Education has always been low in the pecking order of Pakistani politics. Like an invalid on a wheelchair, education reform is rolled out periodically, shown to people, and then rolled back into the depths of its hiding place. Successive governments have failed so spectacularly that Pakistan is in a dire educational crisis at the moment. Pakistan has almost 5.5 million children in the 5-9 age bracket who are not in school, the second highest number in the world. The country also had the third highest number of illiterate adults in the world. Furthermore, it scores low on enrolment, dropout rates, academic performance and literacy indices. Unsurprisingly, very little is to be expected from the government’s decision to launch an “education emergency”, apart from the fact that at least the correct vernacular is being used for the situation’s gravity.
The government plans to hold an enrolment drive and increase the education budget to 4% of the GDP, but recent reports show that throwing more money at education is not the solution. The Sindh government has grandly unveiled successive increases in the annual education budget, yet Sindh’s education is in shambles. 13,500 (28%) of the total 47,394 public schools in Sindh are situated in virtual ruins – if there is any structure at all. Over 23,000 (49%) schools still function without basic facilities, such as electricity and drinking water, another 20,212 (42%) without washrooms, and more than 18,938 (40%) without boundary walls; all this despite earmarking 22% of the budget, which amounts to Rs149.4 billion, for education. Where does all this money go? Apparently, into the pockets of teachers teaching empty classrooms and staff maintaining non-existent schools. Less than 10% of the budget goes into developing or maintaining schools, the other 90% is swallowed up by salaries and related expenses. NGO’s estimate that Sindh alone has 40,000 ghost teachers; people who are ostensibly paid for “teaching” yet have never set foot in a classroom. No wonder the Sindh government is so eager to increase the education budget. A larger budget would only further line the pockets of corrupt officials in this lucrative profession, not reach the actual schools.
This shameful situation is mirrored in other provinces in a similar degree. Enrolling more students will be pointless if their institutions have no facilities or staff; the dropout rate would remain unchanged. Instead of bandying about generic education reform policies, focused around increasing funding, the government needs to overhaul the system. It needs to be released from the clutches of bureaucracy and be given an effective oversight system, it needs to be pruned of ghost teachers and be given ample development funds. The government has declared an emergency; it needs to act like it too.