The recent monsoon rains have dealt a deadly blow to education this year in Pakistan. According to Save the Children, a UK-based organization, over 18,500 educational institutes have been partially damaged or completely destroyed by the torrential rains. Academic year of more than 670,000 students is uncertain. The federal and provincial governments are busy with rescue and relief operations and the scarcity and red tape in allocation of funds is unlikely to improve the situation.
Public sector education has not been a priority for the federal as well as provincial level policymakers in the country. Why should it be? For, only the ‘ordinary’ people enroll their children in such centres of learning.
Science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics (STEM) Pakistan, an initiative of the Ministry of Federal Education and Professional Training, recently arranged a virtual cross-sectoral conversion on, Defending Education against Climate Change, which was attended by scholars and mediapersons, who analysed infrastructural damages to schools and colleges caused by the floods.
Javed Ahmed Malik, senior education expert and author of book, titled Teachers, Bureaucracy, and Politicians, said that a whopping Rs216 billion was needed to rebuild 18,000 schools destroyed in recent floods.
Salman Naveed, head of STEAM Policy Unit, said, “The reconstruction of the last lot of schools destroyed in the 2005 earthquake was completed in 2021. If we take this as a benchmark, it will take us 16 to 17 years to rebuild 18,000 schools destroyed in these floods.”
Amber Shamsi, multi-media journalist, was dismayed by the system’s inability to learn from the past. She said, “It seems we haven’t learned anything from the earthquake in 2005 and the floods in 2010. We are once again racking our brains to reinvent the wheel when so many solutions can be extracted from calamities we have gone through in less than two decades.”
Annual Status of Education Report (ASER) of 2021-22 dropped a bombshell over the flawed education system in the country in terms of academic engagement in science, mathematics and language learning. It highlighted the faltering national commitment to new entrollments and dropouts in schools.
Acoording to UNICEF, Pakistan has the world’s second largest number of out-of-school children (OOCS) with an estimated 22.8 million children aged 5-16 not enagaged in academic activity, representing 44 percent of the total population in this age group. Disparties based on gender, socio-economic status, and geography are staggering — in Sindh, 52 percent of the poorest children (58 percent girls) are out of school, and in Balochistan, 78 pecent of girls are out of school.
Article 25-A of the constitution of Pakistan guarantees free education for all children aged between 5 and 16. But the state of Pakistan has failed miserably in mandating it and only caters to private education sectors, which are beyond the reach of the economically disadvantaged households. Many OOCS are breadwinners from an early age. Poverty has pushed them into bondage. We have children working as kiln labourers, domestic servants, waiters and mechanics, that are overworked, underpaid and often physically and sexually abused.
The public sector schools available in Pakistan seldom receive adequate funds, simply because children of wealthy, powerful politicians and bureaucrats do not study in public schools and colleges. Children belonging to less affluent backgrounds sit under roofs with peeling plaster and fan themselves with notebooks to brave the scorching summer heat.
Salman Naveed, head of STEAM Policy Unit, said, “The reconstruction of the last lot of schools destroyed in the 2005 earthquake was completed in 2021. If we take this as a benchmark, it will take us 16 to 17 years to rebuild 18,000 schools destroyed in these floods.
Pakistan’s literacy rate is 58 percent. It is much lower than the Millinnium Development Goals (MDGs) target of 88 percent that we were supposed to achieve by 2015. As a signatory to the Millinnium Declaration 2000, the government of Pakistan is committed to maximising progress towards the MDGs – poverty, education, health, hunger and environment. But achieving a sustainable development without educated citizenry is quite impossible.
Pakistan’s global image depends on the excellence of its schools, ability to educate children and produce individuals who can generate economic growth.
Despite the ongoing war, Ukraine decided to reopen the educational institutions on September 1, 2022 (their new academic year) after thorough reassessment of security and environment of schools, colleges and universities. According to Serhiy Shkarlet, Minister of Education and Science, about 41 percent of Ukraine’s educational institutions reopened for in-person classes. This kind of seriousness invested in education speaks volumes about education being a priority.
Chinese saying is so apt for our situation: “If you are planning for a year, sow rice; if you are planning for a decade, plant trees; if you are planning for a lifetime, educate people.