Education for all: State of south Punjab schools abysmal

The government’s Jahalat Say Azaadi drive, launched last month, aims to  bring  out-of-school  children  to school.  However,  recent  surveys have  revealed  that  the  situation in  south  Punjab,  which  has  the worst education indicators, is still abysmal.

The  Rural  Support  Programmes  Network (RSPN) took a household survey  in  April  this  year  to  identify out-of-school children in eight union  councils  in  Bahawalpur, Rajanpur,  Dera  Ghazi  Khan  and Bahawalnagar. It found that more than  43,319  children  aged  five  to 10,  out  of  the  104,000  children surveyed,  were  out  of  school. RSPN Education Campaign Manager Nasreen  Sheikh  said  there  was an acute shortage  of  facilities  at schools.

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As many as 32 per cent of the children surveyed in Bahawalnagar and 34 per cent of those children in Dera Ghazi Khan were out of school, 48 per cent in Rajanpur and 56 per cent in Bahawalpur.

National Rural Support Programme District Project Officer Salman Hyder said  that  poverty  and  unemployment were some of the reasons why parents were reluctant to send their kids  to  school. “Many  children  in this region contribute to the household  income,”  he  said,  “Parents want to know the returns from education before they send their children to school.”

NRSP  Project  Coordinator  for Rajanpur  Akhtar  Hussain  said that  without  a  sufficient  number  of  teachers,  toilets,  boundary walls  and  electricity  at  schools, the  situation  could  not  improve.

The  Annual  Status  of  Education Report for 2012 had reported that 30 per cent of the children aged six to 16 in these districts were as out-ofschool. The percentage is 31 for DG Khan,  32  for  Rajanpur  and  35  for Rahim Yar Khan.

“There is no political will to bring about a positive change at the district level,” Idara-i-Taleem-o-Aagahi Programme Manager Safyan Jabbar said.

The Pakistan Institute of Legislative Development and Transparency published a paper Development Funds for  South  Punjab  in  November 2010. It stated that the allocation of Annual Development Program (ADP) funds to 11 districts in south Punjab, as a percentage of the total ADP for Punjab, had decreased from 23.3 per cent  to  14  per  cent  between  2003-2004 and 2007-2008.

The ADP funds allocated in 2003-2004 were Rs7.1 million of a total Rs30.5 million. The funds for south Punjab  were  Rs22  million  out  of Rs150 million allocated for the province in 2007-2008. The paper mentioned that the student to teacher ratio  in south  Punjab  was  45:1, whereas  the  average  ratio  for  the province was 40:1.

Sir Michael Barber, special representative of the Department for International Development, shared his findings on the Punjab Schools Reform Roadmap, approved in 2010, in his report The Good News from Pakistan. He said that by January 2013, there were more than 1.5 million new children enrolled in schools and 81,000 teachers had been recruited. The percentage of schools with basic facilities had increased from 69 per cent in August 2011 to 90 per cent in 2013. Student attendance had increased from 83 per cent in 2011 to 92 per cent by 2011. The paper however stressed the need for funds to ‘reach south Punjab’. It  mentioned  that  the  lowest  percentage  of  functioning  facilities in schools was in DG Khan (77 per  cent)  and  Rajanpur  (75  per  cent).  The  lowest  enrolment  of  five  to nine-year  olds  in  the  province was  reported  in  Muzaffargarh, Rahim  Yar  Khan,  DG  Khan  and Rajanpur- 60 per cent- the lowest. Neglect, lack of access, poverty and meagre resources were some of the reasons Ali Ahmed, a research fellow at the Institute of Social and Policy Sciences (ISAPS), mentioned as being responsible for the state of education in south Punjab. “If education can’t  offer a solution to survival in poverty  stricken areas, why would parents be attracted to it?” he said, “Even if children were sent to school they were not provided an environment conducive to learning.”

The ISAPS’ profiles of Multan and Rajanpur districts indicated a lack of facilities in schools. In Multan, where 41 per cent of children aged  five to 16 were out of school, the profile indicated that 87 schools were without drinking water, 126 schools  had no toilets, 178 had no boundary walls and 517 of them did not have  electricity. The indicators were worse for Rajanpur. With 54 per cent of the children out  of  school,  35  schools were without a building and children  sat  in  the  open.  As many as 300 schools did not have drinking water, 258 did not have toilets, 276 did not  have  boundary  walls  and 963 schools were without electricity. Ali said that there was no denying that the enrolment drive was a step in the right direction, but it would not be fruitful if attention was not paid to the retention and transition of students.

Published in Express Tribune on Sept 3, 2013


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