Ershad Ali Chaudhry is really worried about the education of his children. A father of six sons and one daughter, he is a small farmer with 12.5 acres of canal-irrigated agricultural land in a far off village of Tehsil Fort Abbas. Himself a matriculate, the Chaudhry understands it well that his sons would get only less than two acres of farmland each in inheritance, when they grow up and divide the landholding among themselves. So, he is left with no option but to educate to his children for a viable living in future. However, circumstances are not favourable for him and his children. His two elder sons could not pass their eighth grade board exams, twice, and abandoned education once and for all one after the other. Both of them failed the mathematics, science and English subjects, as there is no science teacher at the Government Middle School in his village, Chak No. 338/HR.
Being the only son of his parents, Ershad Chaudhry had been sent to his maternal grandfather’s home in Hasilpur town year ago for further education after he passed his fifth grade examination in his village school. That’s why he was able to bring a matriculation certificate with him when his father called him back after six or seven years. But he, with a weak financial position, could not afford sending his sons anywhere to get an education. He fears his third son would also not be able to go beyond the eighth grade, only because of mathematics and English. There are four teachers in the school, but none of them is a qualified math or science teacher. The class in-charge teachers mostly keep promoting their students to the next grade up to the seventh class. But, in the eight grade exams, conducted by the Punjab Examinations Commission (PEC), most of them fail to get through. However, the issue is not limited to the sons of the Chaudhry of Fort Abbas.
The 2016 results of the PEC showed that average maths scores for Class V were 53%; and the results for Class VIII 48%. During the same period, the Standardised Achievement Test (SAT) results in Sindh were an average of 24% for maths scores for Class V; similarly, SAT results for Class VIII were 24%. The Alif Ailaan education initiative recently collaborated with the Pakistan Alliance for Math and Science to launch a report on Powering Pakistan for the 21st century: The State of Math and Science in Schools. According to the report, the average maths score for Class VIII in the Pakistan National Education Assessment System (NEAS) exams during 2014 was 461 out of 1,000; whereas the score for Class IV was 433 out of 1,000. Dr. Baela Raza Jamil, Member Pakistan Alliance for Maths & Science, says that the middle level school children do not get a decent maths or science education and thus cannot compete in these subjects at a later stage. Talking to Cutting Edge at the report launching ceremony in Islamabad last month (February), she said that there are some fundamental reasons responsible for the poor outcomes of maths and science education.
Firstly, she says, the political economy of maths and science education is designed to look after the interests of small groups, instead of the Pakistani children at large. Secondly, the structure of the school system, which should deliver a decent education, is outdated and inefficient and is not geared to deliver a 21st century education to the neediest and most vulnerable segment of society. The third reason, according to Dr. Baela Raza, is that the government schools do not provide satisfactory learning outcomes in maths and science, or in any other subject areas for that matter. Fourthly, teachers in government schools do not have the incentive, or the skills to deliver quality maths and science instruction to children, as is mentioned in the case of the Chaudhry’s sons.
However, Minister of State for Federal Education and Professional Training, Balighur Rehman, is optimistic about a positive change in the education sector of the country. He tells Cutting Edge that teacher recruitment has been de-politicised in the Punjab recently, as well as in all the provinces. Now, merit-based recruitments of teachers would be made, as the standard methodology for hiring teachers has been adopted, he adds. Since 2013, a total of over 125,000 teachers have been hired on merit, and these now constitute almost 20% of the total number of teachers in the country, which is an important beginning, he claims.
The minister says that Volume III of the Powering Pakistan for the 21st Century, the Pakistan Alliance for Maths and Science report offers a well thought-out roadmap. When developed in consultation with all four provincial governments, as well as civil society and the private sector, it will go a long way to overcome this problem, he believes. As a result, maths and science education and testing will be of a level that will make the student capable of achieving the required outcomes in these subjects to benefit them and Pakistan in the future, he says optimistically. The abovementioned was the story of poor learning outcomes of those admitted to schools and a minister’s claims. But, sadly, there are over 22 million children still out of school in Pakistan, between the age group of five and 16. The Pakistan Education Statistics 2015-16 report, launched in the first week of March 2017, by a department of the Ministry of Federal Education and Professional Training, disclosed that 44% children (22.6 million) between the age group of five to 16 are still out of school in the country.
The report shows that Balochistan is home to the highest proportion of out-of-school children, followed by the impoverished tribal region along the Afghan border. “As many as 70% children in Balochistan and 58% in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) are out of school,” the report says. The statistics revealed that 21% primary schools in the country are being run by a single teacher, while 14% have one room. Only 30% children remain enrolled from class one till ten. Regarding to schools’ infrastructure, 40% public sector primary schools are operating without electricity, 28% do not have toilets, 25% are without boundary walls and 29% have no access to drinking water. While 7% schools do not have any building and 43% have unsatisfactory buildings.
The minister again comes forward to defend the government. The report has noted a considerable improvement in the net enrolment rate in primary education, availability of physical facilities in government schools and reduction in number of out-of-school children, Balighur Rehman shares with Cutting Edge. The number of out-of-school children in classes one to 12 and the age bracket of five to 16 years has reduced by 3% per annum from 25.96 million in 2012-13 to 22.64 million in 2015-16. Punjab province has outperformed other provinces by managing to reduce the number by 6% per annum from 12.87 million to 9.92 million during the same period. Also, the net enrolment rate in primary education has improved at the rate of 4% per annum from 14.65 million in 2012-13 to 17.1 million in 2015-16. Again, Punjab fared better than other provinces, making a contribution of 6% per annum.
An efficient minister of Pakistan Muslim League-N, Balighur Rehman also appreciates improvements in physical facilities in government schools and urges the provincial governments to concentrate on this area. He says Rs. 188 billion were allocated for ensuring enrolment of 5.1 million children between the ages of five and nine. Out of the total 11.2 million male primary school-age children in the country, only 2.6 million are out of school now, he claims. Of them, about 53% live in the Punjab. The minister believes that when the PML-N will form its governments at the Centre as well as in the provinces after the 2018 elections, all targets set by the world bodies under the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) would be achieved across the country.