The deliberate collapse of education in Sindh, courtesy of PPP

Published: April 22, 2019
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An estimated 52% of children in Sindh are still out of school. PHOTO: FILE

The Sindh government budget for the fiscal year 2018-19 witnessed an increase in spending on education, with the Rs208.23 billion allocated for the education sector showing an increase in spending of 14.67% from the outgoing fiscal year.

Since the incumbent ruling party in Sindh took the reins of power years ago, budgetary allocations kept increasing every year compared to previous years, while education standards remained stagnant, or rather, deteriorated. For instance, an estimated 52% of children in Sindh are still out of school.

Despite billions of rupees being ‘spent’ every year on education by the Pakistan Peoples Party’s (PPP) provincial government, in addition to money spent by international donors over the last 11 years, the ground reality remains depressing and contrary to the claims made by the Sindh government.

The ruling elites of Sindh translate increased literacy to be a danger to their power structure, which is essentially based on feudalism and dynastic politics. Increased literacy will enlighten the citizenry with more tools for critical thinking and informed decision-making skills, which is considered a threat to the very dynastic political structure that is being maintained in Sindh. The PPP-led government is afraid of such a social change, which may render it powerless.

To have a clear understanding of the gravity of the problem, it is imperative to dissect the long 11 years of PPP in Sindh with regard only to the education sector.

It is very unfortunate that the Sindh government vociferously cries a shortage of funds, which is what it blames for why it could not improve the standards of education, including increasing the literacy rate, providing a better quality of education, training teachers and so on. Above all, it has completely failed to stop the deadly practice of unfair means or cheating in exams, which is blatantly endangering the future of our younger generations.

However, the fact remains that the Sindh government could not utilise the allocated budget for Special Education, Sindh Technical Education and Vocational Training Authority (STEVTA), Universities and Boards, and so on. During the last eight months of the current fiscal year, utilisation of the allocated budget has been negligible. Out of the Rs5 billion allocated for college education boards for 48 ongoing schemes with different interventions, unfortunately a meagre 16% of the budget has been utilised over the past eight months.

The Chief Minister of Sindh allocated Rs9.598 billion for the Sindh Education Foundation (SEF), with the intention to expand 2,400 schools and reach around 650,000 students. However, it has not moved past 550,000 students, as compared to Punjab where three million students are enrolled under the foundation. This year, the SEF received a large number of applications for the Adoption Program but failed to execute it, because the Secretary School Education and Literacy Department Qazi Shahid Pervaiz could not convene a board meeting over the last five months.

Sindh has a total of 42,383 public schools, a number that has declined from 47,557 in 2011. Most schools, around 95%, only offer primary education. Given the situation, dropping out after primary level becomes unavoidable. Meanwhile, the Sindh government has completely failed to share a roadmap to overcome this gap.

The curriculum being followed is from 2007, while the last review was in 2012, for which the books have not yet been printed. The Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) curriculum belongs in the 19th century, and though the Early Childhood Curriculum (ECE) was launched in a five-star hotel years ago, only God knows how long it will take to get the required books and teachers trained in order to implement it. Till 10th grade the medium of education is either Sindhi or Urdu, but higher secondary and college education in Sindh is completely in English. This sudden change in the language of instruction at higher grades creates trouble for the children, who might as well be reading in French.

The Standardised Assessment Test (SAT), which used to take place for students of class five and eight, has also been suspended as most students who took the test failed. Instead of improving the quality of teaching or re-examining the test itself, the SAT process was suspended.

Meanwhile, there is no accountability when it comes to the performance of teachers beyond attendance, which is taken once a month, as this is part of the Reform Support Unit (RSU) project in which someone visits and checks attendance through a biometric device. This RSU project remains partly dysfunctional due to a lack of funds, as foreign funding has been stopped.

Regarding the management structure, there are currently two directorates that are operational, while a third one is being planned to be setup for ECE. This means each government school building and operations will be managed by three different directorates. The consolidation policy of Sindh clearly remains a failure.

It is evident that the challenges are immense, though certain steps are essential for improving Sindh’s educational system.

The SEF needs radical changes – including budgetary – to increase enrolment, while the Education Department needs to make existing public schools fully functional. The Private Schools Network (PSN) should be taken onboard (through legislation) to run second shifts for secondary schools, and for this the government should provide the PSN a subsidy per child. This is needed on a war footing basis if we are to ensure Sindh’s children get a secondary education. The process should be announced and published once a year to streamline the academic year and ensure increased enrolment.

A curriculum board should also be formed with an open and transparent process like that in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (K-P). When it comes to teachers, their performance – alongside the principal’s – should be linked with the result of the school unit, while their hiring should be carried out through independent bodies to ensure merit. The college merger process should be carried out as per the judgement of the High Court, while one school unit should obviously be managed by one head instead of four different ones.

For examination boards, the government should constitute a commission for managing, overseeing and recommending measures related to examinations from primary to intermediate levels. It will help improve education standards in the province and prohibit cheating in exams.

Donor agencies such as the US Agency for International Development (USAID), the EU, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) and the Gates Foundation should also be convinced to work in liaison with the federal government for funded projects instead of directly engaging at the provincial level, for I am a witness to how foreign funding is being wasted here.

As an MPA of Sindh, I have submitted the Sindh Examination Commission Bill 2018 to address the aforementioned problems at the Sindh Assembly, and I request the Sindh government to support that bill.

Sindh is lagging behind in achieving the United Nations’ Sustainable Development goals and fulfilling the obligation of free education under Article 25-A. At the pace with which the Sindh government is working in the name of ‘reforms’, and with millions of children out of school, we can only pray for a miracle to change the fate of the children of Sindh.

However, as always, I believe change is inevitable in Sindh. The province has immense potential for development, keeping in view the large chunk of population that consists of the youth. It is high time we materialise this potential into a blessing, before it’s too late to bridge the gaps.

Rabia Azfar

Rabia Azfar

The author is a Member of the Provincial Assembly of Sindh, an IT professional and an education activist. She tweets @rabiaazfar (twitter.com/rabiaazfar)

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