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The Express Tribune Editorial 11 February 2021

Education and all that

 

Education, at all levels in Sindh province, is marred by official apathy. This is resulting in killing enthusiasm of pupils to learn. A report in this newspaper says there are incomplete school buildings, left roofless and without gates and doors for years together, without bathrooms and washrooms, and drinking water and other basic facilities. School buildings are being used for purposes other than imparting education. There are schools with only one teacher for many students, and there are schools with many teachers for few pupils.
In Thatta district, there is a school which has only two teachers for 185 students, and the school, built in 1956, is still without a roof. There are many schools where students are taught under the open sky. There is the long-persisting problem of ghost schools, ghost teachers and ghost staffers. This is the state of affairs even though over the years, more and more money is being allocated for education in the provincial budget. In the current budget, the budgetary allocation was increased to Rs244.5 billion from last year’s amount of Rs212 billion. Unfortunately, there is not much to show for the rising budgetary allocations. Several years ago, the government had approved the setting up of a degree college in Thatta town but there is no lecturer to teach students.
Locals regularly try to draw the authorities’ attention to the poor state of education, but their pleas fall on deaf ears, or officials are elusive. On Feb 8, during the hearing of a petition seeking reforms in the education sector and restoration of public schools in the province, the Sindh High Court took serious notice of the situation. The court asked officials why teachers of closed schools were regularly being paid their salaries. It expressed dissatisfaction with a government report pertaining to the sorry state of affairs and sought a detailed report. The hearing was adjourned to March 10. Obviously, officials and teachers are oblivious of what they are doing.

 

Introducing 5G

 

In January 2020, the PTA issued trial 5G internet licences to two companies providing cellular services in the country. Nine months later, the first-ever 5G call was conducted by Federal Minister for IT Aminul Haque to Beijing with “excellent voice and video quality” without interruption. Since then, much progress has been made, it seems, as the IT minister has recently announced that the government plans to make 5G technology commercially available to consumers by December 2022.
Even though officials claim that Pakistan has now kick-started its journey towards technological development, critics remain skeptical and believe that such a massive initiative would take at least five to seven years to roll out effectively. A perennial flaw that officials in Pakistan seem to have is that they are always keen on quickly developing something new and extraordinary during their tenure, rather than focus first on ameliorating the ever-increasing pile of existing problems. They need to realise that quick short-term solutions merely add on to it — haste always makes waste.
Pakistan’s telecommunication market has struggled immensely with expansion and access. Internet penetration across the country stands at 35%, out of which fixed broadband penetration remains at a 1%, mostly due to underdeveloped technology, shoddy infrastructure and lack of maintenance. Furthermore, residents of the northern areas have long been deprived of proper internet and mobile service connectivity, even after 3G and 4G services was recently restored. This brings us to the question: will the introduction of 5G services help resolve any of these longstanding issues?
It seems that the critics are right. Apart from aiding those that are able to afford expensive phones that support 5G connectivity, not much will come out of it — at least till the next few years. The common man will be less likely to afford 5G internet packages at exorbitant rates amid high inflation. It would be much more effective to focus on penetration and access in order to ensure basic internet services to the masses.

 

 

Vote bargain video

 

Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa Law Minister Sultan Khan resigned on Tuesday over a video that appears to show him and other politicians being paid off for their votes in the 2018 Senate elections. On the one hand, the video provides proof of an open secret — Senate seats are bought and sold. On the other, it raises questions based on the reactions several politicians have raised, or in some cases, failed to raise. Elected officials are not private citizens. They are public servants. They have no right to privacy when it comes to actions performed in their official capacities. This includes all votes cast in an official capacity, such as the Senate elections.
It is ironic that while the Senate’s mission statement online says that “the Senate holds to account and ensures transparency in Executive functions”, the process by which senators wound up in their seats remains the most untransparent part of the country’s election system. There is a reason that many people see it only as an avenue to reward cronies or raise funds, rather than governing effectively. The only circumstances under which voting for Senate seats should be secret is if voting powers were to be transferred to the people by making the Senate a directly-elected body, since the voters would then be private citizens. Barring that, parliamentarians who want to vote their conscience rather than party nominees should not be afraid to do so.
To their credit, PTI leaders, including Asad Umar, have explicitly backed this argument. Meanwhile leading opposition voices who are demanding respect for the vote have been curiously silent on how secret Senate polling disrespects the most important voters — the people of Pakistan. Yet, there is also a lesser, but still confounding angle to the video saga. News reports quoted Shibli Faraz and others as saying that the PTI had these videos for three years but just saw them. This is simply astounding. Even if the reports were incorrect, we must ask how, after the PTI’s internal inventory after the 2018 Senate polls, Sultan was able to not only avoid detection but get appointed to one of the most influential ministerial positions.

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