EducationNationalVOLUME 17 ISSUE # 8

Sindh’s plan to close down 7,000 schools

The Sindh Assembly was informed last month that the provincial education department had decided to close down over 7,000 schools, as they had become “unfeasible”.

Provincial Education Minister Sardar Ali Shah was responding to a point of order, raised in the assembly by opposition leader Haleem Adil Shaikh. The minister said the 7,000 government-run schools were either situated in areas where there was no requirement of any additional educational institution or their buildings were not suitable to impart education in a proper manner.

What a ridiculous plan! How come a province, where almost 6.5 million children between 5 and 16 years of age are out of school, can afford closing down such a large number of schools, asks Haleem Adil Shaikh, who’s a member of the opposition Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party in the Sindh Assembly. He also contests the figures given by the education minister in the House. “I have reports the PPP government is going to close down 10,000 schools in the province,” he tells Cutting Edge by telephone.

The minister made an attempt to justify the government plan to close down “non-viable” schools. He said that most of the “unfeasible” schools had been set up during the tenure of former Sindh Chief Minister Dr Arbab Ghulam Rahim, so much so that 64 schools were established in one village. However, Mr. Shaikh is not satisfied with the reply at all. He says the ruling Pakistan People’s Party has been in power for over a decade in Sindh. “If some “non-viable” schools had been set up some 15 years ago, why no corrective measures were taken by the PPP government earlier? The schools must have been relocated to districts where those were direly needed,” he says. Mr. Shaikh also asks the minister as to what action had been taken against the officials who had established the “unnecessary” schools in Sindh.

Education Minister Sardar Ali, in his reply in the house, also criticised the one-room primary schools policy as, according to him, a single room was not sufficient to house students of five classes at a time. The opposition leader, however, again confronts the minister. “Why not build more rooms in such schools, where one room was insufficient to accommodate all students of different classes,” he asks.

Haleem Adil Shaikh says it was he who had pointed out the misuse of buildings of schools in rural areas last year. He said the buildings were mostly used to house livestock or as “autaq” (sitting areas) of local landowners. “Instead of reclaiming the buildings and reviving those as schools, the PPP government has provided the waderas (landowners) a chance to fortify their illegal possession by announcing the closure of the schools,” Mr. Shaikh argues. However, the minister told the House that recommendations would be sent to the Sindh Health Department to convert the buildings into basic health units.

Citing the findings of a non-profit, non-governmental organisation, Pak Alliance for Maths and Science, Haleem Shaikh says that almost 44% children in the province are out-of-school and the large-scale closure of schools will adversely affect the education sector in the province.

The study titled “The Missing Third — An out-of-school study of Pakistani 5-16 year-olds,” was released to the media a few months ago. The study findings say: “The total population of five to 16-year-old children in Sindh is 14,675,864. (And) 44% of those are reported (to be) out-of-school. This amounts to a total of 6,484,007 children, who are unable to go to school in the province.”

The study revealed that almost 100% of such five-year-old children have never been to school and only 63% of children who are 16 have been to school. The dropout rate of children increases with age, specifically between the ages of 10 and 11 and 14 and 16. Ninety-five per cent of the out-of-school children have never attended school, while 30% are unwilling to go to school.

The study shows that out of 29 districts in Sindh, 21 have more than 44% of children that are out-of-school. Fourteen out of 29 districts in the province have been identified as “highly state-dependent” districts for the provision of education. The districts include Thatta, Kashmore, Tando Muhammad Khan, Sujawal, Badin, Shikarpur, Jacobabad, Tharparkar, Larkana, Mirpurkhas, Kamber-Shahdadkot, Umerkot, Matiari and Shaheed Benazirabad. The districts are home to 3,295,008 out-of-school children, which accounts for 51% of the total out-of-school children population in Sindh.

The Sindh opposition leader says more than 80% of children in 15 districts of Sindh attend government schools, but the provincial government was going to deprive the poor students of getting an inexpensive education. He says that Thatta is ranked the worst in terms of the out-of-school children rate, with 71% not attending school. Kashmore has 63%, Tando Muhammad Khan 66%, Sujawal 65% and Badin 63% children not attending school.

Mr. Shaikh believes that the education department needs making radical improvements in early-year enrolments and first-time enrolments for fast-track programmes for children between the ages of 10 and 16. He also laughs off the education minister’s assertion that the closure of “non-viable” schools would lessen the burden on the national exchequer. “It is a matter of priorities. They are not ready to spend on education for the poor, so that tomorrow they will not challenge their corruption after becoming educated youths,” Mr. Shaikh says. “Only those nations can stand tall among the comity of nations who give topmost priority to educating their upcoming generations,” the opposition leader in the Sindh Assembly says.

He also relates the story of a Japanese girl student and the Japan Railways, which continued the train service for years only to facilitate the lone student. In 2016, the media reported that the Japan Railways—the group that operates the country’s railway network— kept the underused station open for years for a good reason. Ridership at the Kyu-Shirataki station on the island of Hokkaido, and a few neighbouring ones, had dramatically fallen because of the remote location, and freight service had ended there as well. But students depended on the train for transit, and parents asked that the company keep the station open for their children. And for years, there had been just one passenger, a high-school girl, who regularly waited at the train station, on her way to class. Trains stopped there only a few times a day—once to pick up the girl for school and a few times after the school day was over.

“Was there not even a single student to attend the schools which the Sindh government is in the process of closing down,” asks Mr. Shaikh. “Nations are not built by closing down schools, but by keeping them open even if only a few students come to attend them,” he says empathically. “When a school is open and working, chances are there that some more students would come soon. But when a school is closed down, it means you shut doors on those few, who want to make their lives better for themselves as well as for their country,” he adds.