ASK anyone in a position of political leadership or public service how they feel about educating Pakistan’s young, and the response is predictable. Absolutely essential, they will say, and place education on top of the agenda.
Unfortunately, the hollowness of the rhetoric becomes immediately evident when some grim facts are viewed — even cursorily.
Last week, education campaigners Alif Ailaan released their Midterm Report Card for Members of the National Assembly.
This is an effort to assess the demonstrable change in educational realities in evidence since the 2013 elections that put the current lot of politicians in their seats of privilege.
In other words, have our members of the National Assembly taken an interest in and therefore improved the state of education in their own constituencies?
Sadly, this would not appear to be the case. The report card carried out its assessment of public schools on the basis of four heads: school facilities, student retention, gender parity and the student-teacher ratio.
Of the 272 MNAs, only three got an overall ‘A’ grade. That the constituencies of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and State Minister for Education Balighur Rehman scored ‘C’ speaks volumes for the apathy that reigns, as does the same grade for PTI chief Imran Khan — an irony given he is widely considered the most vocal proponent of bringing about change.
The problem, though, is more deep-rooted. Regardless of the sector, improvements can only come about when the stakeholders for change are people in a position to lobby with government.
Who are the stakeholders in public schooling? Overwhelmingly, the voiceless masses — for where in Pakistan could one find a child of parents who are even moderately well-off or influential studying in a public school?
In these circles, of concern are private schools which their offspring attend. And when there is a problem here, loud protestations are immediately in evidence: consider only the recent furore over the high fees being charged in the private sector and the efforts to rein it in.
Here lies the crux of the matter. Until the representatives of the people have the same choice of educational facilities as is available to those who voted for them, little will change.
Perhaps the members of the house can make amends and create a constituency for the rapid overhaul of public-sector schooling by passing legislation that requires the progeny of all holders of public office to attend government schools.
Published in Dawn, November 16th, 2015