Tents For Classrooms: Education Gets Another Blow In Sindh

Tents For Classrooms: Education Gets Another Blow In Sindh
The recent ‘monsoon on steroids’ and subsequent flash floods caused death, destruction, displacement, diseases, and loss of livilihood across the country. Sindh remains the worst –hit province. Around 14.5 million people have been internally displaced in the province.

Worryingly, climate cruelty has dealt a deadly blow to Sindh’s education system, in terms of infrastructure damages. According to Sardar Ali Shah, Sindh Education Minister, the monsoon rains have damaged some 15,000 schools this year, while 5,000 school buildings are being used as shelters for climate refugees. He said, “There are fears these students may permanently go out of school”.

The government does not have the resources to re-establish these 20,000 schools once attended by some 2.5 million students. Thus the academic journey of most studends this academic year stands jeopardised.

Sindh Education Minister Sardar Ali Shah announced to set up schools in tents. One wonders how the education department will accomplish this Herculean task of opening temporary learning centers across the province. A classroom must have basic learning tools, proper lighting, and fans.

Why would the provincial government not consider setting up tents for climate refugees? Why move schoolchildren into tents? Why are tent cities not established in flood-hit talukas and union councils?

The other day, flood survivors in Larkana and Kharipur Nathan Shah held demonstrations in Larkana and taluka Mehar of Dadu, demanding shelter materials and food delivery. The district and sessions judges of Larkana and Dadu expressed dissatisfaction in their reports on the steps taken by the district administration for the IDPs and pointed out the acute shortage of tents, food, and medicines for the rain-hit people. This damning report does not only highlight historical indifference to the urgent needs of flood victims in both home towns of Bhuttos and provincial Captain Murad Ali Shah respectively but also symbolizes the poor public service delivery in every context in the aftermath of torrential rains.

Needless to say that the announcement of opening tent schools by the provincial government is more of a political slogan than a practical solution. Administrative incompetence can be gauged from the fact that 'one teacher per 30 students ' is still a distant dream. Also, the education department supplied the textbooks to students after the academic year had begun.
Why would the provincial government not consider setting up tents for climate refugees? Why move schoolchildren into tents? Why are tent cities not established in flood-hit talukas and union councils?

Recently, the education department recruited around 40,000 primary school teachers (PSTs) and junior elementary school teachers (JESTs) through the test conducted by IBA Sukkur. The criterion announced for the recruitment of candidates was securing 55 percent in every subject slated for the written test. The candidates failed to achieve the prescribed marks. As a result, the pass percentage was reduced from 55 to 40 percent. This is a living testimony of no clear-cut education policy. The provincial teacher recruiting policy requires the applicants to take a written test in 8 subjects.

The Annual Status of Education Report (ASER) report of 2021-22 called for an education emergency in Sindh following the provincial government's faltering commitment in terms of ensuring enrollment and learning outcomes in Maths, Science , Urdu and English. As per the ASER report, 66 percent of children of the 3-5 age groups are currently not enrolled in any Early Childhood Education (ECE) program. Article 25-A of the constitution of Pakistan guarantees ‘Free and Compulsory ‘education for all five to sixteen years old children.

Dr Ayesha Razzaque, an education scholar, remarked that the floods have exacerbated existing problems in the province, as Sindh was "already doing quite poorly on all education indicators from students attending schools or their academic achievement in Maths and language learning skills.”

The truth is that primary schooling has collapsed, thanks to bad governance, lack of monititoring mechanism, untrained and unmotivated teaching community and introduction of English in primary education.

As a result, public sector schools in Sindh have ceased to produce reflective, cognitive and productive learners. Learners are considered ‘empty vessels’ whose primary role is to passively receive academic input via lectures and direct instruction. Passive learning kills students’s creative power. Cramming burdens their imagination and cognitive capacity.

It is said, “education is when the mind expands, not when the mind memorises”. The solution is switching over to student-based learning. Teachers and students play an equally active role in the learning process.

No challenge looms as large as an ailing education system. Fixing it is a no-brainer: end financial indifference to the public sector education; provide emergency funds for destroyed education infrastructure; ensure transparency and meritocracy in the recruitment of teachers; introduce technology in smart classrooms; bind public sector education employees to enroll their children in public schools, colleges and universities; examinations at various levels instead of testing memory power should check critical thinking, and evaluation skills; accept climate change and prioritize climate resilience; chalk out evacuation planning and subsequent accommodation for climate refugees to avoid schools becoming shelter centers in the future.

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