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Failing our children

THE falling quality of education over the years has exposed the state’s unforgivable negligence. Despite increasing education budgets, the government has been slow to tackle the gargantuan crisis in schools with specific fast-track interventions. Documenting this sorry state of affairs, the latest Annual Status of Education Report highlights the fact that only 52pc of fifth grade students can read in Urdu, Sindhi and Pashto; 46pc are able to read in English; and 48pc able to do two-digit division sums — a skill taught in grade two. Boys continue to outperform girls in reading and arithmetic. This is attributed to the lack of trained teachers and high dropout rates, especially in villages where 54pc of schools lack toilets and most are some distance away from home — a significant factor in families’ refusal to send their daughters to school. Meanwhile, teacher absenteeism has also contributed to the high dropout rate. With such abysmal learning scores and conditions, a shift in priorities is needed urgently. It would make much better sense for the state to focus on learning outcomes, transport options and quality teaching rather than on simply building more schools. Ensuring high standards of education is just as important as enrolling more children.

Teaching skills are critical to human development. This could not be more relevant in the case of Sindh that has the poorest learning scores, despite an increase in overall student enrolment by 2pc. Reading scores in the fifth grade dropped to 37pc in 2016 (from 45pc in 2015); only 25pc of students could do a two-digit division sum in 2016. Enrolment figures are up but that is hardly reassuring when we consider that children hardly get an education when they go to school. There may be no dearth of policies but low levels of implementation exacerbate the crisis. Referring to Sindh’s challenges, experts explain that the bureaucracy around financial disbursements to public schools has so many tiers that plans are shelved when budgets lapse. With its work cut out for it, the government should swing into action. Reforms need a monitoring period: the 9,000-teacher recruitment plan and teacher mentoring policy are a start. But much more is needed. With unexecuted policies thwarting performance, reminders are due that our poor progress towards meeting the SDGs will keep us from achieving the promise of education for all.

Editorial. Failing our children. Dawn, September 28, 2017.

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