Teenager Mohammad Hussain shot himself dead in Brok village of Laspur valley in Chitral, the largest district in the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province of Pakistan, on March 21, 2018. He recorded a video message before committing suicide, in which he stated that he was ending his life as he could not continue his education due to financial constraints.
One wonders whether there can be any stronger message than the one written with one’s blood to awaken the rulers, and draw their attention towards an issue like education, which is a fundamental right of every child of Pakistan. Prime Minister Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) was in power in the province at that time. It has been re-elected to power in the province, but where’s the change, which has been its popular slogan?
When the PTI took over the government in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa in 1913, it had identified education at the top of its agenda. Atif Khan, its provincial education minister at that time, was in the vanguard leading the charge to improve education in the province. But after five years in power, he failed to fix all the schools even in his own district, his own constituency, what to talk of the entire province.
The provincial government-constituted Independent Monitoring Unit data reveal that 168 (9.57%) schools of the 1,755 schools in Mardan district are still without power. A further 82 schools (4.67%) have no clean dirking water for either children or teachers. Similarly, 30 schools (1.71%) lack toilets for both students and teachers, and 13 schools (0.74%) in the district are still without boundary walls.
The KP Annual Statistical Report of Government Schools 2017-18 shows that at the primary level, 433 rooms in government schools of Mardan require major repairs, while 726 rooms in different schools need to be completely rebuilt. At the middle school level, 23 schools require major reconstruction, while 28 schools are in poor condition and require to be completely rebuilt. At high and higher level, over 600 schools require major or complete reconstruction as these school buildings are in dilapidated condition.
Gender discrimination in educational institutions is evident even in the minister’s home district. According to data, collected by Alif Ailaan initiative, there are 1,755 government schools in Mardan. Of these, 1,002 schools (around 56%) are for boys and only 794 schools (44%) are for girls. At the primary level, there are 1,359 schools of which 760 or 56%, are for boys and 600, or 44%, are for girls.
Out of the 168 middle schools in the district, 79 are for boys and 99 are for girls. There are 165 high schools, of which 87 are boy’s schools and 78 are girl’s schools. The district has 59 higher secondary schools of which 35 are for boys and 24 are for girls.
The data show that around 409,104 students are enrolled in these schools with 60% of all students boys and 40% are girls. As many as 12,213 teachers are available in the district to teach these students. The situation is not any different in other districts of the province.
Mosharraf Zaidi, an educationist attached with the education initiative Alif Ailaan since long, believes that a political system that has persistently neglected public needs cannot be expected to meet the demand for education without tackling misspending, corruption and cronyism.
In a telephonic talk with Cutting Edge, he says that meaningful reform in Pakistan’s education sector is not only about allocating sufficient budgets; it also entails better utilisation of funds. Mr. Zaidi refers to Alif Ailaan’s latest report. While tracking education reforms in KP, the report titled Five Years of Education Reforms: KP Wins, Losses and Challenges for the Future, 2018-23, found that more than 51% of girls in the province are not in school.
Though the provincial government spent billions on infrastructure development, i.e., making boundary walls, toilets, etc., it has not yet plugged the gap between the provision of primary and post-primary education.
The educationist says that as the primary schools outnumber middle and high schools, student retention rates drop. Prime Minister Imran Khan issued a statement on his twitter account in May 2017, when his party was in government in KP. He claimed that over 100,000 children moved from private to public sector schools in KP due to good performance of these schools. However, he failed to tell the people of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa how a massive imbalance between the provision of primary and post-primary schools would be met across the province. Mr. Zaidi says that currently, 9.76% and 8.13% of all schools are middle and high schools, respectively. The gap is enormous considering that the right to education under Article 25A of the constitution gives the right to education for all children from five to sixteen years of education, he points out.
The Alif Ailaan representative says that the primary schools outnumber cumulative middle and high schools by a ratio of 4:1. This disparity in numbers means that students are forced to travel further from homes to access schooling beyond the primary level, causing low retention rate as well as the persisting gender gap at the middle and high school levels.
Another persisting issue, adds Zaidi, is low quality of education being provided to students in the province, like in other parts of the country. The expert believes that the challenge of improving learning outcomes of students enrolled in schools across KP needs emergent attention. He says that the data on educational achievement was not as highly developed in KP as in Sindh or Punjab, although that was due to change from 2018 with the introduction of assessment at the fifth and eighth grade levels.
Mosharraf Zaidi said that the scores achieved by children of KP in the tests, conducted by the National Education Assessment System, are disappointingly low, indicating the distance that had yet to be covered in way of ensuring quality education and learning.
According to the Pakistan District Education Rankings 2017, released by Alif Ailaan, Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa ranks fifth on the list. The report explains that the education index covers retention from primary to middle and middle to high schools, learning among students and gender parity.
Yet another promise, made by Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf in its manifesto, was about introduction of a uniform system of education in the province if voted to power.
Former minister Atif Khan then told Dawn newspaper in an interview that the provincial government had formed five working groups to ensure implementation of a uniform education system in the province. These groups were assigned the task of working on governance, curriculum design, teacher’s training, and coordination between governmental and privately-run institutes to bring about harmony.
Atif Khan admitted that due to declining quality of public education, the majority of people rely on private schools. The popular perception was that the public-sector schools do not provide quality education. However, the plan vanished into the thin air with the passage of time.
Jawad Khan, a faculty member at Swat University, believes the plan was almost impossible to be implemented with such small resources and lack of political will. “It is almost impossible to bring uniformity to the education system in the province,” he tells Cutting Edge at a seminar, held at his university recently. He says that people enrol their children in private schools because of their advanced and up-to-date curricula and better teaching methodology. He fears that the PTI government will not be able to formulate a standardised curriculum because it will have to work from scratch.
It is worth questioning that if after five years of governance in KP, the education sector in that province is far from satisfactory, where will education in the whole country be, five years from now in Imran Khan’s Naya Pakistan?