The education authorities in Punjab as well as the ruling party felt elated when the United Kingdom’s Department for International Development (DFID) appreciated the provincial government for adopting “praiseworthy measures in the field of education and provision of training to the youth”. Ms. Joanna Reid, Head of DFID Pakistan, admitted in a meeting with Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif that the province had made excellent utilisation of resources and the government was heading in the right direction in the education sector.
The chief minister told his visitor that outsourcing of public schools was producing positive results. He claimed that the provincial government had earmarked a historic Rs345 billion funds for the education sector, which was Rs33 billion more than the amount earmarked in the outgoing financial year.
He said that the Punjab government outsourced 4,300 schools showing poor performance, and later on the number of students in these schools went up. He said that 10,000 more schools would be outsourced.
A spokesperson for Punjab Schools Education Minister Rana Mashhood Ahmad Khan told Cutting Edge by telephone that the education policy of the Pakistan Muslim League-N government in Punjab was producing great results. “Even international organisations are appreciating the initiatives taken by the School Education Department Punjab,” he claimed. He said that special measures have been taken for ending gender disparity in the field of education. Scholarships for girl students under the Zaivar-e-Taleem Programme have been increased in 16 less-developed districts and 462,000 girl students are benefiting from the programme. He said that Rs6.5 billion had been earmarked in financial year 2017-18 for the purpose, and thousands of additional classrooms are being constructed under Khadim-e-Punjab School Programme with another Rs. 6.5 billion. As many as 36,000 additional rooms in primary schools would be constructed throughout the province during the current year, which would help bring more children to the government schools, he hoped. However, he parried a question when he was told that the Punjab provincial government cut allocations for the education sector in the current financial year (2017-18), like in the previous financial year. According to Alif Ailaan education initiative, allocation for education during the fiscal year 2017-18 was Rs345 billion (17.5% of the total budgetary allocations), which is one per cent less than the allocations made in the financial year 2016-17.
Last year (2016-17), the finance bill showed that in its ninth consecutive budget, the PML-N’s provincial government allocated Rs323 billion for education, which was 19% of the total budget of Rs1,681 billion. The budget documents said that the education budget was 58% of the total annual development programme (ADP), allocated for the year. During the financial year 2015-16, it was 77% of the total ADP, hence 19% reduction in the allocation.
And this year too, the budgetary allocations have been reduced by 1%, compared with the last financial year. The government also failed to appoint the required number of teachers to all schools in the province, especially in rural areas. According to the Academy of Educational Planning and Management (AEPMA) “around 15% of the total schools in Punjab have only one teacher, teaching multiple grades at public schools.” Out of them, not more than 87% attend to their schools on average.
The spokesperson also boasted about new enrolments. But facts are quite contrary to the claims. The Alif Ailaan report 2017 showed that the proportion of enrolled children decreased in the early childhood programmes compared with 2015. A total of 51% of all school-aged children within the age bracket of three to five years were enrolled in schools in 2016-17 as compared to 53% in 2015. Around 49% of children aged between three and five were currently not enrolled in any early childhood programmes.
Also, a total of 86% of all school-aged children between the ages of 6 and 16 years were enrolled in schools. Among them, 67% were enrolled in public schools, whereas 33% were going to non-state institutions. Around 30% went to private schools, 1% to madrasa and 1% to other institutes.
The main purpose of all educational activity is make students gain knowledge while in schools. However, the latest Alif Ailaan report showed that students do attend schools in Pakistan, but the learning process among them remains very poor. The most disturbing fact: the report showed that learning levels of children in Punjab had deteriorated in the past years. The survey found that 35% of class 5 children in Punjab could not read a class 2 story in Urdu compared to 30% in 2015. Similarly, 72% of class 3 children could not read a story in Urdu, an improvement from 73% in the previous year.
English learning levels have also deteriorated with 43% of class 5 children not being able to read sentences of class 2, compared to 40% in 2015. The report revealed that 77% of class 3 children could not read class 2 level sentences as compared to 80% in the previous year. Arithmetic learning levels have shown slight improvement as 40% of class 5 children could not do two-digit division as compared to 41% in 2015. At the same time, 77% children enrolled in class 3 could not do two-digit division in 2017 as compared to 82% in 2015.
Despite tall claims, still a large number of schools lack basic facilities. Some 60% of government schools in Punjab have usable water. There are 54% toilets which cannot be called usable in government schools. Only 65% of government schools have boundary walls in the Punjab, the most developed province of the country. Also, 9% of primary schools do not have a blackboard, 14% do not have textbooks available for the children and 46% do not have desks for the students. Only 56% of the public primary schools in the province have electricity.
The Alif Ailaan report also put out the revealing figures on District Education Rankings for 2017, showing that nine of the 10 top districts are from Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and only one from Punjab. In same survey for 2016, nine of top 10 were from Punjab; and none from KP. It must be a real cause of concern for the PML-N provincial government, which has been making tall claims of giving education topmost priority.
Another crucial area which needs the Punjab government’s attention is legislation on education. The Punjab governor had promulgated the Punjab Free and Compulsory Education Ordinance 2014 on May 13, which was later introduced in the Punjab Assembly. Subsequently, the ordinance was referred to the Standing Committee on Education for consideration. The ordinance was passed on November 10, 2014. However, it is a pity that rules of business are yet to be formulated for implementation of the law, despite passage of another three years since the law was enacted in this regard.
Educationists believe the main issues facing the education sector in the Punjab province are: poor quality and a rural-urban divide in access. The situation is exacerbated by the lack of facilities and the apparent shortage of good teachers. The government is good at SOP-driven initiatives, but the human element is required to inspire a classroom. Motivating teachers and giving them incentives to improve quality must be a focus of the relevant authorities. It is good that for improving the quality of teaching, the government had revamped teachers training programmes under the Quaid-e-Azam Academy for Educational Development (QAED). However, not tall claims but practical steps would be required to turn the slogan of ‘Parho Punjab, Barho Punjab (Learn Punjab, Prosper Punjab) into a reality.