As the Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz-led government continues to grapple with the circular debt and energy crises, primary school education has been put on the backburner — until recently.
State Minister for Education Balighur Rehman has taken a keen interest in the out-of-school children (OOSC) issue that has been plaguing Pakistan for decades. In collaboration with Unicef and Unesco, the Ministry of Education, Trainings and Standards in Higher Education has compiled a comprehensive report that dissects the current state of education in the country.
While the figures may be appalling, the government’s plan to enrol 5.1 million children from the ages of five and nine under a three-year National Plan of Action from 2013 to 2016 and comprising a four-tier strategy is encouraging yet ambitious.
The four provinces, Azad Jammu and Kashmir, Islamabad Capital Territory (ICT), Gilgit-Baltistan and Fata are covered in the plan, which is expected to cost Rs188 billion.
CREATIVE: MUNIRA ABBAS
Punjab appears to have the most ambitious plan, as it aims to achieve 100 per cent enrolment by 2016, while the country is expecting to reach 91 per cent overall by the same time period, according to the report.
As of 2011-12, 6.7 million — or 32 per cent — of children in the five to nine age-bracket were not enrolled in schools, a number which is expected to be brought down to 2.1 million by 2016.
According to various Economic Survey of Pakistan issues, the total education expenditure as a percentage of GDP has been abysmal over the years.
Since 2003-04, it has hovered above the two per cent mark, hitting a low of 1.8 per cent in 2010-11. The government is planning to enrol the children in public sector formal and non-formal schools, feeder schools, private sector schools and madrassas.
The four-tier strategy includes enrolment in existing schools, establishment of additional rooms and hiring of more teachers, building new schools and introduction of incentives for the children.
Focus on enrolling OOSC in existing primary schools with underutilised capacity. Several closed schools which can be made functional may also be used. Children above the age of seven will be enrolled in non-formal basic education, feeder schools or madrassas.
In existing public formal schools, where extra space is available, an additional classroom and teacher will accommodate new students.
In far-flung areas, new two-room formal and one-room non-formal schools will be constructed to improve students’ access to education.
Strategy aims to use incentives to retain students, particularly girls and those from disadvantaged groups who drop out before completing primary school due to financial constraints. These include stipends, food-for-education and uniforms.
Of all the provinces and areas, ICT is the only one in which girls, with 72 per cent, have a higher enrolment rate than boys, at 68 per cent. In addition, only 10 per cent of students drop out before completing their primary education.
Published in The Express Tribune, September 6th, 2013.