The Pakistan Awami Teheerk (PAT) has made another rare foray into politics after a lengthy absence from the forefront. The party has published a ‘white paper’ disputing claims made by the Punjab government – especially the Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif – regarding education and enrollment. The paper accused over the government of fiddling with the real numbers, claiming that 13 million children in the province were still out of schools and the school attendance ratio was 64 percent, not 95 percent as claimed by Chief Minister, among several other things.

The PAT spokesperson, Basharat Jaspal, called these figures “election tricks, not education improvement plans,” but the white paper itself could be quite easily classified as one. This is not to say that the figures quoted by the PAT are incorrect – although considering that they too are poorly sourced they might as well be – the tone and tenor of the paper is clearly that of a political document. It is less an actual white paper – which usually refers to a preliminary document contained the relevant facts and figures and a policy suggestion before a law is drafted – and more like a targeted and accusatory press release. This is not the first ‘white paper’ released by PAT either, it released a similar one regarding “corruption” in 2015, which presented the party line of the PAT-PTI alliance; namely less needs to be spent on infrastructure and more on other services.

Now that we have characterised both, the Chief Minister’s statements and the PAT ‘white paper’, as inherently political utterances, we can assess the educational figures with the proper caveats in mind. Not only is the official attendance ratio of 95 percent suspiciously high, it is also disputed by several sources. Low enrollment and high dropout rates remain the single biggest problem facing Pakistan’s education system in the past couple of decades, more than lack of proper facilities, lack of teachers, and other such concerns. Pakistan consistently places in the middle of table of educational development indexes, and is still there according to the 2016 Global Education Monitoring Report by The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO). An enrollment rate of 95 would have taken it to the higher end of the scale.

The Punjab government has done good things for education; it has increased spending and has started several worthy initiatives, however it must do more to highlight those, and not pad official figures to seem more accomplished than it really is. It distorts the actual picture and hinders growth.