Fatima, a resident of Thal, a village in district Tando Allahyar (Sindh), had to quit her school when her only teacher passed away. The 14-year-old girl told members of a research team of the Sindh Union Council Community Economic Strengthening Support Programme (SUCCESS) that three years passed but no female teacher had been appointed to the Government Girls’ Primary School in her village.
Sultana Ali, a sociologist and field researcher at the Rural Support Programmes Network, and Dr Abdur Rehman Cheema, team leader research at the Rural Support Programmes Network, have been carrying out a field study in rural and urban Sindh for the last four years as part of the research component of the six years (2015-2021) programme. The project has been funded by the European Union to find out gendered dynamics of girls’ education beyond mere access to schools.
Fatima told the researchers that only a few girls go to boys’ primary schools and others are not permitted by parents to attend classes with boys. It may sound surprising to many living in big cities that no teacher had been appointed to Fatima’s school for the last three years. However, they would be forced to accept realities when Syed Sardar Shah, minister for education in Sindh, would confirm to them that not only Fatima’s school, but a whooping 12,136 schools in Sindh had been running without even a single teacher for long.
Speaking in a Sindh cabinet meeting last month, the minister admitted that there were 7,611 shelter-less schools, 10,516 single-room schools, and 18,507 two-room schools in rural Sindh. He also admitted that out of total 49,103 government-run schools, there were 18,660 schools which were being run by a single teacher.
Another startling revelation the minister made at the cabinet meeting was that there are 11,441 schools in Sindh, where not a single student is enrolled. Is it not surprising that the province is home to around 4.2 million out-of-school children, but 11,441 schools have no enrolment at all. The minister shared heartening news with his cabinet colleagues that a school education roadmap had been approved and other decisions made for the promotion of education and enhancement of the literacy rate in the province. He told the meeting that 44,317 primary, 2,693 elementary, 1,776 high and 317 higher secondary schools had been working under the Sindh Education Department currently. He was courageous enough to admit that only 11,308 schools or 20pc of total 49,103 schools in the province had all facilities, such as toilets, boundary walls, electricity and drinking water. He admitted that 11% of schools or 5,922 have no facility, while 37,705 or 69% schools were facing one or more missing facilities.
The minister admitted that the main factor behind girls’ low enrolment is the chronic problem of missing facilities — approximately 50% schools lack drinking water, electricity and washrooms. He promised that all the missing facilities would be provided under the Sindh government’s new initiative. But one wonders what magic the minister has through which he would resolve the decades-old issues of schools.
According to official sources, the provincial education department has been collecting information about missing facilities on an annual basis since 1991. But it is shameful on the part of the ruling Pakistan People’s Party that no significant improvement in terms of provision of missing facilities has been made despite the passage of almost three decades. In fact, the issues badly reflect on the capacity of the education department that regularly collects information about schools’ needs, has financial resources at its disposal, but yet cannot solve the problems.
Sindh Education Secretary Qazi Shahid Parvez also attended the cabinet meeting. He told the meeting that 90% of teachers of government schools were of arts subjects, and 10% were science teachers. He said that efforts were being made to recruit science, mathematics and English language teachers. He told the cabinet that 40,000 teachers had been trained, but they had not shown any visible change in their teaching methods yet.
Muddassar Alam Tahirkheli, advocacy officer at the Human Development Foundation (HDF), regrets that the provincial government lacked the political will, financial resources and short-and long-term plans to establish the education sector on a strong footing in Sindh. In a talk with Cutting Edge, he said the Punjab and Sindh had the highest number of out-of-school children among all provinces, with 10.5 million and 6.4 million children, respectively.
He believes that preparing healthy and educated human resource in Sindh is the most serious challenge. A cycle of child’s physical and mental development depicts a grim picture — 48% children under the age of five suffer from stunting and malnutrition, approximately 50% children are out of school and those who attend school don’t learn well.
The situation looks grimmer when one looks at statistics pertaining to female education in the province. Despite being 48% of its total population, opportunities for females to get access to quality education, particularly in rural areas, remain few and far between. As a result, vast potential of the female population remains untapped, which otherwise could transform the socio-economic fabric of society.
He says the budget for education has significantly been increased in the last two decades, but its impact on female education appears to be insignificant. At present, only 46% of adult females are literate compared to 70% of males in Sindh. In rural areas, there is a huge disparity between the female and male literacy rate — 20% and 54%, respectively. Urban areas are, however, slightly at a better position with 68% females and 82% males. Apparently, no serious work is being done in rural areas where a large proportion of public schools exist.
Tahirkheli, while quoting from the Sindh Education Department data, says that only 39% of girls study in public schools compared to 61% of boys. Besides, there is a significant drop-out of both sexes at different stages. It is, however, higher among girls, nearly 50% girls enrolled in class one drop out by the time they reach class five.
He says that analysis of two periods 2007-2011 and 2012-2016 showed that small percentages of girls survive up to the level of higher secondary education. Under the Sindh Structural Adjustment Credit, the provincial government started girls’ stipend in 2001. Since then, it has been doling out approximately one billion rupees each year among girls who study in secondary schools classes (VI-X). However, surprisingly, the education department’s own data doesn’t show promising results, as there is a hardly one per cent improvement in the transition rate of girls from primary to secondary level. It points out two things: the targeting method is ineffective or there is a leakage of funds, or perhaps both.
However, Minister Sardar Shah vehemently rejects charges of inefficiency or bungling of funds for various education programmes. He blames shortage of financial resources, non-provision of due share of the National Finance Commission (NFC) award by the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf-led federal government. In a telephonic talk with Cutting Edge, he claims that owing to financial constraints, the Sindh Education and Literacy Department (SELD) was forced to cut its development budget, approved for the outgoing fiscal year 2018-19. The department could not complete many of its ongoing projects and was unable to start many new schemes that had been included in the 2018-19 Annual Development Programme, due to lack of funds, he complains.
He believes the issue of the provision of missing facilities in schools could have been resolved to a large extent, had the federal government provided the province its share in the NFC award. He also claims to have resolved the issue of drop-out girls in Sindh by building more secondary schools, had he not faced shortage of funds. Despite all odds, the department is upgrading girls’ primary schools to elementary and then high schools to overcome the girls education crisis in Sindh, he assured.