INAYATULLAH - In a previous column, I wrote about the Education For All Global Monitoring Report for the year 2013. In the UNESCO-sponsored world assessment of the six EFA Goals, Pakistan was placed in the category of countries which would fail to achieve even one of the targets including primary education and literacy set for the year 2015.

Earlier this week, ITA/SAFED and their partners released the annual status of education report for 2013. Chairman ITA presented the highlights of the Report in a meeting focusing on the state of school education in the Punjab, at Lahore.

Broadly the ASER Report takes note of access, (early childhood education) learning levels, gender gap, teacher and student absentees and missing school facilities.

Some of the salient findings for the Punjab province are:

ACCESS: Nine percent children have never been enrolled in a school and 7% have dropped out of school for various reasons (drop-out figure is way below the much higher percentage indicated in the international reports). Eighty‐four percent of the age bracket of 6‐16 years were enrolled in schools. Amongst these, 64% were enrolled in government schools whereas 36% of children were into non‐state institutions (33% private schools, 1% Madrassah, 1% others). In government schools, 41% were girls and 59% boys whereas in private schools 57% were boys and 43% girls.

So far as early childhood education is concerned: Forty‐seven percent children of age 3‐5 are currently not enrolled in any early childhood program/schooling.

Class wise learning levels is as follows: Learning levels of children remain poor: 34% class 5 children could not read a class 2 story in Urdu. Forty‐seven percent of class 3 children could not read sentences in Urdu compared to 43% in the previous year. Similarly, 30% of class 1 children cannot read letters in Urdu as compared to 29% in 2012. 75% of class 3 children cannot read class 2 level English sentences. Thirty‐three percent of children enrolled in class 1 cannot read capital letters.

Arithmetic learning levels is as follows: 44% children in class five cannot do 2-digit division. Twenty six percent of class 7 children also could not do it.

Multi-grade teaching: 34% of the surveyed government schools and 35% of the surveyed private schools had Class 2 sitting with other classes.

Attendance levels are: Overall student attendance in government schools stood at 89% whereas it was 88% in private schools. Fourteen percent teachers in government schools and 8% teachers in private schools were found absent.

Qualifications: Sixty‐four percent of private school teachers had Bachelors in Education degrees, as compared to 42% teachers of government school. Seventy percent of government high schools had computer labs and 82% had library books in their premises as compared to private high schools where only 48% had computer labs and 57% had library books. Forty three percent of government primary schools had playgrounds in 2013 while only 32% private primary schools had playgrounds.

Secretary, school education Punjab narrated the progress made by the government to increase enrollment at the primary level. He questioned ASER’s findings that there was little improvement in the enrollment figures and claimed that 3.7 million children were enrolled during the current financial year and according to an international third party assessment, 6.5 million children of ages 5 to 16 had joined schools during two years. The retention rate was 80%. He also informed that Rs. 8.63 billion rupees had been released to provide for missing facilities in the government schools. And 11 billions allocated for up-gradation of schools during the last 4 years. Free texts books were provided costing 10 billion. 7 billion were provided to the school councils.

Mr. I. A. Rehman and Syed Baber Ali also spoke at the occasion. Rehman expressed his unhappiness at the level of learning in the schools. What kind of education was being imparted in the government schools, (he posed the question) where 44% of class 5 students couldn’t do a 2-digit division, 75% of class 3 could not read class 2 level English sentences and 47% could not read sentences in Urdu. He made a passionate plea for better qualified and better-trained teachers and also for imparting education at the primary level in the mother tongue.

Syed Baber Ali stressed the need for improving quality of teaching and referred to the impressive contribution made by the Aman Foundation to make up for deficiencies by providing training to thousands of graduate teachers. He pleaded for more of women teachers who love children and care for them. He drew attention to the weak and indifferent health of the students and said that they should be provided lunch at the schools and each of them should have the facility of medical check-up and care. He would like the mothers of the children involved in the cooking of the meals. Schools should become attractive places for children. His idea of school management committees hinged on parents managing the schools with very few layers of supervision.

While the ASER report does highlight a statistical review of the numbers pertaining to schools, it has little to say about factors which obstruct desired improvements. Merely citing percentages and ratios does not bring out the real lags and distortions that characterize the state of affairs in our schools. During my visit to a large number of government high schools in the Punjab, I was appalled to find in many of them a depressing learning environment. On the walls, for instance I found the slogan MAR NAHIN PYAR while in the classrooms there were teachers with sticks in their hands. Students in many schools I found demoralized because of the teachers’ harsh attitude. (Plan international has recently taken a commendable initiative for re-dressal of corporal punishment in schools.) A headmaster said that most of the teachers had no interest in imparting knowledge to the pupils. Libraries in the government schools either remain locked and hardly used by students. Science laboratories present a pathetic picture. There may be a few exceptions. Another little known matter is that thousands of teachers live in the cities and towns while their schools are located 40 or 50 kilometers away. As they are not entitled to travel allowance, one can well imagine the time and money they would be spending to reach schools and frequently skipping classes.

I also found the administrative staff in the districts lording over the teachers especially females and reducing the headmasters to submissive subordinates. In addition to inefficiency and corruption, there also is subversive political interference in the school affairs by MPAs and MNAs. Unless these deformities and contortions are also factored into reports and assessments unfurled by government departments and private entities, no real or sustained improvement can be expected to take place.

n    The writer is an ex-federal secretary and ambassador, and a freelance political and international relations analyst.