Sindh’s major political parties came together at the Pearl Continental on Thursday to sign a charter to improve education in Sindh by achieving two goals — ensure 100 per cent enrolment in Sindh, so that every child between the ages of five and 16 is in school and to improve the teaching quality of Sindhi, Urdu and Mathematics.
Keeping in mind his position as the provincial education minister, it was fitting that Alif Ailaan campaign director Mosharraf Zaidi asked Nisar Khuhro to be the first one to speak at the ceremony.
In his trademark deep voice, Khuhro was refreshingly self-critical. “Let us accept that we cannot afford to sink any further as far as education is concerned,” he admitted, refusing to beat about the bush. “We need to accept our deficiencies and work on them. However, if I am to point them out, I would be standing here for hours.”
elsewhere in the country, at least 80 per cent of the students attend class regularly but in sindh, school attendance is just 67 per cent – the lowest attendance rate in pakistan.
Khuhro said the blame lies on everyone – the parents, the public and governments of the past and the present. He was quick to point out that there is no simple solution to the deep-rooted problem. “The education budget has increased from Rs25 billion to Rs132 billion but as much as Rs110 billion of that goes towards salaries,” he revealed. “We need to start allocating our resources more efficiently. We will start surveys that will monitor the attendance and performance of teachers.”
The minister then went on to make a promise that was met with raucous applause by the crowd and appreciative nods by those on stage. “I will stand in the assembly tomorrow and propose a reform based on this charter — to improve enrolment.”
Seated next to Khuhro was opposition leader Faisal Subzwari, who was next to take up the podium. “First of all, I want to second everything that Khuhro has said,” said the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) leader. “I can assure him that if he does suggest a reform tomorrow, all MQM members will support it.”
However, the man to speak next, Pakistan Muslim League – Nawaz provincial leader Irfanullah Marwat was not as kind to Khuhro. “We have been talking of education for a long time now but nothing is being done,” he said provocatively. “A lot of mistakes have been made, that is why we are gathered here. People claim that our graduates are struggling to find jobs – half of our graduates cannot even fill out a job application in English.”
The next speaker, Pakistan Muslim League – Functional leader Mehtab Rashidi, pointed out that enrolment should not be the only priority but should be considered hand-in-hand with the number of dropouts and attendance rates.
Of the total number of children not in school in Sindh, 3.4 million – or 56 per cent – are girls.
Jeay Sindh Qaumi Mahaz’s Asif Baladi was one of the few speakers who honoured the set two-minute time limit. “Sindh will only live on if its education lives on,” he said, using his time and words wisely. He was then followed by Sindh United Party’s Syed Ghulam Shah who had a few choice words of his own. “Our education will lead to our eventual demise,” came a chilling warning. “It is in the courtyards of schools that nations are saved. At the moment, the wheel of our province churns with hatred.”
Pressed for time, Awami Jamhoori Party’s Abrar Kazi and Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf’s Dr Arif Alvi were forced to deliver hasty speeches – both appreciating Khuhro’s promise and suggesting a few courses of action to improve Sindh’s education.
The closing speech came from Sherry Rehman who suggested that politicians should teach in schools for a week so that they can experience the problems first-hand while also insisting that the curriculum needs to change immediately.
Once all the speakers were done, the charter was signed and held up by the politicians to show the crowd their signatures. A promise has been made and in three months, those who made it will gather to discuss its progress.
Published in The Express Tribune, February 21st, 2014.