The latest Alif Ailaan report on the education reforms, carried out by the Punjab provincial government during the past five years, makes special mention of Sialkot district. The district is one of Pakistan’s most highly industrialised regions. With an estimated 2014 per capita income of $2,800, Sialkot city has been noted by The Economist for its entrepreneurial spirit, and productive business climate that have made Sialkot an example of a small Pakistani city that has emerged as a “world-class manufacturing hub.”
However, the other side of Sialkot presents a gloomy picture: As many as 1,190 out of Sialkot district’s 1,539 villages have no public sector primary schools at all since the creation of the country. That’s why over 250,000 boys and girls have been deprived of their right to education at local level.
According to the education initiative survey, the government primary schools have been established in only 349 villages and the rest have been deprived of the facility so far. The situation exposes the height of negligence on the part of the elected political representatives in Sialkot, Daska, Sambrial and Pasrur tehsils.
The Sialkot District Education Department official data shows that there are only 91 government boys primary schools in 575 villages of Sialkot tehsil, 107 primary schools in 250 villages of Daska tehsil, 109 primary schools in 559 villages of Pasrur tehsil and 42 primary schools in 155 villages of Sambrial tehsil.
The reason given by District Education Authority chief executive officer for not establishing primary schools in these villages is weird. Maqbul Ahmed Shakir told Cutting Edge by telephone that no formal request was ever made by the dwellers for opening of schools in their villages. He promised that the Education Department would establish schools in these villages if the locals would formally send their demands.
The logic for opening no schools simply negates the tall claims of the Sialkot administration as well as the provincial government of the Pakistan Muslim League-N about promotion of education in the district under the ‘Parha Likha Punjab Programme”, initiated by Chief Minister Muhammad Shahbaz Sharif.
Various non-governmental organisations working in the education field also keep expressing their concern over problems facing the sector in Pakistan. Educationists attending a Policy dialogue on the theme of equity in education financing, inferences, moot points and policy, revealed recently that at least 5.03 million girls, out of 9.2 million children, are out of school in Punjab, the largest province of the country in terms of population.
The event was organised by the Institute of Social and Policy Sciences in the federal capital in the last week of April 2018.
Rubina Nadeem, an education specialist attached with UNICEF (United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund), told the participants that Pakistan stands second in the world ranking of out-of-school children with only Nigeria ahead of it, while Punjab is on the top among the provinces in this regard.
In a talk with Cutting Edge after the event, she said that the provincial government had taken a number of initiatives for ensuring equitable access to quality education over the last several years in Punjab, adding that the challenge was still big. The expert said that the province was facing multiple challenges relating to equitable access to education including gender, location, geographical access, ethnicity, poverty status and disability and the students’ retention in early years of schooling.
Ms. Nadeem said that poverty plays an important role in limiting the educational opportunities available to a child. Punjab’s multidimensional poverty “headcount ratio” has been estimated at around 31% of the population.
Ahmed Ali, an I-SAP Senior Research Fellow, told the writer that an inverse relationship existed between the proportion of out-of-school children in the 5-16 years age group and per student spending at the district level – Rahim Yar Khan, Vehari, and Muzaffargarh. Quoting from his research paper, he said that 47% children in the 5-16 years age group were out of school in Rahim Yar Khan. He said that all stakeholders should deliberate upon the critical relevance of equity-responsive decision making, resource allocation and expenditure towards access to quality education for all, especially at provincial level.
The Alif Ailaan report also discusses budgetary allocations for the sector. It showed that regardless of the increased budgetary allocation for education, the Punjab government had been unable to utilise the budget. It said that the provincial government was unable to substantially increase enrolment in middle and high schools as only 0.5 million students were enrolled in middle and 0.2 million students were enrolled in high schools.
Rana Mashhood Ahmad, Punjab Minister for Schools Education, however, defends the provincial government as far as development and promotion of education in the province is concerned. Talking to Cutting Edge after formally launching the Punjab government’s school enrolment campaign 2018, at a ceremony held at Quaid-e-Azam Academy for Educational Development (QAED) on April 2, the minister said that around 11.5 million children have been enrolled in the public sector schools of the province so far, while three million were enrolled with the Punjab Education Foundation-supported schools. He said that around five lakh girls have been enrolled in schools in 16 southern districts through Khadim-e-Punjab Cards. These girls are being given stipends as well, he added.
The minister claimed that other provinces were following the Punjab model and they had also appreciated Punjab’s digital monitoring system. In fact, Punjab is the only province which has been sending the best students from across the country to study at the best universities of the world, he added.
He promised that the government would allocate Rs400 billion for school education in the upcoming budget.
Referring to the Alif Ailaan report, the minister said it appreciated the provincial government’s initiatives. The investment in the most complex and ambitious set of education reforms around human resource management, school infrastructure and overall education sector governance have produced positive outcomes over the past five years, the minister quoted from the report.
However, the minister failed to recognise that the report 2013-2018 Five Years of Education Reforms: Punjab Wins, Losses and Challenges for the Future 2018-2023 clearly pointed out that significant challenges in actualising reform ambitions continue to persist.
Some of the flagship efforts under the Punjab Education Sector Reform Programme (PESRP) and School Education Reforms Roadmap include developing improved monitoring systems, improving the provision and quality of teaching, restructuring of governance systems through District Education Authorities (DEA), a robust public-private partnership programme through Punjab Education Foundation (PEF), and the development of interventions that strengthen incentives and accountability for service delivery performance. But the gains of the reforms enacted are still fragile, the report points out.
Enrolment, retention, learning outcomes, public financial management, school infrastructure, discrepancies in the data regime and centralisation of all these efforts continue to pose substantial challenges to the provincial authorities, the report further said.