DETERIORATING LEVEL OF PRIMARY EDUCATION

ACCORDING TO THE WORLD BANK, THREE OUT OF FIVE PERSONS IN PAKISTAN CANNOT READ AND WRITE AND THE COUNTRY RANKS 132TH ON THE LITERACY CHART

SHABBIR H. KAZMI
Nov 17 - 23, 2008

The statistics of Primary Education in Pakistan shows a gross enrollment rate of 70%, with 50% of these children dropping out before reaching the fifth class. Out of these 35% survivors, only one third meet the minimum quality standard that is expected of a child passing primary education. This comes to only 11% of the total target population.

The government aims at ensuring that by 2015 boys and girls alike, be able to complete a full course of primary schooling and that girls and boys will have equal access to all levels of education. The objectives can be categorized in three targets: 1) Achieving 100% enrollment of children in schools (age 5-7 years); 2) Reducing the dropout rate from the current level and 3) Increasing Minimum Learning Achievement (MLA) from existing 33% to 66%, by ensuring quality education through teachers training.

Efforts are being made to achieve these objectives through five major activities: 1) Survey of baseline data to estimate the out of school children; 2) Community mobilization to promote enrolment of children in schools and reduce dropouts; 3) Setting up 'feeder' schools for 5-7 year olds with teachers in areas with no government schools to provide access; 4) Training of primary school teachers for imparting quality education and 5) Provision of Feeder teachers to government schools to cater for increased enrolment.

This program is implemented through the public sector institutions. The strategy is capacity building of the District Education Department through demonstration and on-job training. For providing support to the Education Department, a field team is made responsible for social mobilization for enrollment and dropout prevention, and is attached with the Education Department for the capacity building of the Education Department. These field tiers also carry intensive monitoring of the activities, and also build the capacity of the Education Department for effective monitoring. The over riding concern remains provision of quality education, which is affected through rigorous teachers training and intensive monitoring of learning achievements of the students.

As against the aspirations, Pakistan is perhaps one such state among the community of 200 countries wherein percentage of primary education has declined to the extent of 3 per cent over the last decade. According to studies conducted by the World Bank, three out of five persons in Pakistan cannot read and write. Pakistan ranks 132th in the literacy chart. Literacy in Punjab is below 46 per cent and eight million children between ages of 5 to 9 are deprived of primary education while 40 per cent of Punjab population up to the age of 14 years consists of children - of them 50 per cent do not go to schools.

The children population of less than 18 years of age in Pakistan is 70 million. More than 20 million are of less than 5 years, and almost an equal number below the age of 18 years do not go to schools. The number of primary schools in Pakistan do not exceed beyond 125,000 where capacity for admission is minimal. The lack of facilities in government schools force the parents to send their children to private schools where they have to pay higher expenses, which inflict a heavy toll on the domestic budget of families while their children do not get quality education.

According to a UNESCO report, " Education For All - EFA Global Report, 45 per cent children leave the primary school without qualifying 5th class examination due to missing facilities both at the school and at their doorstep.

A human development report 2008 of the federal government says that one out of 40 schools do not have boundary wall, 1/5th are without electricity and drinking water facility and 1/4th do not have any class room furniture, 1/7th do not have lavatories. Hundreds of schools can be termed as ghost schools as teachers are getting salaries but the institutions do not exist anywhere. Hundreds of primary schools in the peripheral areas are used for livestock.

According to fact find report presented at the Pakistan National Forum special session held recently on primary education, the rupees two billion amount allocated to upgrade schools in the total of Rs 30 billion earmarked for education in 2008-09, the primary schools will get little share. Consequently, the children will continue to sit on jute mats and under the open sky. No new school will be opened.

Ironically, education has always remained the lowest priority because rulers never spare a chance to indulge in extravaganza but never hesitate in cutting down budgetary allocation for education. The proliferation of ghost schools and teachers also hint towards massive corruption in the education departments working at federal and provincial levels.

Interestingly each member of national and provincial assemblies is given fund to be spent on education but not more than 20 per cent of the allocated amount is spent on construction of new schools, maintenance of existing schools, purchase of furniture and other accessories, laboratory equipment and payment of salaries to the teacher. The level of apathy could be gauged by the fact that accounts of every department have to be audited and all the assemblies have public accounts committees but hardly any effort is made to curb corruption in a department assigned the most noble job of educating the people.

According to some insiders people seeking employment in government primary schools have to pay from Rs 25,000 to Rs 50,000. The officials also demand money for postings and transfers. Most of the allocations for construction of schools are either misappropriated or infrastructure of the lowest quality is constructed.

It is on record that when earthquake hit Pakistan's northern areas the largest number of deaths reported were of school going children. Most of them died due to collapse of school buildings.