NEGLECTED PRIMARY EDUCATION
TARIQ AHMED SAEEDI
Mar 28 - Apr 3, 2011
Recently, the World Bank has approved a loan of USD100 million to improve the standards of primary education in Sindh and Punjab. While total loan of $400 million was approved, only USD50 apiece out of the total would be directed towards the primary education sector of the two provinces. No doubt, the amount is significant and if utilised properly, will at least bring some reforms in the primary education sector that is always neglected in Pakistan.
It is interesting to note since 1947, every government has made ambitious plan to achieve the target of universal primary education. As opposed to this, literacy rate in Pakistan is only limping to surpass 55 per cent. That implies simply half of the population cannot read and write.
A recently published report of United Nations disclosed an abysmal state of primary education sector in Pakistan, ranking the country just behind least developed Nigeria and second in global index in terms of children out of school. It said every one child in 10 in the world that should go to school lives in Pakistan. It is alarming, according to the report, since literacy determines the wellbeing of a nation and triggers social and economic mobilisations. Especially, in Pakistan's case rise in literacy would bring about economic empowerment to large number of people reeling from grinding poverty.
Primary education in government schools starts from age five in Pakistan and spans over class 1 to class five. In contrast, private sector schools take inductions of children below five-year age. Early childhood development was mentioned in the national education policy formulated in 2009, but its adoption is not universal in all state-run primary schools.
Education system in Pakistan is class-based catering to various segments of society according to the economic wellbeing of people. Low-income group that cannot afford to pay higher fees in private schools sends their children into public sector schools, which are haunted by resources- and funds-constraints. The main reason behind difference in quality of education in two systems is teaching standard. While low-pay scale in public sector primary schools keeps teachers unmotivated to be committed with teaching, they usually hail from the same rotten education system. Notably, teaching an elementary student is considered one of easiest jobs in Pakistan in that no professional skills are required. Primary teaching, contrastingly in developed countries, is as tough as secondary ones since former needs a person to be familiar with children psyche to make them motivated to learn new things.
No government has so far realised the importance of primary education in directly alleviating poverty in the country and human development. Even if the realisation may have been made, no serious or concrete efforts have been put forward to materialise education policies focussing on improvement of primary education. The main reason is certainly fund constraint haunting the primary education sector. Pakistan's spending on education is abysmally poor when compared to amounts allocated in regional countries from their annual budgets. Government spending on education constitutes only 1.5 per cent of total gross domestic product in Pakistan in contrast to more than three per cent in India, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Bhutan, and Maldives.
There are 44,500 primary schools (7,452 for girls and 18,454 for boys) in Sindh, which has an estimated population of more than 30 million. For every 33 students in primary schools, there is one teacher in the province. Total 3.28 million students are enrolled in primary schools. Of them, 1.9 million are boys and 1.3 million girls. For them, there are only 96,243 teachers 69,489 male and 26,754 female. Most of the government schools are posing a picture of misery and woes as they lack basic facilities including lavatory, electricity, drinkable water, and even proper shelters what to talk of quality education.
WHAT PRIVATE SECTOR IS DOING?
Minting money of course. However, civil and non-government organizations are doing whatever little they can do to extend the outreach of primary education to the low-income stratum, which are devoid of blessing of literacy due to economic deprivations. Local institutions in Pakistan are promoting basic education in rural areas with the financial supports of foreign-based institutions, supplementing state role in provision of primary education to masses. A paper discussing the role of NGOs in promotion of basic education said primary education in Pakistan is being greatly supported by NGOs and generous supports from individuals. The help ranges from contributing complexes to primary schools free of charges to community-based schooling. The latter strategy limits the benefits to selected people while models serving poor class irrespective of creeds and caste are quite successful in promoting equitable education.
Millennium development goal of United Nations envisaged 100 per cent universal net primary enrolment by 2015. Pakistan has to attain 88 per cent net enrolment ratio by the deadline. However, given the precarious circumstances, it looks quite difficult to reach the target let alone achieving it. Citing a research of independent task force, Reuters said, Pakistan has to spend staggering USD1.7 billion per annum on education to achieve millennium development goal. Can this be possible for cash-starved Pakistan? It is an irony that the government chips in billions of rupees in subsidies to lose-making state enterprises, non-development functions such as useless international tours, and on keeping fattish perks of its officials, but it overlooks its primary job of upgrading education standard, it added. The money cannot alone heal the perennial blights of education sector of Pakistan. What is needed also is promotion of education as a sacred profession for which no impurity should be tolerated. The administrators should become callous to implement reforms in the sector on one hand and instigate sense of responsibilities and commitment in teachers through rewards and punishments on the other. Improving quality of education merits regular capacity building, training and skill developments of teachers. Instead of singing the mantra of year of this and year of that, the government should render some serious efforts and take effective steps to consummate the dream of ensuring for people access to primary quality education.