as the imam masjid (prayer leader) in an adjoining village. His youngest son is studying in class 3 at the government Primary Boys School in his village.


There is only one teacher in the school, who also serves as headmaster, to cater to the needs of all the classes. Total number of students in all six classes – katchi (pre-one) plus five regular classes, one to five, is 82, currently. Rehmatullah Khan not only acts as the headmaster of the school but also gives lessons to all six classes, at the same time. How? It’s anybody’s guess.


However, Maulvi Tajuddin is still hopeful his son would not only pass the primary school but also become a pilot one day. He himself only got madrasa education, but he wants his third and youngest son to pass his matriculation examination in good grades and then become a fighter pilot in the Pakistan air force.


Earlier, he also had high hopes for his two elder sons, but they could not go beyond primary classes. However, he has no complaints against them, now. “What could they have done without competent teachers?,” he asks.


But now everything would become fine. Prime Minister Imran Khan will set the entire education system on the right path, Tajuddin believes. “Haven’t you seen how he talks of Riasat-e-Madina (state of Madina) and stresses importance of education, citing the Quranic verses and Sunnat of Holy Prophet,” the Maulvi refers to speeches of the premier.


Imran Khan’s maiden speech as the 22nd prime minister of Pakistan specifically stressed the importance of education and the need for addressing the neglected sector. He cited the example of Holy Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) how he laid stress on the importance of education. Following the Muslim victory over Makkah’s non-believers in the Battle of Badr, the Prophet (PBUH) decreed that any prisoner of war, who would educate 10 Muslims, would be set free.


The premier admitted that there were over 22.5 million children out of school in Pakistan today, a fact he mentioned four different times during his talk. He said a majority of Pakistani children were enrolled in public schools, where education standards were highly unsatisfactory. He promised to improve education standards at government schools.


Maulvi Tajuddin believes Imran Khan would not only send more teachers to the Dhup Sari primary school where his son is studying, but also provide all other facilities including clean drinking water, furniture and toilets for the children. He wished the prime minister orders for constructing a new school building as the current one is in a dilapidated condition.


However, Headmaster Rehmatullah Khan is worried at the situation. He tells Cutting Edge that most primary and middle schools in the area are facing the same problems. Despite his repeated requests to the high-ups to solve the school’s problems, there has been no response yet.


Relating the story of his school during the past few years, he says that in 2017, the then provincial government shifted 152 state-run schools in the district to the jurisdiction of the Punjab Education Foundation, including his school. The move was challenged in the Lahore High Court and many of the schools were moved back to the district education department.


Then the school had 185 students and more than three teachers. But suddenly all teachers, except for him, were transferred without any reason. Resultantly, parents stopped sending their children to the school. The education department has even stopped the non-salary budget to the school since the last nine months, and the funds worth Rs. 1,000 per student being paid in four instalments annually was also stopped. That’s why he could not get the hand-pump repaired to provide drinking water to students, refurbish furniture or meet other emergency needs of the school.


However, the issues facing Headmaster Rehmatullah Khan’s school are not peculiar to it. Around half of all government primary schools in Sindh and Balochistan and 29% in Pakistan on a whole have only one teacher each.


According to Pakistan Education Atlas 2016, the latest available official data, currently 36,408 primary schools in the country are being run by only one teacher. The total number of primary schools in the country is 124,070. Balochistan tops the list with 54% single-teacher schools, followed by Sindh with 47%, KP 19% and Punjab 15%. In Gilgit-Baltistan, which has 797 primary schools, 281 of them (35%) had only one educator each.


Interestingly, the situation in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas was satisfactory where out of 5,114 schools, only 370 (7%) had one teacher. In Azad Jammu & Kashmir, 7% of the total 4,202 schools had a single teacher.


Dr. Irshad Ahmad Farrukh, secretary at the National Accreditation Council for Teacher Education (NACTE), believes that the quality of education can be measured with the help of key indicators such as pupil-teacher ratio, pupil-classroom ratio and the availability of physical facilities. Talking to Cutting Edge at his office in Lahore, he says that there are several deficiencies in these three sectors as currently the average teacher-student ratio in the country is 1:37.


There are only few regions in the country where the situation can be called satisfactory, he says. South Waziristan Agency has the ideal 1:13 teacher-student ratio as it has a total of 20,161 students and 1,532 teachers. But in Bajaur, there is an alarming teacher-student ratio of 1:108. The area has only 1,275 teachers for 137,148 students.


According to the educationist, Islamabad has 1:19 teacher-student ratio in the official documents. But on the ground the situation is very different, as in many schools there are only two to three teachers for over 100 students.


Dr. Farrukh says that the data is based on the total number of teachers and students, but the problem is in rationalisation of teachers in schools, which has been creating problems. Many schools are under-staffed and many are burdened, he adds.


New Punjab education minister, Dr Murad Raas, says that Prime Minister Imran Khan and all his team members are very clear about the issues facing the country. Talking to Cutting Edge by telephone, he says he will implement 100% the vision of Premier Imran Khan for promotion of education in the Punjab province. He acknowledges that teachers are the backbone of the education system and lack of them in schools was badly affecting the quality of education.


He says that he has asked all divisional chief executive officers (CEOs) to highlight three priority issues in the education sector and recommend solutions for their districts. He says he is getting feedback from all concerned on a war-footing and in the coming months and years, people would witness a real change in the education field in Punjab.


Dr. Raas promises that special attention will be given to appointing the required number of teachers to schools and provision of missing facilities. The minister says he was fully aware of the fact that millions of children are still out of school, and even those attending classes regularly were not learning much.


The provincial minister for education agrees with the findings of Alif Ailaan surveys that even class five students are unable to read Urdu and English language textbooks of class two and three and solve sums of lower classes math books. “I know hundreds of schools in the province are single-teacher schools, and students there are getting low-quality or no almost education at all,” admits the minister.


He is also aware of missing facilities in schools and pledges solving all these problems on priority basis. “People voted for the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf to bring change in the archaic system and we are committed to bringing about a meaningful change in every sphere of life, especially the education sector, so that the Punjab province, and the country at large, can rapidly move towards progress and prosperity,” he shares with Cutting Edge.