The education story in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa appears to be as confusing and contradictory as in any other province of the country. If one looks at the statements of ministers and other government functionaries, one feels the sector has achieved great successes in a short span of over four years in the field of education. Imran Khan, the chairman of KP’s ruling party, the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf, claims that a revolution has been brought about on the education and health fronts. However, various survey reports, many of them official, paint quite a gloomy picture of the sector in the province.
In an interaction with Cutting Edge at a university programme in Peshawar recently, Muhammad Atif Khan, education minister in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, claimed achieving various targets by his department. “There’s zero tolerance for corruption and absenteeism in the education department,” he tells the writer proudly.
The provincial government imposed a fine on 25 district education officers (DEOs) for absence from work, following a report prepared by the education department’s Independent Monitoring Unit (IMU). The KP Elementary and Secondary Education Department documents showed that these women DEOs remained absent from their duties in the month of March. With the approval of the chief minister, heavy fines were imposed on these officials, he claims.
“This punitive action is not going to stop here.” The IMU has also identified the male DEOs, who have been missing from work, and a list in this regard will soon be sent to the CM for approval of action against them, the minister adds.
Atif Khan states that the previous governments did not pay attention to security of educational institutions. “The incumbent coalition government has constructed walls around 14,000 schools and made toilets available in 5,000 schools.”
Recounting his ministry’s achievements, he says that 1.4 million chairs have been purchased with Rs. 4 billion for the government school students. In the past, there has been no concept of play area in the public schools. But, his government made such areas in 5,000 schools so that students can pursue extracurricular activities on campus.
The provincial minister from the PTI says that during the past four years, Rs121 billion had been spent to provide missing facilities in schools and the government was continuing to work to fulfil all other unmet needs. The department has hired 40,000 teachers in the past four years to improve education standards in the province and will be hiring 15,000 more this year, he promises.
The minister claims that standard of education in public sector schools has been raised manifold through concerted efforts of teachers and the management during the past four years. “That’s why, parents are once again reverting to the government schools. During the past years, parents of 34,000 students withdrew them from private schools and admitted them to the government schools,” he adds.
However, he appeared unwilling to reply to some questions arising as a result of a survey conducted by a non-governmental organisation. The findings revealed that 50% of the students who had left private schools came from poor families. Their parents were not in a position to pay their fee any more. Households said that it had become too expensive for them to continue sending their children to private schools.
Another 28% of the parents surveyed believed that the quality or standard of private schools was low due to which they had enrolled their sons/daughters in government schools. The reason for changing schools even in this case is not because of an improved quality or standard of education at government schools.
The remaining 22% of parents shifted their children out of private schools for reasons including: opposition to co-education (4%), distance between their home and school (3%), children being weak in studies (4%), absence of value for money (3%) and inadequate infrastructure/basic facilities (2%).
According to the statistics, provided by the Education Department for the last academic year, there are around 7,000 private schools in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa. The total number of students in these schools is 1.71 million — 1.18 million boys and 0.53 million girls. Out of these, 183,412 are studying in primary schools; 447,935 in middle schools; 722,524 in high schools and 359,541 in higher secondary schools.
A lamentable fact is that there exists no strong law for an effective regulation of this massive sector. Parents have been approaching the government repeatedly with complaints against private schools, but the authorities are unable to do anything.
There exists a law that regulates private schools – Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa Registration and Functioning of Private Educational Institutions Ordinance, 2001 – but it is weak and flawed, according to educationists and officials. The ordinance is silent on many issues: it does not specify fee structure; it does not describe the criteria to put schools under various categories such as elite schools, model schools, etc., and it does not mention the qualification and salaries of the teachers. The previous provincial administration started drafting a new law to address these gaps about six years ago. It is yet to be passed by the provincial assembly.
However, the minister has some other data to share with Cutting Edge. The government increased allocation for the education sector from Rs138 billion this fiscal (2017-18) year compared to Rs61 billion allocated by the previous provincial government,” he claims.
The minister says that teacher training is a government priority. His department has spent Rs2.2 billion in the last three years to train teachers. A memorandum of understanding has also been signed with the British Council to train 85,000 primary schoolteachers in English in the next three years — at a cost of Rs. 800 million.
On the other hand, there are dozens of reports which show education is still in serious crisis in the province. Even the official body, the Independent Monitoring Unit (IMU) report shows that 11% of the province’s schools are still without proper boundary walls. There are total 27,506 government schools in the province, and nearly 3,000 of them have no boundary walls – one of the basic protections for students a school can have.
The report based on data collected in June last year states that 65% of schools in Torghar – the most underdeveloped district in KP – are without boundary walls, followed by 60% of schools in Kohistan, 24% in Shangla, 19% in Battagram, 15% in Mansehra, and 14% in Chitral and Abbottabad. Also, adds the report, 11% of schools in the province lack functioning toilets, 17% lack clean drinking water facilities and 31% are without electricity.
The education minister says the provincial government is paying special attention to this issue. According to official data, Rs18 billion have been spent over the last three years on providing boundary walls, electricity, drinking water and toilets in government schools. He says that an additional four billion rupees will be spent on providing these facilities in 2017-2018. “We hope that no facility will be missing at a government school after a couple of years,” he assures.
The Pakistan Education Statistics (PES), an official research body at federal level, says that 35.9% children in the age bracket of five to 16 years are still out of school.
One of the major problems at government primary schools in the province – numbering around 23,000 – is the unavailability of teachers who, as per official policy, should teach all subjects in English. How will the teachers – appointed over two decades ago – learn to teach in English, when they have attended no college or university in their own student days, ask educationists.