By Badar Mustafa
There are around 22 million children of 5 to 9 years of age in Pakistan according to Pakistan Education Statistics Report 2015-16, published by National Education Management Information System (NEMIS). Children of this age group are usually considered as primary school going children. But in Pakistan, hardly 75% of these children attend schools, while the remaining are among the out-of-school children (OOSC) of the world.
According to the Global Competitiveness Report published by World Economic Forum for the year 2016-17, Pakistan stood at 122nd position in terms of Global Competitiveness Index (GCI). This index is basically a measure of how productively a country uses available resources. For measuring the extent of productivity, this report is based on a detailed analysis of 12 parameters which are termed as ‘pillars’ of sustainable development in this report. Among those 12 parameters or pillars, ‘Health and primary education’ is also included.
The above mentioned report and different statistics provided by governmental and non-governmental sources portray a very bleak picture of the primary level education system in Pakistan. According to the formerly discussed report of NEMIS, there are around 5 million out-of-school children (OOSC) in Pakistan, including those 1.8 million children who are studying at Madressahs (or religious seminaries). Among the provinces, the highest numbers of OOSC are in Sindh.
However, there has been gradual improvement due to different productive efforts taken at governmental and non-governmental level, as marked by the drop in the number of OOSC from 6 million to 5 million, between 2012 and 2016. Still, we are lagging much behind in International standing in the primary education sector. This is true even in comparison to other developing countries like the SAARC nations. According to the SAARC report 2014-15, published in collaboration with UNESCO, some Education for All (EFA) goals were set which contribute to the fulfillment of the Millennium Development Goals (MDG). Many member countries, developing countries like Bangladesh, have made greater progress in the pursuit of these goals as compared to Pakistan.
As per the report of UNESCO titled “The Education System in Pakistan: Assessment of the National Education Census”, there are different factors responsible for this alarming situation. These factors are briefly discussed below:
- Vacant teaching posts and untrained teachers are creating a sense of mistrust in parents and children towards the school-based education system.
- Lack of basic facilities at school is another factor. These facilities, such as electricity, school furniture, blackboard and textbooks, are considered essential for creating an environment which is conducive to learning.
- The financial background of students is also a major hurdle in entering as well as continuing their primary education. Because of the pressing demand to meet the family needs, many children have to choose between their education and earning livelihood.
- Gender disparity is also worsening this situation. Although the mindset of not sending girls to school has changed to a large extent, but to meet family needs girls are engaged with their mothers in labour activities. This issue relates more with the early drop-outs from primary education.
- The difference in public and private schools is another problem. According to the aforementioned report, private schools play an important role in the education system. Generally, they do not receive public funding and thus may not be required to meet certain standards such as the provision of a set curriculum or the professional and academic training requirements for their teaching staff.
Apart from the factors discussed above, there are some other issues as well which need to be addressed in order to resolve the crisis of primary education. Following is an outline of a couple of these issues.
- There is often a discrepancy between the medium of instruction and the first language of the students. This creates a language barrier for students and causes difficulties in grasping concepts and ideas.
- Parents are often faced with the dilemma of deciding whether their kids should go to a school or a religious Madressah. There is a need for a greater synthesis between the two systems so that choosing one doesn’t result in the loss of the other kind of education.
These realities are demanding more utilization of our potential to address the dire situation of primary education in Pakistan. Although the federal as well as provincial governments are taking different steps in this regard, these often lukewarm efforts are not enough to resolve the crisis. We not only need greater efforts to take out-of-school children back to school, but also to elevate the academic standards and the learning environment of primary schools across the country. This will help in ensuring that those who do enroll in schools do not dropout. Individual as well as collective steps must also be taken on a larger scale to deal with the challenge of poverty which is the mother of many other social challenges and has a great role in keeping young children away from schools.
To conclude, the way to prosperity in the future is sustainable development, and if we want to promote that in Pakistan, we need to invest more, both in terms of funds and efforts, in our primary education system.