Pakistan's Wasted Youth

Pakistan's Wasted Youth
It is easy to ideologically control the illiterate and to please them with political lollipops. Qadir is a 22 year waiter in a tea shop in Taluka Barkani, is the district of Lakrana. He dropped out of school in class seven due to pressure from his father, an agricultural worker who asked Qadir to stop studying and instead start earning to support the family given the financial issues faced by his parents.

I asked him whether or not he lamented leaving his academic journey in mid-air. “I do regret that i could not continue my studies. But when I see the majority of my class fellows being graduates yet they are jobless thus becoming a burden upon the pockets of their parents. It gives me satisfaction that even if I continued my education, the life would not be different from the one I am leading now,” replied Qadir.

Article 25 A of the Constitution of Pakistan guarantees free education for all children aged between 5 and 16.

According to Pakistan Alliance Education for Girls report 2021,:

  • 5% females are out of school against a percentage of 23.7% for the males.57.2% females

  • 5 % males are in public schools while 8.3%females and 7.5%males are in private schools.

According to the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), originally known as the United Nations International Children's Emergency Fund, currently, Pakistan has the second highest number of out-of-school children (OOSC) with an estimated 22.8 million children aged 5-16 not attending school, representing 44% of the total population in this age group.

In the 5-9 age group, 5 million children are not enrolled in schools and after primary-school age, the number of OOSC doubles, with 11.4 million adolescents between the ages of 10-14 not receiving formal education.

Disparities based on gender, socio-economic status, and geography are significant; in Sindh, 52% of the poorest children (58% girls) are out of school, and in Balochistan, 78% of girls are out of school.

Reportedly, 4.5 million children are out of school in Sindh. Faced with second highest OOSC in the world, recently, a meeting of the Inter-Provincial Education Ministers’ Conference (IPEMC) was chaired by Federal Minister Rana Tanveer Husain to streamline joint action to deal with the issue of OOSC.

The primary purpose of the huddle was to discuss provincial planning in terms of intervention policies, timelines, and financial costs with provincial share that shall become part of a National Plan of Action for out-of-school children. Teaching children of the underprivileged has never been the priority of the policy makers, nor will it be in a foreseeable future.

Push factors in Sindh and elsewhere:

  1. Shortage of schools

The Express Tribune report (May 28 2023) titled "Shortage of Secondary schools hits Education" quoted the Sindh Education Minister Syed Sardar Ali Shah to have said that a significant majority of children in Sindh stop their education after class five. The main reason behind this situation is the lack of schools offering admission to the sixth grade. Out of the 40,000 schools in Sindh, a staggering 36,000 are primary schools, while the remaining 4,000 are post-primary schools, including higher secondary schools, which cannot cater to the children coming from 36,000 primary schools.

  1. Severe blow to children of the poor

Over 40% of children aged five and below in Pakistan are stunted whereas 2.5 million children are “severely wasted” — acutely malnourished, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO). Malnutrition impacts the health, productivity and learning ability of the children.

  1. Insufficient infrastructure in Larkana schools-the citadel of PPP

The District Education Officer (Seconday) Larkana provided a comprehensive report.

  • The total enrolment in secondary schools is 98010, and male and female is 59185, 39125 respectively. There is no closed school in the district.

  • 153 have electricity connection, 20 are without electricity.

  • There are 797 toilets out of which 553 are functional and 244 are non-functional.

  • A total of 29 schools have solar panels, and 144 are without panels.

  • 15 schools have functional libraries.

  • 152 have boundary walls, 21 without.

In response to my question  about poor infrastructure, the aforementioned DEO said that the “CM Sindh and Secretary education are making sincere efforts for the improvement in every context as education is free in the province from class six to intermediate ( no admission ,no examination, no enrolment fees)Girls students are given stipends of Rs 7000 to students of class six, nine and matriculation per year. There is no of shortage of teachers. Drop-out after enrolment is 5%.

Multiple problems have plagued the primary education in the province, and low learning outcomes tops the list. Primary education is the backbone that supports the body called elementary, secondary, higher secondary and university.”

The Annual Status of Education Report 2021 also revealed declining learning levels in rural Sindh- PPP’s political constituency.

  1. Sindhi/Urdu story reading:

  • 40% of class 5 children could read 2 level story in Sindhi/Urdu compared to 44 %in 2019.

  • 9% of class 3 children could read Sindhi/Urdu story and it was the same in 2019.

  1. English Learning

  • 24% class of 5 children could read full sentences (class 2 level) compared 27%in 2019.

  • 4% class 3 children could read class 2 level sentences compared to 7% in 2019.

  1. Arithmetic learning

  • 28% class 5 children could do two digit division as compared to 31%in 2019.

  • 7% children of class 3 could do two-digit division compared to %in 2019.

An independent source disclosed that the Student-Teacher Ratio (STR) policy could not be implemented in Sindh especially in Larkana following interference and pressure tactics applied by the Teacher Unions- Government Secondary Teachers Association (GSTA), Primary Teachers Association (PTA) in posting and transfers of teachers.

Political influence in posting and transfers of Taluka Education Officers (TEOs) and District Education Officers (DEOs) undermine professionalism.

Renowned researcher, writer, historian, and the founder of Gul Hayat Institute Dr. Dur Muhammad Pathan believes that education used to be compulsory. Now, it has ceased to be so as it exists on the paper.

Decades earlier, there was an oversight in terms of ensuring that children were enrolled, failing to brought retribution for the parents unwilling to enrol their children.

Worryingly, both society and the state have failed to determine the aim of education.

Unequal distribution of wealth has burdened the majority to compel their children to start earning at a tender age ultimately dropping out. He concluded that social justice, timeline, and target in terms of enrolment, and vision are needed to build a dam against out-of-school children which is not in sight yet.

It is easier to govern the illiterate and ill-educated than the literate people and better educated. The educated demand inclusive economic and political order. Hence, there is no institutional framework to stem the tide of OOSC; and those enrolled are not being taught at par with international standard.

According to the  Pakistan National Development Report 2020 offered by the UNDP, there are 22 million enrolled in low quality government schools. Poor quality education is partly due to lack of investment in teacher training and vocational training -the facet of education that receives the smallest allocations. Poor families are only able to spend up 2% of their income on their children's education relegating them to the domain of of poorer quality public education, and limiting their choices for work in the future.

As per this UNDP report, there are 27 million' idle' unemployed youth in Pakistan. This could lead to an increased risk of crime and violence, cloaked in the garb of ethnicity, sectarianism or religion. It thus leads to greater ills, and colonial legacy of divide and rule.

According to Levani, with an illiterate population, the government is capable of committing acts against their citizens, which can be perceived as "something good" from the government's point of view. People, who do not realise that, do not oppose it and simply become easily manipulated.

The writer is a freelance contributor. He may reached at Nazeer tweets at @nazeerarijo.