When matters of economic hardship and political rivalry take up the front page, little attention is paid to social issues like education. During speeches and interviews MNAs and MPAs advocate for education as the key to building a better Pakistan. No one disagrees; every child should have access to a quality education. Yet how many have taken concrete steps to reform schools in rural areas, far away from the comfort of easy publicity available in major cities like Karachi and Lahore?
When PTI’s MPA Sidra Imran entered a school in the village of Berani, Jam Nawaz Ali Taluka District, she found a rundown barn instead. Buffalos roamed the rundown classrooms. Their feed was stacked on the filthy floor. There was no child or teacher to be seen or heard. Someone was making good money by stealing the future of little children. But was the provincial government aware of this? And did their leaders care?
Interestingly, this supposed school is situated a short drive away from PPP’s MNA Shazia Marri’s house on the main road. When allegations about the school’s condition and location were denied by Shazia Marri, Sidra Imran openly challenged her on Twitter to come see the school herself in the presence of media. Eventually the issued gathered enough momentum that the Sindh government agreed to look into the matter. However, the school is yet to be restored. Meanwhile, tax payers’ money continues to be misused.
For the fiscal year 2018-2019 the Sindh government allocated 27% of its budget- that is Rs. 208.23 billion- to the education sector. This was a 14.67% increase compared to the previous allocation (for 2017-2018) which stood at Rs.181.5 billion. Every year the amount set aside for education is raised and receives a good round of applause; for the fiscal year 2015-2016 it was Rs. 144 billion while for 2016-2017 it was Rs. 176.4 billion. But where does the money go?
According to the ASER 2015 Sindh survey 24% of Sindh’s children between the age of 6 and 16 were out of school. However, as per the Academy of Educational Planning and Management’s 2017 report, this number stood at 55%. Given the appalling condition of government schools and heavy fees of private schools, these statistics are not surprising; according to the NGO Alif Ailan only 42% of primary schools in Sindh have electricity, 54% have drinking water, 60% have toilets and 58% have a boundary wall.
Issues concerning the education sector are repeatedly overlooked. A story uncovering ghost schools in Sindh either makes it to the corner of a newspaper or is given two minutes in an hour long news bulletin on television. There is never enough noise made for a child’s right to a quality education. Politicians, anchors and activists repeatedly and rightly demand the state function in accordance with the constitution. But Article 25A of the constitution also guarantees free and compulsory education. Then why do they turn a blind eye to the plight of a child who knocks on their car window begging for money?
Despite being a political party with three generations of leaders educated at the finest universities in the world, PPP has done little to alter the educational landscape of Sindh; Zulfikar Ali Bhutto pursued Law at Oxford, Benazir spent four years studying at Harvard, Bilawal graduated from Oxford in 2012. But where do students of Sindh stand? If their MNA couldn’t even identify and address an issue existing within a five minute drive from her own home, how can the party ever be expected to resolve issues plaguing the entire province?
While PPP’s ‘roti (bread), kapra (clothing), makan (housing)’ slogan has always resonated with the common man, in today’s day and age neither of these can be achieved without an education. If a maid’s child cannot read or write then that child is bound to end up working a similar poorly paid job. But how can a maid living on bare minimum wage educate her child without the state offering her a facility to do so?
The rundown building currently serving as a buffalo barn in Berani belongs to the little children of that village. It holds their future. Now if Sidra Imran continues her struggle for the education of these children, perhaps eventually PTI will succeed in cleaning up one small spot of the mess created in Sindh by PPP’s decades of corrupt governance. School by school the education system will have to be monitored and reformed.
The common man residing in interior Sindh has suffered silently for far too long. It is time for change. And this change can only arrive if we give the issue of education the importance it deserves. It would not be wrong to assume that my writing will not reach the people for whom I speak- as most can neither read nor write English. So it is not the grass roots that I address here, for they are too occupied in just trying to survive the harsh realities of poverty. Activists, NGOs and politicians of all parties need to push for educational reforms on a priority basis if they desire to see a prosperous Pakistan.