Will Child Education Get Due Consideration Of Pakistani Ruling Elites In 2023? – OpEd

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Ready or not, 2023 is here, and it’s time for everyone to celebrate particularly our children.A great time to reflect on all that 2022 brought to our children in the field of education and all the new beginnings 2023 will usher. In fact, it is a dismal scenario on several counts particularly child education, as we enter the new year.

The challenges, Pakistan is confronted with are multiple but the most dangerous threat is the specter of facing the economic collapse. Pakistan is now among the most vulnerable states. Political turmoil and social unrest are touching the bottom rocks. There has been a dramatic escalation in terrorist attacks over the past few months, with targeted killings, suicide bombings and attacks on security installations becoming a daily affair in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan that has been hit by the latest wave of terrorism. What is most worrisome is the apparent alliance between the TTP and some Baloch separatist groups. We are once again at the crossroads as we enter the new year. The prospects do not seem to be too promising but my focus will be on child education in the preceding year and in the beginning of the new year 2023.

In this regard, the most relevant and best quote, I have ever read in literature is:

“A child is meant to learn, not earn.”

God — ever optimistic — creates children to learn but Man puts useful education beyond their reach.

Further relevant to today’s topic is the saying of a prominent scientist, Albert Einstein, had said, “every child is born genius but most of them do not function at their genius level is because they are not aware of how creative and smart, they really are. Their creative capabilities are the same They actually grow in a strength as they are used”. 

Now the question is how the Pakistani state uses the genius of or behaves with their children. Under article 25-A of the 1973 constitution, the state is bond to provide free and compulsory primary education to all children but contrary to that Unfortunately, 75 years after independence, about 40% of our children in the land of pure are out of school system, which means we are the killers of the genius of those out of school children, we the killer of their aspirations, of their future and above all we are the killers of dreams of their parents.

In 21st century and on the eve of new year 2023, almost four in 10 Pakistanis children remain illiterate, consigned to a life of hardship and poverty. Worse still, literacy rate isn’t even improving in-spite of spending billions. In 2022, our net enrolment rate in primary schools was only 64 per cent — down from 67pc in 2015. Punjab and Balochistan maintained their ratios at 70pc and 56pc respectively. Yet Sindh’s net enrolment actually went down from 61pc to 55pc and KP’s ratio (even excluding the former tribal agencies) went down from 71pc to 66pc. Half of all school-aged children are not in school.

Most kids in Class 5 read and do sums at the level of pupils in Class 1. Which is to say that these kids, after five years in school, are functionally innumerate and illiterate. Hence, if truth be told, we get nothing from the money we spend on education. It’s fair to say that provincial education ministries — especially in Sindh and Balochistan — are not set up to educate kids. Their primary purpose seems to be to serve their self interests, provide jobs to their near and dear irrespective of merit against the vacant positions of teachers. Education is a mere by-product for them because education ministers needs to be educated first specially in Balochistan.

Although we don’t spend enough on education, no amount of money will improve our education outcomes under the existing system. To improve education outcomes in Pakistan, we must shut down this corrupt system of elitism, patronage, and build a new one based on merit, free from political interference and corruption and providing equal opportunities to all children.

The biggest blow to happen to school education in 2022 was the continuation of the rollout of the PTI’s Single National Curriculum (The SNC project is, of course, the PTI’s poorly thought-through populist attempt promising the erasure of social class differences and levelling access to opportunities for all.

The SNC became an exercise in reinforcing the most regressive elements in public school textbooks which garnered near universal criticism from qualified education experts. Several politicians from political parties making up the PDM stood against the SNC when they were not in power but now Education is not their agenda or priority. Time available to them is limited, they are busy in solving their personal interests, therefore, they slightly tweaked the name of the SNC and continued as a ‘reformed’ initiative. Which shows that course correction is not the priority of the present political dispensation too.

Look at the priorities of Punjabi elite class about a year ago, the Punjab government announced the training and hiring of 70,000 Arabic teachers. Earlier this month the Punjab chief minister announced the hiring of another 100,000 “religious scholars” in public schools. All this while Punjab public schools are suffering from a chronic shortage of mathematics and science teachers because their children are getting education in elite schools and they are making the children of the lesser Gods more religious, so that, they should not challenge their exploitation and plunder.

