While the Pakistan Muslim League (PML) is finalising the make-up of its government, an array of challenges is staring the party in the face, with the most crucial one being the education emergency in the country.
Official figures are not very encouraging: Over 27 million students are out of school, of which 7 million have not even received any form of primary education.
According to an official at the ministry of education and training, low enrollment and high dropout rate are the two main problems that must be dealt with immediately. A whopping 13.5 million out-of-school children are in Punjab.
The ministry’s research reveals that in Balochistan, Khyber-Pakhtunkwa and Fata, poverty kept the young boys out of school, while the patriarchal system discouraged the girls.
Recent data from the Status of Education Report (ASER) of 2012 paints an even bleaker picture. According to its findings, 23% of rural and 7% of urban children, aged 6-16, are not in schools, with girls lagging significantly behind boys in the rural areas. Furthermore, primary schools, on average, have 2.3 classrooms – of these schools, only 50% have working toilets while only 61% have usable water.
Similarly, the Global Monitoring Report 2012 has marked Pakistan on the second highest spot amongst the countries with the most out-of-school children.
The UNDP Millennium Development Goals report states that Pakistan will not be able to achieve its education goals until 2015. Approximately 50% of enrolled children drop out before completing primary education.
Dismal state of early education
For the last several years, political leaders have stood by while 63% of pre-primary age children do not attend school. Of those that do, 71% are enrolled in public institutions and 29% in private institutions.
Provincial figures for this age group – children 3 to 5 years of age – are even more alarming. Even in Punjab, which boasts the lowest pre-primary out-of-school rate, 50% children are not enrolled. Balochistan tops this list, with 78% of the children not attending school.
Looking to the future
Pakistan’s literacy rate is currently 54% — 66.25% for males and 41.75% for females.
Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz, which has won a sweeping majority in this electoral round, has vowed to address this and claims that it will raise the rate to 80%.
However, the party should be prepared for a bumpy ride ahead. During the last five years, the previous government kept lowering its GDP allocation for education. In 2008, it stood at 23.9%; currently, it is 2.2%.
So far, nine education policies have been announced by successive governments, though the major portions of the policies remain unchanged each time around.
According to the ministry of education and training, work is under way to formulate innovate plans, which include taking mosques and madrassas into the fold. These plans have been encouraged by the UN Education Scientific and Cultural Organisation.
The ministry also stated that meeting Pakistan’s MDGs for education requires an estimate of one thousand billion rupees. “This is why we need to significantly increase the budget to enroll out-of-school children,” said an official.
In 2010, Article 25-A was added to the Constitution, in the 18th Amendment, called The Right to Free and Compulsory Education Bill 2012. It stated that “the state shall provide free and compulsory education to all children of the age of five to sixteen years in such manner as may be determined by law.”
Since the devolution of education ministry that year, all provinces have been responsible for education-related policies and their implementation. However, only two provinces-Punjab and Sindh-and Islamabad Capital Territory passed the law.
Published in The Express Tribune, May 18th, 2013.