EDUCATION may be the constitutional right of every individual between the ages of five and 16, but actually getting children to school has proven to be a consistent challenge for the state. Millions of children never see the inside of a classroom or are forced to drop out early for a host of reasons. These include: the sheer scarcity of public schools in the country, particularly secondary and tertiary-level institutions; having to travel long distances to reach their destination; inadequate infrastructure within the schools such as bathrooms and running water; the lingering problem of ‘ghost teachers’ who do not show up to perform their duties but still collect their salaries; corporal punishment, bullying and the abuse of power that those in authority abet or turn a blind eye to; and an array of added expenses ranging from uniforms to stationery and transport which can prove to be a burden for many parents, especially those with several children. Given all these issues, a less frequently asked question is, once at school, what are the children learning?
In the Annual Status of Education Report, researchers found that 41pc of the fifth-grade schoolchildren they surveyed in the rural districts could not read a second-grade-level story in Urdu, while 45pc were unable to read English sentences. The perceived poor quality of education in government schools is also one of the major reasons parents across the country dream of sending their children to private schools, which have popped up across the country on a significant scale to facilitate the demand for quality education that the state is not providing. And yet, despite this desire for private school education, many parents cannot afford the tuition fees of such institutions, let alone all the other expenses that add up. It is imperative then that the government not abdicate its responsibility of providing free, quality education to the children of this country. The effects of doing so are already very visible and will be severely compounded in the years to come.
Published in Dawn, February 12th, 2020