Look at the performance of ever green PPP government In Sindh, the Intermediate Board Karachi announced results of higher secondary school exams in the current year and, according to a news report, in 38 colleges (25 public and 13 private) not a single student in pre-engineering, pre-medical or general science groups could pass. The quality of education in Sindh may have reached its nadir. Irrespective of whether it is learning poverty in the wake of extended Covid school closures left unaddressed or any other reason that is to blame, no one is interested in permanent solutions. Next year, be prepared to see the fallout from the destruction of schools and disruption to education caused by the 2022 floods up and down the country. Sindh during the 1970s was far better than 50 years later, now, is the residue of rapaciousness, a landfill of political neglect. And Karachi — once our capital city — competes with Mumbai as a vast slum with small spots of luxurious living in for the elite class.

Likewise, the state of education in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa is also deteriorating particularly in rural areas. A total 40,606 children (62% male, 38% female) were surveyed in villages in K-P. Out of those, 9% girls and 7% boys between the ages of six and 16 were “out of school”. Aser defines out-of-school children as those who never enrolled and those who dropped out. Only 8.8% children in class two could read a class-two level story in the local language. Of those surveyed in grade 10, 91% could read the story, reflecting that all 16-year-olds were unable to read the grade 2 text.

According to Education Sector Reform Unit, the problem with enrolment lies in access. “The underpinning issue is access because there are more primary schools and the results are traditional drop-outs, it’s a lack of access to secondary schools.”

In Balochistan the situation is worse than other federating units. State of education is home to the worst indicators with a whopping 81 percent of girls having failed to complete primary school; the figure for boys is 52 percent. In addition, 75 percent of girls had never set foot inside a classroom as compared to 40 percent of boys.

One of the most significant issues facing education is the deterioration of school facilities across the province. The non-provision of essential facilities has badly affected the school education sector. Out of the total of 15000 government-run schools with an enrolment of about 1003661 students, more than 1940 schools are running without proper buildings, about 8000 schools have no boundary walls, and some 11850 schools lack drinking water. Further, 12300 schools have no electricity, and 950 schools are run without libraries, science labs, or IT labs. The provincial government has turned back to meet the demand for missing facilities due to a lack of commitment and financial resources.

More than 3200 schools are non-functional due to a shortage of about 2500 teachers, and the teachers already engaged in teaching have received no professional training in content knowledge and pedagogical skills because of a lack of budgetary allocation

The federal and provincial governments together spend about Rs1,000 billion on education annually. That’s almost twice the cost of running the civilian federal government and by far the biggest item after defenceand debt-servicing. And that’s just public-sector spending.

Private spending is more than this number. And what do we get from all this money? Nothing.

Dr. Faisal Bari lamented that out of 100 million Pakistani students, only 6pc reach the university stage. The remaining 94pc drop out. The problem is graver at the postgraduate level. For a population of 220m, Pakistan has only 220 universities offering variable standards of learning and facilities for research. (India has 5,288, Indonesia 2,595, China 2,565, Iran only 46).

The country’s education system, like always, is headed towards a downfall. Hollow promises and empty hopes of betterment in education sector, economic progress and prosperity have long plagued us and have been plaguing us since 1947.

Who to blame and who to hold accountable? The federal government blames the provincial governments, the provincial governments blame the federal and this ping pong game continues since beginning. The sufferers are the children of lesser Gods.

All our elites comprise of landlords, bureaucrats, military top brass, industrialists, retired judicial officers, ousted prime ministers and politicians, tend to educate children In highly costly schools within the country or settle their children abroad for education and themselves once they’re done ‘serving’ us. They are least concerned about children of the general public.  

In 2023, we need new people, younger rejuvenated spirits to lead us through these turbulent times. The present ones don’t even know what snapchat is! How do we expect them to lead a country where 63% of its population is between 16 and 33 years of age? Countries around the world are increasingly digitizing and going paperless. Robots and Artificial intelligence are taking over. They have turned to key boards but our children are still struck to the black boards and rote learning in the schools.

Let us redefine our priorities, outdated and counterproductive policies and strategies, values, thought process and ourselves as humans. Let us voice our resentment for the outdated education system imposed upon our children. As a nation, Let’s begin 2023 with questioning our long-held views and inculcate rebellion first within us then against the corrupt elites system, for positive change based on inclusiveness and providing unbiased and equal opportunities to all in every institution particularly our children in education sector. Let the heavens tremble, let the hearts of men stand open, let grace and glory be harvested. Onto 2023, where we broaden our horizons, become more informed, learn more, read more and above all provide equal opportunities to all children for proper education. Let’s exalt our thrones, let’s rise. A happy new year to the old, “long life and treasure; and to the young, all health, good education, safety, pleasure with bright future;

Sher khan Bazai, The writer is retired from civil service as Secretary Education Balochistan. The writer can be reached at [email protected]

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