Proliferation of private schools and tuition/coaching centres shows public response to system failure. In comparison with other countries, private basic education in Pakistan enrols more students than in all countries in the region
The EFA Global Monitoring Report 2008 — ‘Education for All by 2015: Will we make it?’ — is an eye opener. Pakistan missed the gender parity goal set for 2005 and continues to trail behind. We have the lowest scores in South Asia in primary net enrolment and in the net enrolment of girls. And the literacy gender gap has widened since 1972 from 19 percent to 25 percent. At 120, we are at the bottom in the EFA Development Index, ranking not surprisingly with the lowest allocations to education as a percentage of the GNP in terms of the public expenditure on education.
Gender inequalities and geographic disparities epitomise Pakistan’s global standing in education. Claims of overall literacy rate increase from 65 to 67 percent (10 years and above population) are overshadowed by the fact that Pakistan has failed to increase the literacy rate among females, today stagnant at 42 percent.
Whether literacy is calculated on the 10+ or 15+ age group, Pakistan remains at the bottom. Compared to boys, more girls have been enrolled in primary schools during the last few years but not at middle and high school levels. Overall, gender inequalities in education have increased and are the highest in Balochistan, followed by the NWFP, Sindh and Punjab.
The quality of education achieved through several years of consistent policies and teacher training has declined in NWFP, Azad Jammu and Kashmir and FATA over the last few years.
In the NWFP and FATA, girls’ education has been specially targeted by religious militants. Schools have been burnt with threats to students and teachers attempting to find alternate venues to hold classes. The impact of the devastating earthquake whose victims included thousands of schoolchildren and school buildings in AJK is still visible. With an ongoing low-grade war, education in FATA is at best sporadic. Many settled areas not doing much better.
It is futile to keep track of schools in rural Sindh; they materialise and vanish with donor-funded projects. Centuries of entrenched wadera and sain power structures are impervious to people’s empowerment with school-going age girls given in exchange for crimes committed by men. Beyond an initial breakthrough in the nineties, the community has not been able to transform the educational landscape in an increasingly tribal Balochistan, one that condones killing and live burial of the female sex for the sake of male honour.
In addition to socio-cultural norms, inadequate facilities, poor governance, politicisation of the education system, inadequate capacity, ad-hocism and piecemeal approach in planning and weak donor coordination emerge as the major challenges to education in Pakistan, including Punjab, currently the beacon of hope.
Even with better educational indicators the pace of change in Punjab is slow, as every time the government changes so does the policy. The exercise of power is concomitant with transfers, dismissals and new appointments. This includes teachers and officials of the education department.
Education is on the move, going nowhere. The recent changes in the school year are an example in point. The school calendar was changed from April to September in 2005 when students found themselves out of school for five months and taking their annual exams in the hottest month June. With the school year reverting to its earlier spring date, schools have reopened after the summer vacations in September this year and annual exams are scheduled for March. For teachers and students, this translates into completing the year’s syllabus in six months interspersed with two Eids and Ramadan. Furthermore, teachers upgraded from primary schools in November last year have yet to be replaced. The impact on education and learning can only be negative.
Eight years of schooling forms the base of the education pyramid in most countries, even the Constitution of Pakistan ensures provision of free and compulsory elementary education to all citizens. Yet for 3.7 primary schools there is only one middle school catering to classes 6-8. So only one-third children or 5.6 million girls and boys who complete primary education enter class six.
Furthermore a Gender Parity Index of 0.7 shows that roughly only two million girls are likely to receive eight years of education. Gender disparities are also more in rural as compared to urban areas at all levels. With the level of disparity rising with each level there are twice as many boys as girls in rural secondary schools. In FATA, less than half of the enrolment in primary is female.
Proliferation of private schools and tuition/coaching centres shows public response to system failure. In comparison with other countries, private basic education in Pakistan enrols more students than in all countries in the region or in most other countries.
The National Education Census (2005-6) found 31 percent enrolment in the private schools. In urban centres these have outstripped the public sector. Sadly even here quality is highly compromised. Schoolchildren spend the better part of the day in schools, coaching centres or doing homework, and yet the results are abysmal. Approximately 20 percent of students who entered Class 1 reach grade 10, and less than a quarter of students appearing in the matriculation examinations this year have been successful. Low transition rates reflect the inefficiency of the education system.
Given a population of 5- to 9-year-olds of some 19.5 million, seven million children still remain out of the education system. Government enrolment drives show a sharp increase in children in the first two years of primary school — including pre-primary — but the fact that only about half transit to Class 2 (555 out of every 1000) shows the inability of the system to retain them.
What is achieved is short-term political mileage, sustaining the gains requires additional inputs in terms of teachers and teaching learning materials. Currently, teacher shortage is a key area of concern, one that affects the quality of education on offer. The shortfall runs into thousands in every province and at each educational level.
Only one out of two children can continue their education from primary to secondary for lack of facilities. And, one out of four children of the relevant age group wishing to study to upper secondary level have this opportunity.
Countries making significant progress towards UPE have generally increased their spending as a share of GNP. To improve its rating, Pakistan has to move from the one- or two-room two-teacher school concept; build in accountability and transparency mechanisms; depoliticise education; increase planning, monitoring and financial capacity at sub-provincial levels; and develop a sector-wide approach in planning and work towards coordinating donor inputs. For the new government, a heavy mandate carries a heavy obligation.
Dr Fareeha Zafar is Director, Society for the Advancement of Education (SAHE), Lahore