It is time to visit the status of education, particularly since the 18th amendment has made it the state’s responsibility to provide free and compulsory education to all children of the age of 5-16 years. We review some literature (National Education Policy Framework 2018, ASER 2019, World Bank 2013, IGC Pakistan 2010, I-SAPS, Naviwala 2016) in this article.
Service delivery in the education sector is primarily the responsibility of provincial governments post the 18th amendment. After doing away with the concurrent legislative list in the constitution; planning, policy, and curriculum, and standards are now in the purview of provincial governments, amongst others. Interprovincial coordination, standards in higher education, and all regulatory authorities under a federal law are still with the centre, amongst others. The federal government is also entrusted with a role to promote national cohesion in education.
Teachers are considered to be most critical factor in imparting quality education to students and there is weak teacher accountability. According to the latest ASER survey, 13% teachers in the surveyed public schools and 11% teachers in the surveyed private schools were found to be absent. The public educational system has internal governance issues. One of the reasons behind teachers’ absenteeism could be the politics of patronage. There is need to institute effective planning, management and monitoring to deal with weak governance structures.
In terms of public education reforms, some provincial governments have undertaken credible interventions. In Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, monitors visit schools every month and publish their results and the teacher absenteeism has gone down as the result of these efforts.
For any policy to work, it has to make an explicit policy goal of improving learning outcomes
Despite efforts, there are still challenges. The net enrolment rates (NER) in primary education have remained static and there has been even a decrease in enrolment in some provinces. There is also geographical deprivation reflected in the disaggregated enrolment statistics. Less developed areas lag behind in NER than the national average. The highest percentage of OOSC belong to Balochistan and FATA.
As per ASER statement based on secondary sources, there are still 22.8 million out of school children (OOSC); 12.2 million girls and 10.6 million boys. Though, the percentage of OOSC has slightly gone down (17% in 2018) compared to earlier (19% in the previous year). In other words, 83% of children (6-16 years) are enrolled in schools (77% in government schools, 20% in private schools, and 3% in Madrassahs). Boys’ enrolment is higher than girls’ enrolment.
According to the results of ASER’s survey of learning outcomes, it has slightly improved in 2018, compared to 2016. Children in class 5 were tested to read a class 2 level story in Urdu or regional languages. Slightly less children (44%) could not read the story than before (48%), leading to the assumption that slightly more could read. Children were also tested for English and arithmetic learning. Private schools’ students performed better than public schools, boys outperformed girls in literacy and numeracy, and children belonging to richest quartile have highest percentage of enrolment and the poorest quartile has the lowest. Gender intersects with poverty as girls even in the poorest households are more likely to have lower enrolment (46%) compared to the boys (67%).A sizeable number of government primary schools lack essential facilities such as the toilets, drinking water, boundary walls and playgrounds.
According to some recent literature, it might be better to teach children in the languages they understand, rather than teaching them badly in English. A study of historical data reveals that two extra years of schooling in mother-tongue raised the literacy and returns to it. Some provincial governments in the past announced to opt for English-medium route. However, PTI government in Punjab wants to reverse it and wants to introduce a new Urdu-medium curriculum.
Private schooling option is not limited to elite only. Private schools cater to low-income group as well. For example, in Punjab, there are both public and private schools as multiple options. Tahir Andrabi, Asim Khwaja and co-authors’ research on education has pro-market orientation to it. According to them, availability of low-fee private schools is the “most significant development.” Parents actively demand education for their children. This rise in private schooling is often possible due to low salaries that female teachers are willing to accept in their local areas due to lack of opportunities outside (in other words, they are being exploited but leading to better options for students). Boom in the private education can be further improved by alleviating the constraints and providing better access to resources, information, and improving the regulatory framework.
In terms of the way forward, the education framework has identified four priority areas: decrease OOSC, bring about uniformity in education, improve the quality, and enhance skills trainings. Just to illustrate one priority area – to decrease OOSC; the Framework emphasizes to focus on disadvantaged districts by maximizing the use of existing school infrastructure, introducing afternoon shifts, improving missing facilities, providing better access to secondary education especially for girls, better targeting of BISP’s Waseela-e-Taleem, better utilisation of stipend for girls, supporting the provincial governments, launching educational internship programs, mobilizing the community, and tracking results, amongst others. It sets agenda in a similar way for other declared priority areas.
For any policy to work, it has to make an explicit policy goal of improving learning outcomes. All else will fall in place. It might also be useful to research how some provincial governments in Pakistan are achieving better outcomes in education than others. It could help the provincial governments to learn from each other’s education governance and management.
The writer is an Islamabad-based social scientist
Published in Daily Times, March 26th 2019.