The liberal PPP keeps its largely rural vote bank uneducated

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Karachi

Since its creation in the 70s, the Pakistan People’s Party has claimed being a liberal political force in the country. It hates the Taliban because they bomb schools and oppose critical thinking, and education, they claim, is the only road to development.

In their election manifesto for this term, the PPP promises to achieve universal primary education. For a party which has been in power for decades, educating its largely rural vote bank should have been a priority.

But a recent report on the state of education of the country reveals that Sindh lags far behind other provinces. Even the terrorism-hit Khyber Pakhtunkhwa is doing better.

The News quotes data from the Annual State of Education Report to present to its readers the abysmal learning levels of districts from which prominent leaders of the party hail from.

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Larkana

This is the land of the great Bhuttos. Here, inside a white-domed mausoleum, lie the PPP martyrs, the Oxford-educated Benazir Bhutto and her charming father Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. The district also happens to be the hometown of Senior Education & Literacy Minister Nisar Khuhro.

Here 15.8 percent children remain out of school. Among the children who do attend school, girls continue to lag behind.

Of the total students at government schools, only 31 percent are girls. In the private sector, representation of girl students is a mere 29 percent.

Learning levels in Urdu and Sindhi are such that 20 percent children in grade-five cannot read a single word in their mother tongue.

When it comes to English language skills, only 20 percent children in grade-five can read a sentence. Arithmetic skills are such that 44.5 percent children in grade-five cannot solve a two-digit subtraction sum.

This state of illiteracy is not just prevalent in the present generation. The past generation was affected by it as well: only 21 percent mothers and 48 percent fathers have completed their primary education.

Khairpur

This is the land of the great Bhuttos. Here, inside a The three-time Chief Minister Qaim Ali Shah still has his ancestral house here. In Khairpur 21.1 percent children are out of school.

Among the children who attend school, girls continue to lag behind. At government schools their representation is only 35 percent and at private schools the number is even lower at 27 percent.

Learning levels in Urdu and Sindhi are such that 37 percent cannot read a sentence in their mother tongue.

When it comes to reading a sentence in English, only 42.5 percent children in grade-five are able to do so.

Arithmetic skills are so weak that 41.4 percent students in grade-five cannot solve a two-digit subtraction sum.

Only 20 percent mothers and 45 percent fathers in the district have completed their primary school education.

Dadu

This is the hometown of former education minister Pir Mazhar-ul-Haq. Here 31.3 percent children are out of school, most of them girls.

Among the children who are getting some sort of schooling there is again a wide gender disparity. Against every 13 boys at a government school, there are seven girls.

Learning levels of Urdu and Sindhi are so low that 19.3 percent children in grade-five cannot read anything in their mother tongue.

English language skills are also poor: only 27 percent children in grade-five can read a sentence. When it comes to arithmetic skills, 40 percent students in grade-five cannot solve a two-digit subtraction sum.

Only 22 percent mothers and 59 percent fathers have completed their primary education.

Through the efforts of the PPP, last year Sindh became the first province to turn Article 25A into legislation. It declares that free and compulsory education for children aged five to 16 is a right everyone is born with. But for now, it will take more than a legislation to send the children of Sindh back to school.

originally published here

illustration courtesy Faraz Maqbool

One year later, free education remains a distant dream

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Karachi

In Sindh’s Jamshoro district, there are pockets with zero percent literacy. But at a school run by a not-for-profit organisation, a group of 20 students, mostly girls, are trying to change the status quo.

a group of girls at Jamshoro who are striving to change status quo

a group of girls at Jamshoro who are striving to change status quo

They know everything about Article 25a—the right to free and compulsory education for children aged from five to 16; the fact the constitution recognises education as a fundamental right now — a right that citizens are born with; and that if parents don’t send children to school they can get imprisoned for three months.

In their village, they have held theatrical performances to increase awareness about the law. They have visited parents. They have even talked to government teachers, one of whom is now tackling the problem of absenteeism at his high school by writing letters to parents whose children are not attending.

A boy died in their village while crossing the highway to reach his school on the other side. He was run over by a truck. The girls wrote a letter to the district’s education officer to tell him about this very important issue.

a letter the girls wrote to the education officials complaining about the school on the highway.

a letter the girls wrote to the education officials complaining about the school on the highway.

“Education is our right. If the authorities do not give us our right, we should pester them until they succumb,” says Shehla, a vocal ninth grader. And how do you pester the government? “We write letters; involve the media; and hold peaceful demonstrations,” she says.

This is a small community mobilisation campaign that the Indus Resource Centre, a not-for-profit organisation, is running at three of its schools in Jamshoro. While this may be a ray of hope, the larger picture is somewhat bleak.

A year after Sindh became the first province to guarantee education as a fundamental right to its citizens, not much has been done on ground. A visit to rural areas brings out a dismal picture of public schools.

Against promises by successive ministers of introducing technology in education, students can still be seen using slates and chalk. At a higher secondary school in Kotdiji, a village in Khairpur, there are only two teachers against the needed 22. Not surprisingly, students don’t bother to attend school.

slate

In Habibullah Goth, another downtrodden village, a new school building has been constructed in front of an empty school building. While the former enrols about 10 students, villagers don’t know the last time classes were held.

Many girls interviewed during the visit accepted that their parents did not allow them to go to high school as boys from other villages sat in the same classes.

Nutrition remains a problem and during recess many students run home for a quick snack. “Generally they come without breakfast. And sometimes after they leave school for lunch they don’t come back,” said a teacher present at one of such schools.

A pilot project by a milk company and a private school where students are given a cup of milk for everyday attendance has shown remarkable improvement in turnout, claim teachers.

No official notification has been dispatched to office-bearers at the provincial education department, informing them about the legislation for free and compulsory education. As a result, only 25 percent officials in rural Sindh know about the existence of such an act, states a study conducted by the Indus Resource Centre.

The study titled “Implementation of the Sindh Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act” also states that only two percent parents in rural Sindh know about the year-old law. Similarly, only two percent of school-going children in rural Sindh know about the law. Among the teachers a mere three percent know the law.

Thirty-two percent of children in Sindh are out of school, according to the Annual State of Education Report 2012.

While the Sindh government took the lead in making education free and compulsory, there is a need now to make schools a fun place to learn. This can only be achieved through addressing the hurdles communities face in accessing education.

It is not that there is no demand for education. Schools run by the social sector are often full to the brim while public sector schools are plagued with low attendance. It is time the Sindh government takes the lead in bringing children back to school.

originally published here