Ameena Shah is a brilliant student. She can become a doctor, an engineer, an architect an IT expert, or any respected professional, if she is provided with an opportunity to continue her education after passing her fifth grade examination.
She was a regular, very punctual student at the Government Primary School, Spin Ali Banda village in tehsil Lachi of district Kohat (Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province), last year.
Ameena is the eldest among her four siblings. The other three are also studying in the same primary school currently. But in the next three, or four years, they are also going to face the same fate: discontinuation of education, if no middle school is opened in their own village, Spin Ali Banda, or their father changes his profession.
Zaman Shah, the father of Ameena, is a truck driver. For most of the month, he has to stay out of his village, in Kohat, the district headquarters, or any part of the country for delivery of the goods, booked for his vehicle. Himself being semi-literate, Zaman Shah wants Ameena and his other children to get an education. But he’s not that committed to it that he would change his profession, as his wife suggests, to pick and drop them at the nearest middle school, situated at a distance of almost seven kilometres from his village.
This is not the story of one Ameena Shah who has to abandon her education after passing her fifth class; there are hundreds and thousands others in Kohat district, and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa at large, who have to stop going to school for not having one in their village and town.
The fact also been highlighted by the Pakistan District Education Rankings 2017, released by Alif Ailaan, an education initiative, in the beginning of the current year. The rankings reveal that a lot of school-going children in the country are out of school because of a lack of schools above the primary level, confirming previous concerns by the campaign on education.
“For every four primary schools in Pakistan, there is only one school above primary level. This means that most children who pass Class 5 do not have schools to continue their education. The large out-of-school population of the country is a direct product of this failure.”
Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa is a typical example of the situation. On the one side, the province has been appreciated by a nongovernmental organisation’s report for allocating budget for opening of a number of primary schools in the province and spending money on providing these institutions with the required infrastructure. However, on the other hand, it has taken a lot of flak for not building middle and high schools to meet the needs of those completing their primary education.
The report analysing the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) government’s reforms and challenges in the education sector during five years has painted a bleak picture of girls’ education in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa. “Girls are at a greater disadvantage with almost half of them (51%) in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa not attending the schools,” revealed the report quoting the Pakistan Education Statistics, 2015-16, data.
The report titled Five years of education reforms: KP wins, losses and challenges for the future 2018-23, was launched by the Alif Ailaan in the last week of March 2018. However, the report appreciated the provincial government for spending around Rs. 30 billion on infrastructure development including construction of classrooms, boundary walls, electrification, drinking water, and washrooms. The report said that Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa is leading in terms of primary schools infrastructure development.
“Strides to improve primary school infrastructure in the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province are demonstrated by the fact that their lowest ranked district is Shangla at 62,” the report highlighted. According to Alif Ailaan ranking for primary school infrastructure, the first seven districts – Tank, Kohat, Bannu, Peshawar, Karak, Dera Ismael Khan and Charsadda, belong to Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province. Then only one district, Gujrat comes from Punjab province and then two more districts – Lakki Marwat and Swabi belong to KP.
Interestingly, soon after the report was released, Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) Chairman Imran Khan tweeted: “Alif Ailaan has put out these amazing figures on District Education Rankings for 2017. Nine of the 10 top districts are from KP; only one from Punjab. In the same survey for 2016, nine of top 10 were from Punjab; none was from KP. A great achievement by PTI govt in KP in critical field of education.”
However, seemingly validating the concern raised by Alif Ailaan, Khan chose to highlight the “primary school infrastructure scores” instead of overall education scores.
As far as over rankings of districts are concerned, only one KP district, Haripur — which is placed at the top of the rankings — is among the top 10. Five AJK districts and four districts from Punjab make up the remaining list.
According to the list, the top ten district are: Haripur (KP). Faisalabad, Gujranwala, Sheikhupura, all from Punjab; Bagh, Muzaffarabad, Kotli and Poonch from AJK, and Sargodha and Bahawalpur again from Punjab.
Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and Punjab, according to the Alif Ailaan district rankings, also dominate the “middle school infrastructure scores”, with two top districts for the metric being Malakand and Swabi, while the next eight are from Punjab. These districts include: Malakand and Protected Area (KP), Swabi (KP), Layyah (Punjab), Chakwal (Punjab), Lodhran (Punjab), Pakpattan (Punjab), Attock (Punjab), Bahawalnagar (Punjab), Gujrat (Punjab), Vehari (Punjab).
According to the report, KP has seen slight progress in enrolment numbers at the primary level and a significant improvement at the high school level. The enrolment rate has increased by 4.54% at primary level, 2.3% at middle level and 26.96% at high level.
However, the report adds that the challenge of providing access to all children of primary school-going age is yet to be resolved, which is the most significant test of the government’s committment to provide access to children between the ages of 10 and 16 years to middle, high and higher secondary schools.
The report draws the government’s attention towards a massive imbalance between the provision of primary and post-primary schools across the province. The report said that currently, 9.76% and 8.13% of all schools are middle and high schools, respectively. “The gap is enormous considering that the right to education under Article 25A of the constitution gives the right to education for all children from five to sixteen years of education.”
The report reveals that primary schools outnumber cumulative middle and high schools by a ratio of 4:1. This disparity in numbers means that students are forced to travel further from homes to access schooling beyond the primary level causing low retention rate as well as the persisting gender gap at the middle and high school level.
Ameena Shah and other such girls are, thus, deprived of their right to education after passing their primary class as their parents cannot afford sending them to schools situated at long distances.
The report also drew the government’s attention towards the low quality of education. “The challenge of improving learning outcomes of students enrolled in schools across KP needs emergent attention. The report said the scores achieved by children of KP in the tests conducted by National Education Assessment System are disappointingly low, indicating the distance that had yet to be covered in way of ensuring quality education and learning.
Elementary and Secondary Education Minister Mohammad Atif Khan, however, does not miss an opportunity to relate the other achievements of the KP education department. In a brief chat with this writer at a seminar in Peshawar recently, he termed establishment of playgrounds in schools and sports tournaments, technology and science initiative in schools, students’ assessment at primary and middle level, independent monitoring unit and school quality management initiative, “great accomplishments of the provincial government”.