Provinces or regions in a country with a high literacy rate usually have a high GDP per capita, statistics show. And the assertion stands true for vice versa. Political-economists believe literacy helps individuals better utilise the resources in an efficient way. It results in an increase in production, ultimately leading to more employment opportunities and prosperity in a better literate region.
A study, conducted by the Pak Alliance for Maths and Science (PAMS), making public its results in the first week of September 2021, is a testimony to the statements. The findings placed Balochistan on top of the list with the highest proportion of out-of-school children (OOSC), at 47%, followed by Sindh at 44%. It is a tragic fact that Balochistan is listed as the poorest province in the country. According to a UNDP poverty report, Balochistan lacks all basic facilities, and is placed on top of the poverty index. In Qilla Abdullah, 96% people live below their means, making it the poorest part of the country.
The proportion of OOSC at the district, provincial and national level, extracted from the Pakistan Social and Living Measurements Standards survey 2019-20 (PSLM), showed that Shaheed Sikandrabad district in Balochistan has the highest proportion of such children, at 76%, with Sherani district following at 70% of out-of-school children between the ages of five and 16 years.
The study, conducted every two years by the Pakistan Bureau of Statistics, stated that more than 50% of all school-age children are out of school in 17 out of 28 districts in Balochistan, with Nushki district reporting the lowest proportion of out-of-school children in the province at 23%. It also said that 64% of all out-of-school 16 year olds in Balochistan have never attended school.
According to the findings, the total number of OOSC in Pakistan is 32%, i.e. one third of total school-age children. This amounts to an estimated total of over 20 million. In absolute terms, Punjab has the largest total population of OOSC, roughly estimated at 7.7 million, followed by Sindh at 6.5 million.
In Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, Kohistan district has the highest proportion of OOSC at 60%. Again, the assertion proved true in the case of this district of Pakistan. The UNDP report identified Kohistan as one of the most deprived parts of KP, where 95% of people lack basic needs, making it the second poorest rural area after Qilla Abdullah.
The proportion of OOSC is 50% or more in six districts of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province, with four districts among the newly-merged districts, including Mohmand, Bajaur, South Waziristan and North Waziristan. The other two newly-merged districts, Orakzai and Khyber, have OOSC proportions of 42% and 39%, respectively. Among the settled districts, Kohistan and Torghar fare the worst, while Abbottabad has the lowest proportion of OOSC in the province at 9%.
As far as the situation of poverty in these districts is concerned, Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa ranks second on the provincial level with 49% of people identified as living in poor standards.
Rajanpur district in South Punjab has the highest rate of OOSC in Punjab at 48%, followed by Muzaffargarh at 43%. Among the 36 districts in the province, the worst 10 districts in terms of the OOSC proportion are from South Punjab. It is a pity that the South Punjab region is known for its underdevelopment and poverty. The UNDP report placed Muzaffargarh at number 4 of the poorest regions of Pakistan, with 64% people living below the poverty line.
Sindh province has a clear division between rural and urban areas. If Karachi is excluded, the poverty situation in rural Sindh is not much better than Balochistan. The PAMS report says 13 out of 29 districts of Sindh have an OOSC rate of more than 50%. The seven districts with the lowest OOSC rates include six districts of Karachi and Hyderabad. On the other hand, the UNDP report said Tharparkar district of Sindh was ranked third with 87% people living below the poverty line.
The study also noted an interesting fact which again showed that poverty and literacy are directly interlinked. It found out that the ratio of dropouts continues to rise steadily with an increase in age. That means that as soon as a child gets older and their chances of getting some work somewhere increase, the poor parents withdraw them from school and start sending them to some workplaces. The data identifies the age bracket of eight to 13 years as most vulnerable to dropout. Hence, creating conditions that address factors contributing to dropout around these age groups is critical to reducing the total OOSC population in the country.
The study showed that the first access to education during early years is better in Punjab than in other provinces. Definitely, parents’ better financial condition in the most prosperous province of the country is one of the reasons for it.
In Sindh, 63% of all out-of-school 16-year olds have never attended school, which is second only to Balochistan. This means that Sindh has a large population of young adults who have never been to school. One must keep in mind the poverty level in rural Sindh while analysing the study findings.
The study says more than three quarters (77%) of Pakistani OOSC reside in rural areas of the country. These areas account for 15.4 million of the total OOSC, with 4.6 million (23%) of the children not going to school residing in urban areas.
The reasons listed by the researchers for not attending school, or dropping out, also fortify the assertion that poverty and education have a vital link between them. Eighty-seven per cent of children who have not been to school reported it as “too expensive”, while 13% gave other reasons for not enrolling in school. Also, 19% dropping out from school also reported it as too expensive. Thirteen per cent said they wanted to help at home or help with work. If authorities want parents to admit their children to school, and not force them to drop out before completing their education, more funds would have to be allocated for the sector. Enhanced allocations would have to be made in annual budgets not only for students and educational institutions, but also for poverty-hit parents, who find it hard to send their children to school for lack of resources.