NationalVOLUME 16 ISSUE # 14

Sindh education report a slap in the face of Oxford graduate party leaders

The Reform and Support Unit of the Sindh Education and Literacy Department report, released on February 11, 2021, was a literal slap in the face of the Oxford qualified, “young, liberal and forward-looking” leader of the ruling party.

The report titled, “Profiting for Government Schools,” revealed that more than 10,000 government schools are non-functional in the province. The report showing data from 2018-19, and released after a gap of two years, said there are 26,260 schools which have no facility for drinking water, and 19,469 are without washrooms. The report disclosed that more than 31,000 schools do not have electricity, 21,000-plus schools do not have boundary walls, while over 47,000 schools are deprived of lab facilities, and 36,000 do not have playgrounds.

Also, a chunk of schools, more than 47,000, do not have libraries in them – a necessary facility for students’ grooming. There are more than 4.5 million children enrolled in the province’s schools. Over 133,000 teachers have been appointed for 49,103 schools, out of which only 36,659 schools are functional.

The report said that 2,812,000 male and 1,749,140 female students are enrolled in the schools. Over 2,919,862 students are enrolled in primary, 185,047 in middle, 140,032 in elementary, 918,706 in secondary, and 397,493 in higher secondary schools. Out of the total 49,103 school buildings in the province, 14,998 are considered to be in satisfactory condition, 8,426 are weary, while 14,977 need repairs.

These are the ground realities of a province, which is being ruled by the same political party for almost half a century, with disruptions of not more that 10 years. The Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), the ruling party in the Sindh province, claims to be a centre-left social-democratic secular, political party of the country. Its leadership has so far come from the Bhutto and Bhutto-Zardari families. The incumbent chairperson of the party, Bilawal-Bhutto Zardari, is an Oxford graduate. His mother, Benazir Bhutto, graduated from Harvard and Oxford universities and was twice elected as the prime minister of Pakistan. His grandfather, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, the founding chairman of the PPP, also graduated from Oxford University, and he also served as the prime minister of the country, with his party ruling the Sindh province.

All impressive really! But what did these highly qualified party chairpersons, and the party, did to the education sector in their province? What appears to be from the provincial official data and reports, they never made any comprehensive and sincere efforts to educate the dwellers of the province. The most depressing reports about the state of education are received from Sindh and Balochistan, till date. The ruling party even doesn’t have an opponent to blame for its failure to set up an education system in the province, which could be presented as an example to be followed by others.

The party manifesto always includes an updated plan for education promotion before every election in the country. In the 2018 general elections, the party pasted its education plans on its official website and printed in its manifesto booklets.

The manifesto promises: Access to universal and quality education; Education for all to eliminate class divides, gender disparities, poverty and unemployment. Every citizen should be able to realise their full potential in society through appropriate educational and vocational skills. Combat obscurantism and promote a forward-looking national outlook based on party’s progressive, indigenous traditions and a positive engagement with science, development and universal values.

For implementation, the party committed 4.5pc of GDP to education by the end of its term; Ensuring education is treated as a national emergency. That required effective planning and budgeting as well as a holistic approach to bring about change in the entire system of education. It required the development of mechanisms for the exchange of information between different levels of education, and measures to ensure access to schooling for all children. Also backing up the constitutional mandates with fiscal allocations that prioritise universal basic education, etc.

But the latest report, released by its own department, shows the party has badly failed to come up to its promises and manifesto pledges so far. Saeed Ghani, the Sindh education and labour minister, meanwhile, attempted to defend the government position. He stated that the Sindh government had removed 3,000 schools from its system because those had been registered but did not exist. Speaking during a session of the Sindh Assembly after the release of the Reform and Support Unit report to the media, Ghani said that many schools had been built at places where only one school was required. “If there are six schools in an area, but only two are needed there, then we will shut down the remaining four schools,” he said. “There should be at least 30 children in a school for it to be functional,” he made it clear.

What a wonderful idea to save the poor nation’s money and energies?

But what about those seven million children in the age group of five to 16 years, who are still out of school in the province? Is it a sane idea to close down schools where the number of children is small, instead of admitting those who are still deprived of an education?

Minister Saeed Ghani had admitted in a provincial assembly session last year that around 3.5 million children are out of school in Sindh. Responding to queries during the question-hour session of the assembly, Ghani had said around 8.5 million children were getting education in government-run and private schools, seminaries and other educational institutions in the province. However, he rejected reports, released by various world bodies during the past year that the number of children in the province eligible to get an education was 6.2 million, 6.4 million, or seven million. But he was honest enough to admit that 37,000 posts for teachers were vacant in the functional schools, which would be filled “at an appropriate time”.

There are many reasons if some schools are without students, a Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) activist Jan Mohammad Rano says. In most cases, there is a school building, but it lacks proper teaching staff and requisite facilities. People withdraw their children from such schools, ultimately rendering them non-functional, he explains. In the circumstances, is it advisable to close down that school or provide the missing facilities? Interestingly, there’s a government primary school for boys, which was built in 1956, but it is without a roof even today, Jan Mohammad Rano shares with a reporter of an English-language daily. The school has around 185 students and two teachers, he provides further details of the school.

In 2013, Owais Muzaffar Tappi, the stepbrother of PPP Co-chairperson Asif Ali Zardari, won the provincial assembly seat PS-78 from the area. In 2018, Ali Hassan Zardari bagged the seat. Despite being very important persons of the ruling party, they failed to provide a roof to the school, laments Rano.