EducationVolume 12 Issue # 20

More reports, more bad news

The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) annual report, released on May 11, 2017, provides a glimpse into the performance of the education sector in the country, during the year 2016. According to the report, the year 2016 witnessed minor improvements in a few areas of the sector, but continued to see a decline in many. The official figures showed that the number of out-of-school children decreased from 25 million to 24 million, but the adult literacy rate went down from 58% to 56.4%. There was only moderate improvement in the learning outcome score – from 2015’s 52.33% to 54.78% in 2016. Quoting the Alif Ailaan data, the report said that a large number of schools failed to get basic facilities. The most disturbing news of the educational year was that the federal and two provincial governments – Punjab and Balochistan – cut their budgetary allocations for the sector, despite showy claims of giving education a priority. Almost all reports on education, released by the local and international organisations during the year, painted a gloomy picture of the sector, claimed the HRCP report. The United Nations Global Education Monitoring Report 2016, released in September last year, claimed that Pakistan was 50-plus years behind in its primary and 60-plus years behind in its secondary education targets. That means the country is set to miss by more than half-a-century the deadline for ensuring that all children receive primary education.

The report said that Pakistan had the most absolute number of children out of school anywhere in the world, including 5.6 million out of primary schools, around 5.5 million out of secondary schools (48% of lower secondary school age children), and a staggering 10.4 million adolescents out of upper secondary school. Also, the report said, there was a wide gap between school completion rate and education attainment between the rich and poor, urban and rural and between boys and girls. Poor rural males showed a literacy rate of 64% (official data, though educationists have always doubted these figures), but their female counterparts stood far behind in comparison with only 14%. The issue of learning among the students is equally important. A report, issued in July 2016 by the US-based Wilson Centre, said that more than half of eight-year-olds had learnt nothing despite spending three/four years in schools. The report said that despite the budget growing twofold to $7.5 billion in the last six years, literacy and dropout rates remained abysmal and “ghost schools” persisted. According to the HRCP report, the Balochistan provincial assembly was informed in May 2016, that there was no record of 15,000 teachers, and there were over 900 ghost schools in the province with almost 300,000 fake registrations of students.

A study titled Pakistan’s Education Crisis: The Real Story noted that the United States, Britain and the World Bank poured money into Pakistan’s stagnating public education sector, but the number of children out of school is still second only to Nigeria. The data collected by the Wilson Centre, however, noted improvement in teacher absenteeism, which dropped from 20% to 6% in Punjab during the past five years. The Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf led provincial government in Khyber- Pakhtunkhwa has always claimed giving top priority to education and health. However, the HRCP report revealed that most of total 28,000 schools in the province lacked basic facilities. The Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa Independent Monitoring Unit said in its May 2016 report that 26% of the government schools did not have potable water facility, and 10% had no boundary walls, despite the province facing a sensitive law and order situation. Also, 11% schools have no toilets and 34% have no electricity connections. Different districts’ performance across country was reported very poor. In Balochistan, according to a report, released by the Academy of Educational Planning and Management (AEPAM), a federal government institu- tion, more than 1.8 million children are out of school.

The official data show that there are 13,279 government schools in Balochistan. Of these 84% are primary schools with only 16% schools offering middle and higher education to students. Almost 54% of the total primary schools operate with only one teacher. Almost 26% government schools in Balochistan function with only one classroom. And across Balochistan, the condition of 83% of government primary schools buildings is “unsatisfactory”. According to the non-governmental education initiative Alif Ailaan, a staggering 75% of girls aged between five and 16 are out of school, compared with 65% boys in the same age bracket in Balochistan. Girls continue to suffer severe disadvantage and exclusion in the province. The Alif Ailaan findings reveal that only 25% females have ever been to school, compared with 60% males. Every year, 130,000 students get enrolled in schools but only 61,000 appear in matriculation examinations, and out of which only 30,000 are able to pass the exams.

At the university level, the number further goes down and only 3,000 pass out from the universities annually. Of the 32 districts in Balochistan, 23 districts have an education score of less than 50%. Gilgit-Baltistan (G-B) is a mountainous area, but has a better enrolment position than other provinces. 85% of children are enrolled in G-B schools, compared with a 81% enrolment rate at the national level in Pakistan. The proportion of out-of-school children decreased compared with 2015 in GB. In 2015, 15% of children were reported to be out of school. Around 12% of the children had never been enrolled in school and 3% had dropped out for various reasons. In terms of enrolment in early years schooling to class 10, gender parity and parental education, district Hunza-Nagar topped the list among all the seven districts of G-B with a 97.6% enrolment rate. Then comes district Ghizer with 96.9% enrolment, followed by district Astore with a 92.8% enrolment rate in class 1 to 10. However, in Diamer district, enrolment is highly skewed in favour of boys as the out-of-school children are more than inschool children in class one to 10 and only 16% of girls from these enrolled students can read at least a sentence. In early childhood education (ECE) class, only 9% children are enrolled whereas, 91% of ECE level children are out of school in Diamer. The HRCP report notes with concern that the federal as well as provincial governments’ priorities seemed misplaced in the field of education. Billions of rupees were spent on Prime Minister’s National Laptop Scheme, and 100,000 machines, worth over Rs. 4 billion were distributed among students in the first phase. In the second phase, 25,867 laptops were given to students in February-March, 2016, further adding to the phase-one cost.

According to independent data, only 5.1% of people aged 17-23 years actually pursue higher education in Pakistan. How is it wise to spend four billion rupees on something other than basic education and, that too, for only a small percentage of the youth? Has the government ever thought about the rest? n the other hand, providing facilities for higher education institutions seemed a non-priority for almost all governments. After the passage of the 18th Amendment in April 2010 and devolution of the education sector to provinces, higher education seems in a serious crisis. The HRCP report noted that Punjab Higher Education Commission (PHEC) and the Federation of All Pakistan Universities’ Academic Staff Association (FAPUASA) remained at loggerheads throughout the year 2016. Balochistan universities had a long list of complaints against the Higher Education Commission (HEC), and the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa Higher Education Commission was yet to take any shape.

Under the 18th Amendment, the provincial governments were supposed to establish their own higher education commissions (HECs). But, despite passage of more than six years, only Punjab and Sindh established their own HECs, while Balochistan, Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and Gilgit-Baltistan failed to make any substantial progress on this front. That is why, the latest QS (Quacquarelli Symonds) higher education institution rankings 2016-17 placed Pakistan at the bottom of the table. The country doesn’t have a single university ranked among the top 500 of the world in the latest Times Higher Education (UK) rankings. Instead of only distributing laptops, the federal and Punjab government particularly need to focus on promoting higher education in the country.