Primary education: In Karachi’s schools, politics finds a way

Published: November 21, 2011

There are 1,049,612 students enrolled in private institutions across the city more than three times those in public schools.

There are 1,049,612 students enrolled in private institutions across the city more than three times those in public schools. There are 1,049,612 students enrolled in private institutions across the city more than three times those in public schools.
KARACHI: 

Karachi’s school children cannot hide away from this city’s politics. At a primary school in Jamshed Town, MQM and ANP graffiti marks the classroom’s walls.

Also spray-painted in Grade IV is a cell phone number for anyone interested in ‘friendship’. The only things that make these walls resemble that of a classroom are some drawings and calendars to help students during examination time.

Medium of instruction

In English class, the students only copied questions and answers from the board.  Aasma Sheraz, a teacher at the school said rote learning was a result of teacher’s neglect.

“English is taught in Urdu and for students who lag behind, katchi (kindergarten) classes are held to teach them the alphabet and numbers up to 10,”she said. Currently, four mediums of instruction run simultaneously at the primary level -  Urdu, English, Sindhi and a mix of all languages. The medium depends on geographical and population needs.

This school is better than the boys schools adjacent to it. It has five teachers for its 150 students, while the adjoining school only had one for its 180 children. “Almost all seven teachers are on training,” said Sir Riyaz Abbas, the administrator employed by the city government at the boys primary school.

In place of teachers, the class monitor has taken over in grade V’s afternoon shift.  “I will start with ‘imla’ (Urdu dictation) and later ask them to read one by one,” he said.  The students wanted to do English dictation though, but Urdu was all the monitor could read for them.

The class monitor seemed unable to control his classmates. While one boy complained to a friend about his lost cricket ball, another girl scolded her peer for beating up other boys.

The school had recently been developed by the Muttahida Qaumi Movement – as a banner claimed on the exterior of the building. The fact that teachers and children from the adjacent public schools used their toilets was a proof of its better infrastructure.

Number of schools and enrollment

There are a total of 3,609 schools in the city out of which 2,530 are primary schools, according to the Sindh Education Management Information System (SEMIS) census 2011.  Of the 2,530, around 2,489 are functional in 18 towns, while 41 are closed and 49 schools are without shelter.

Karachi, with its numerous private educational institutions, has the highest enrollment in private primary schools as compared to the other 22 districts in Sindh.

There are 1,049,612 students enrolled in private institutions, while 330,526 students are enrolled in primary public schools, according to government figures of 2009-2010.  About 82% are not enrolled in government schools and the participation rates for boys and girls is strikingly low at 18%, with 16% for boys and 19% for girls.

However, despite the city’s dense population and high enrollment in schools, the total numbers of schools (3,267) are less than those in the districts of Tharparkar (4,275) and Khairpur (3,711). Deputy Program Manager of Reform Support Unit Ghulam Nabi Baloch said the difference is owing to a higher number of villages in the two leading districts.

The average student-teacher ratio is 22 in primary schools across the city, double than that in developing countries, according to UNESCO’s statistics for 2000.

Teachers at primary schools:

Around 14,705 teachers are for primary classes of the total 27,037 in the city. Most teachers have the Primary Teacher’s Certificate qualification.

However, teacher’s absenteeism is a big problem in the city. “At almost Rs 14,000 per month, which is the beginning level salary for teachers, they work half the day, have zero accountability and enjoy as many leaves as they want,” complained Abbas.

Curriculum and testing

Sindh textbook curriculum includes seven subjects; Science, Masharti Uloom (Social Studies), Riyazi (Math), Urdu, English, Islamiat, Arts (drawing). The lessons are divided into small chapters with exercises as questions and answers, word-meanings and true or false questions. Most questions do not creatively challenge the student. Also, the questions are the same as that found in the exercise book.

Despite a considerable presence of non-Muslims, the subject of Islamiat is compulsory for all.  In contrast, privately run SMB Fatima Jinnah School, adopted by Zindagi Trust, and The Citizens Foundation Schools are introducing their own curriculums that focus on creative learning, rather than rote learning.

Published in The Express Tribune, November 21st, 2011.

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