The overall education sector of Pakistan presents a disappointing picture. The outcomes are not even to close to what was predicted on the basis of funds used. Pakistan was supposed to achieve one of the millennium development goals of 100 percent school enrollment by the year 2015, but sadly, according to the United Nations Global Education Monitoring Report, 2016, Pakistan is lagging at least 50 and 60 years behind in its primary and secondary education goals. A recent report by Institute of Social and Policy Sciences suggests that Pakistan has one of the highest numbers of out-of-school children in the world.
In this discussion, I will be focusing on the province of Sindh, located in the south of Pakistan. Historically the inheritor of the Great Indus Valley Civilization, nowadays Sindh itself depicts ruins. Some analysts dub Sindh as one of the obstacles in Pakistan’s achievement of MDGs.
Sindh’s education sector shows no signs of improvement. A large number of ghost schools exist there; schools where no students or teachers can be seen. These are the schools that exist only on paper. According to Sindh’s education secretary Fazlullah Pechuho, “40 percent of all school in Sindh are closed”, while a recent document submitted to the Supreme Court of Pakistan reports at least 6164 “ghost” schools in Sindh. Funds are generated for their maintenance, monthly salaries of teachers and other school staff are released regularly which goes into anonymous pockets of the people responsible for improving Sindh’s education.
There is an explicit gap between the funds allocated and the outcomes seen. The facts and figures tell a disappointing story. According to the latest report of “Alif Ailaan” a NGO focusing on Pakistan’s education, out of Sindh’s 58 million population, 12 million are between the ages of 5 and 16, of which 6.7 million remain out of school. Out of those 6.7 million, eighty-five percent does not know what a classroom looks like since they have never been to school. There is a gender problem as well. Fifty-two percent of school dropouts are girls and fifty percent of women have never been to school their entire lives.
Fifty-five percent of students belonging to grade 5 cannot even read a story fluently in their national language of Urdu and seventy-six percent of them cannot read a sentence fluently in English. When it comes to mathematics, sixty-five percent of students cannot even perform simple two-digit division. (Alif Ailaan)
Some of the development practitioners working in Sindh blame the donor agencies for these disappointing results. According to them, the donors ignore the real outcomes and focus more on project completion and generating satisfying reports. It is intriguing that despite the presence of a large amount of unspent education budget, abandoned “school” buildings and lack of results, the USAID has pledged $120 million for building 120 more schools in Sindh.
Compared to other provinces, Sindh has allocated the lion’s share for education in its annual budget, 19.22%; but diving deep into matters like these will further reveal that amounts equivalent to peanuts are actually used from this budget.
What needs to be addressed is a totally different issue. Schools are present but they lack even the most basic facilities. According to an annual report by Alif Ailaan, ninety-one percent of all schools in Sindh are primary schools and only twenty-three percent of those primary schools are equipped with basic facilities such as electricity, water, toilets and boundary walls.
A further comparative analysis will tell us that Sindh bears the lowest learning score among the four provinces along with a low enrollment and retention score. Dropouts from school are large in number after the primary level. To make things worse, these scores are decreasing every year while the funds for words are increasing.
There have been a few failed attempts to rectify the issue of teacher absenteeism. The administration even tried to set up a biometric verification system, but the teachers set the computer system on fire. If we want the problems to be solved, the focus should be on taking concrete steps toward making institutional changes. It indeed is a time-consuming process but the only one that will yield better results.
In his article “Education in Pakistan: The Key Issues, Problems and the New Challenges”, Ghulam Rasool Memon writes that the most important component of an education system is teachers. How well they teach and do their work depends on their motivation, qualification and training.
On the other hand, AH Khan believes that this problem is also rooted in the ideology of “Islamic Republic of Pakistan”; instead of admitting children into schools, many parents send them Madrasas to learn Islamic teachings.
This is just the superficial examination of the education sector of Sindh. The real problems lie at another level: there are a lot of discrepancies in the syllabus. A distorted version of history as well as other subjects is being instilled in young students at these institutions and has been for a long time.
If the government really wants to do something to improve the education sector in Sindh, then it needs to take some solid steps. Political appointments need to be kept in check and the criteria for appointments must be based purely on merit. Benchmarks that can actually measure real outcomes should be devised. Creative steps, like providing stipends and food to students who attend school regularly, might yield positive results. Along with that, training should be given to teachers too. Spending funds will not solve the problem here but transparency, accountability and innovation definitely will.
Pakistan is a blue-eyed boy of the donor agencies, especially of the United States, partly because of strategic objectives and the assumption that improvement in education will lead to a reduction in extremism. World Bank also lends out some funds directed at improving Sindh’s educational system, although DFID works with the governments in KPK and Punjab province, the official donor agency of UK bluntly refused Sindh and exclaimed that they only put money where it works, thus they do not want to work collaboratively with the government of Sindh.
The problem lies with the supposed problem solvers themselves. In theory, it may be easy to get rid of ghost teachers but when a ghost teacher happens to be more of a political worker than a teacher, the situation becomes difficult. Perhaps people higher up in the food chain find it hard to get rid of their own henchmen. Political appointments have become a common norm, as each political party tries to appoint as many people as they can from their side of the group.
Institutions need to be reformed gradually from the top. Institution building needs patience, commitment, local participation and political will.
Sindh needs major rectification in political as well bureaucratic spheres, as both the politicians and civil servants are following the “scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours” philosophy. It is very hard to expect real results from the lower tier government circles when the top ones are laden with a hunger for power and corruption. Getting back to the “real” solution, I believe that instead of curing the “diseased” the focus should be on the “disease” itself.
Memon, G. R. (2007). Education in Pakistan: The key issues, problems and the new challenges. Journal of Management and Social Sciences, 3(1), 47-55.
Khan, A. H., & Mahmood, N. (1997). Education in Pakistan: Fifty Years of Neglect [with Comments]. The Pakistan development review, 647-667.
Annual Status of Education Survey Report (ASER) 2014; National Education Management Information System (NEMIS) 2011-12; Pakistan
Social and Living Standards Measurement Survey (PSLMS) 2011-12; Sindh Education Management Information System (SEMIS) 2012-13; Supreme Court of Pakistan, Constitution Petition No. 37 of 2012 (Petition Regarding Miserable Condition of the Schools); 25 Million Broken Promises: The crisis of Pakistan’s out-of-school children.