EDITORIAL: The latest Annual Status of Education Report (ASER), a citizens-led initiative aimed at providing reliable estimates on schooling status of children, shows that 14 percent school age children are out of school in rural districts of Punjab, which is a five percent drop from 2019.
The data is based on survey of 35 districts; 20, 062 households in 1,018 villages; 51,067 children (54 pc boys and 46 pc girls). In part, this may be attributable to Covid-19 pandemic which hit this country in 2019.
The Economic Survey of Pakistan 2020-2021 report also notes that the education-related expenditure witnessed a decline in the fiscal year 2020 due to the closure of educational institutions amid country-wide lockdowns and decrease in current expenditure (other than salaries) due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Even before that, however, the literacy rate left a lot to be desired. It was way back in 1973 that Article 24-A of the Constitution said “the State shall provide free and compulsory education to all children under the age of five to sixteen years.” Sad as it is, 48 years later the national enrolment rate remains dismal.
During the recent years, it has either stagnated or decreased. Punjab though has done better than the other provinces with literacy rate at 64 percent followed by Sindh with 58 percent, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (excluding merged tribal areas) with 53 percent and Baluchistan with 46 percent. One positive development in the case of Punjab is that learning outcomes, according to ASER’s findings, have improved for fifth graders in public sector schools - presumably, in urban areas.
Its enrolment rate, it seems, is also higher than the other provinces because a previous PML-Q government had started providing incentives such as free books and uniforms. Introduced later was a monthly stipend of Rs 1000 for boys and Rs 1500 for girls (or was it Rs 1500 and 2000, respectively?) to encourage their families to send them to school.
Last year, inspired by the success of that programme the PTI government announced monthly stipends of Rs 3,000 for girls and Rs 2,500 for boys in 6th to 10th class in public sector schools. It also set a target of enrolling 1.75 million children, one million in primary class, and 500,000 in secondary and 225,000 in higher secondary schools. With the change in government that target must not fall by the wayside.
As for the out of school children at present, ASER has called for giving them a second chance through non-formal education, and to mainstream them in special education schools’ afternoon/morning classes. It is hoped that this important suggestion will get serious consideration where it matters.
Other provinces must also assign education the priority it deserves. Needless to say, the future socio-economic progress of this country depends on what these governments invest in human development right from the start.
Copyright Business Recorder, 2022