LAHORE - Punjab Minister for School Education, Rana Mashhood Ahmad yesterday painted a rosy picture of the state of affairs in Punjab schools quoting official figures and citing the commendation received from the World Bank.

Responding to a cut motion moved by the Opposition demanding drastic reduction in the budget allocation for education department, the minister stunned the House by his revelation that 1.7 million children had left the private schools in the last few years to get admission in the state-run schools.

While it is true that private schools don’t offer bursaries and scholarships to the children studying there, the news of migration of such a large number of children into government schools came as a great surprise for the opposition members. This was something unbelievable especially in the context of government’s decision made only last week to outsource 10,000 government schools to private sector. They include schools of all levels- primary, middle and high located across the province. The decision to place them under private control is an indirect admission of the department’s failure to have an effective control over them.

The minister also claimed that government would achieve its enrollment target by 2018 after which no child of school going age would be out of school in Punjab. He informed the Assembly that 2.5 million children have already been enrolled in the past two years. 

But the facts speak otherwise. According to the enrollment data available with the school education department, only 50 per cent enrollments have been made in the government schools. It is strange to note that the official data also reflects the enrollments made in the private schools, seminaries and the non-formal education system during this period.

Education minister also told the House that his department was recruiting 40,000 school teachers every year to make up for the shortage of teachers in government schools. Many in the media gallery doubted this figure which seems highly exaggerated given the fact many schools in Punjab are still not having their sanctioned strength of teachers. Rana Mashhood also informed the House that Punjab government had received commendation even from the World Bank for achieving the set targets. He also cited a story published in Daily Mirror lauding Punjab government’s initiative of providing education to the children previously working at Brick Kilns as child laborers. He asserted that indicators in the education sector were not as bad as the Opposition was projecting them to be. 

Also, with the establishment of a camp office for the Punjab IGP, the Punjab Assembly has been virtually converted into a mini civil secretariat. Camp offices for the chief secretary and administrative secretaries were set up last week.

All this has been done only to keep quorum in the House. But the civil officers known for their strict adherence to the rules may not be of any help to the legislators always seeking an out-of-the box solution for their problems. But this arrangement has worked well in the last few days. A sufficient number of PML-N members are always present in the Assembly to meet the quorum.