“The private sector is focused on profit, not welfare. The state has to provide all citizens with their basic rights, regardless of their ability to buy them. Can the provision of fundamental rights be privatised as well?” asked Rubina Saigol, an independent researcher, at the national roundtable discussion on Devolution of Education.
The discussion was organised by the Centre for Civic Education and Khudi Pakistan in collaboration with the Hanns Seidel Foundation.
Saigol said rights were an entitlement, not charity. She said she regretted that state-owned enterprises were being handed over to the private sector, including health and education facilities. “If you don’t have money you will not have access to that basic right”. She said there was a gender gap with regard to access to education. She also pointed to the rural-urban divide, with 74 per cent of urban children enrolled in schools and 49 per cent in rural children.
With only 2 per cent of the GDP allocated to education in the budget, she said, education did not appear to be a priority for the government, which had allocated a large amount for defence. “We are fixated with the idea of defence. The education curriculum also perpetuates threat perception.”
Saigol said the debate on education should not be confined to access but also extend to quality. She criticised the education system and said it promoted inequality.
Saigol also said that with the 18th Amendment, the devolution of matters to the province allowed the general public to better connect with issues, including those related to education.
An exercise was conducted to select ‘heroes’ to be included in school textbooks. It was facilitated by Zafarullah Khan, the head of the Centre for Civic Education. Participants at the roundtable suggested Benazir Bhutto, Arvind Kejriwal, Bhagat Singh, Mohammad Ali Jinnah, Nelson Mandela and Dr Abdus Salam, among others. Khan said that the Sindh Textbook Board had included Malala Yousufzai, Arfa Karim and Abdul Sattar Edhi as heroes in their textbooks.
“Education is about critical thinking, but in Pakistan the focus shifts to maintaining discipline in classrooms rather than ensuring a learning environment”, he added.
Naseer Memon, chief executive at the Strengthening Participatory Organisation, shared excerpts from his paper State of Education in Sindh: Post 18th Amendment Scenario. He said 51 per cent of children were out of school. According to UNESCO, 2.8 million children between the ages of five and nine were out of school. He added that according to an Alif Ailaan report, 6.1 million children between the ages of five and 16 were out of schools.
The provincial budget for 2013-14 had allocated 23 per cent for education. Memon added that Sindh needed to invest Rs260 billion every year to increase enrollment from 44 per cent to 98 per cent by 2025-26.
A paper was presented by Faiza Mir, a lecturer in International Relations at the University of Balochistan. She said that out of 12, 293 schools in the province, 72 per cent did not have toilets.
She said there were 2, 000 ghost schools, and the province also had 300 ghost teachers.
She cited the increasing drop-out rates as a significant challenge, along with governance, accountability and girls’ enrollment.
Published in The Express Tribune, June 5th, 2014.