There is a national portfolio of emergencies that all cry out for resolution. Few have the profound and long-term detrimental effect on our collective futures like the education emergency. There are no surprises in the Annual Status of Education Report-2013 issued on January 17. The survey tells us grim truths. In rural areas, 21 per cent of children are out of school compared to eight per cent in urban areas and the woeful state of English teaching is told by the fact that only 43 per cent of children at the class five level could read an English text at a reading level equivalent to class two. Previous equally well researched reports have shown that the teachers who teach English have poor fluency in the language, and have received little or no training despite the requirement that they teach a foreign language. It is not only English that suffers, so do the national languages. Only 50 per cent of children in class five could fluently read a text in Urdu, Pashto or Sindhi.
Across the country, there are schools without toilets or washing facilities and many have no boundary walls. Teacher attendance is around 86 per cent in rural areas and 77 per cent in urban areas (a small improvement) and for the first time, boys are outperforming girls — a development as yet imperfectly understood. Our education system is a serial disaster and the devolution of budgets to provincial education departments that lack the capacity to effectively spend them has added to the scale of the problem. There is no integrated national education policy, nor a unified standard for teacher training. Such training resources as there are fall far below capacity in terms of the national need. None of this is ‘new news’, merely a repeat iteration of the elephant in the education lounge. Unless Pakistan effectively addresses the education emergency in the next 10 years, it is going to forever trail behind its neighbours and competitors. The education emergency touches everybody and failure to solve it pegs our population as semi-literate mediocrities. We can do better than that.
Published in The Express Tribune, January 19th, 2014.
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