EducationNationalVOLUME 17 ISSUE # 1

Lofty promises for KP schools

It had sounded good to education lovers when the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa provincial government announced allocating special funds for the construction, rehabilitation and upgradation of more than 2,100 schools in the 2021-22 budget. The stated purpose of the special allocation was increasing enrolment capacity in public sector schools by 120,000 students.

However, the hollowness of the claim was exposed when the Supreme Court (SC) took exception to non-construction of schools that had been damaged during an earthquake on October 8, 2005, killing more than 80,000 people and leaving about 4 million others homeless.

Chief Justice Gulzar Ahmed questioned the utilisation of billions of rupees, allocated for the reconstruction of schools after the deadly earthquake in 2005, while hearing an appeal of a primary school teacher of Mansehra, who was forcibly retired. The apex court issued a notice to the KP chief secretary over non-construction of collapsed schools despite the passage of some 16 years after the natural calamity had hit the region.

The Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), which has been ruling the province for at least 8-9 years, has always given education top priority apparently. The party chairman, Prime Minister Imran Khan, is himself a highly educated person, and he has also placed education on top of his political agenda. How come he, and his party, absolve themselves of their responsibility of rebuilding damaged school buildings and blame the previous governments for the enmity towards upcoming generations?

The budget documents of FY2021-22 also disclosed plans of recruiting 20,000 teachers and 3,000 school leaders for elementary and secondary education. But a sheer negation of its plans came to the fore during the apex court proceedings when the applicant informed the bench that she was a Master’s degree holder but the KP Education Department had removed her from service after the collapse of the school building where she was teaching, instead of giving her an opportunity to continue teacher in some other school. She informed the court that the KP service tribunal had converted the removal of her service into a forced retirement when she submitted an application for reinstatement. Similarly, the high court also upheld the decision of the service tribunal.

Earlier, in April this year, Minister for Elementary and Secondary Education Shahram Khan Tarakai had admitted in the provincial assembly that thousands of teacher posts were vacant in government schools. He had announced recruiting 27,000 more teachers before the start of the new academic session in August 2021. The promised month has arrived, but it seems the Education Department may take a “few” more months to complete the recruitment process.

Earlier, the provincial government had made 25,000 ad hoc appointments to overcome the shortage of teachers in government schools. Their 3-year contract came to an end in 2017, after which they staged protests, first in Peshawar and then outside Prime Minister Imran Khan’s residence in Bani Gala for their regularisation. The issue still lingers on, thanks to the party’s “education-loving” policies.

Coming to the budgetary allocations again, the government has promised the provision of equipment to 97 IT labs, construct 276 science laboratories and recruit 4,300 teachers in the newly merged districts of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa. A fund of Rs. 4.5 billion has also been allocated for the provision of furniture to schools in the province.

Though the latest information and data is not available, research reports issued by Alif Ailaan almost three years back said the educational infrastructure in KP was facing wear and tear after years of neglect. More than half of all schools in the erstwhile Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) lack water and power. According to the Independent Monitoring Unit (IMU) report of the KP government on schools, 55% of schools did not have electricity, while 51% of schools lack drinking water.

Around 30% did not have any toilets and a further 18% lacked boundary walls — crucial given the security situation in the region. Over 27% of schools in the merged districts had been closed. Around 32% of all closed schools were girls schools, while 23% were boys schools.

The report noted that of the 14,877 teachers on paper in the 5,889 schools and seminaries in ex-FATA, some 2,618 teachers were found absent during the official survey. Of those, 1,243 were not authorised to be absent while 719 had sanctioned leave. A further 596 were deputed elsewhere. The report showed that with 508,937 students enrolled in these schools, their overall student attendance was just 62%.

It would not be out of place to note down here that of the approximately 7.1 million children between the age of 5 and 16 in KP, around 2.5 million children are out of school. The ratio of out-of-school girls is 68%, and 32% boys are not getting an education. The female literacy rate stands at 38%.

The budgetary allocations have also been made this financial year for the repair of college buildings and the provision of basic facilities to them. An administrative budget of Rs. 1 billion has been allocated for the provision of furniture and petty repair works in colleges. The construction of 40 new colleges will be completed and 30 existing colleges would be granted the status of premier college wherein all facilities of the modern era would be provided to the students.

Over Rs. 230 million has been allocated for the students of the newly merged districts as educational scholarships, while a Skill Development Fund will also be set up for the promotion of technical and vocational education in the province.

For special children education, the KP government announced establishing a Centre of Excellence with Autism, district Rehmat-ul-lil-Alameen stipends for physically challenged students, and model institutes for street children at Dera Ismael Khan, Abbottabad, Swat and Peshawar and a school for children with hearing and speaking difficulties in Mardan.

The new financial year has already started, but it is yet to be seen how far the promises made with the students and parents are materialised or the lofty promises remain unfulfilled once again?