Saturday, May 14, 2016

How Shikarpur is failing its children

If you want to see how Sindh has failed its children, consider visiting a public school in some of the obscure towns of the province. I always knew that government-run schools have flaws but the extent of this problem was always abstract for me until I had a first-hand experience. Recently I was in Shikarpur (the city once known as the Paris of Sindh) to attend a cousin’s wedding. While in the town, I thought it would be a good idea to see how education is doing in a place that is known for its academic excellence; Shikarpur is known for producing many prominent poets, historian, politicians and bureaucrats.

Though much has been written about education emergency in Pakistan, but to my surprise, I discovered that the real problems are often greatly neglected in our discussions. There has been too much emphasis on accessibility i.e. putting 6.2 million Sindh’s out-of-school children in the schools. But what has not been talked enough is why do parents don’t send their children to school? The conventional wisdom usually argues that these folks simply don’t understand the importance of education. However, talking with teachers and parents, I learn’t how completely out of place such a myth is.

One reason people in these villages do not show interest in school, is lack of basic facilities in the government-run-schools. One such schools that I visited is shown in the pictures below. This school lacks even the basic infrastructure such as chairs. Students are made to sit on the floor. Since there are no fans and bulbs available in the classrooms, so the class takes place in a veranda (open area) where students take a benefit of sunlight, while some put copies in front of their face to avoid its scorching beams.

Wall is used as a blackboard
Out of nearly 200 students enrolled in this school, hardly 30 were present on the day I visited. One teacher highlighted that since there is no toilet in the school so many students go to their homes and never return back. 

At the back of kids is a picture of toilet which has no doors or availability of water
It is ironic that while education budget of the province has increased and the government claims to be spending the same on public schools but it seems that the infrastructure has seen anything but improvement. The fact is that the largest chunk of this budget is being spent on raising teachers’ salaries and the so called “School Specific Budget”. But one wonders what is the purpose of increasing teachers’ salaries when there are not even enough students to be taught in a class? In most government schools, teachers’ are political appointments who only show up on the day of elections. Why not instead spent same money on improving the infrastructure that renders an enabling environment?

I had a chance to mention this to a World Bank representative to Sindh Education Department. She argued that the problem is not that the kids are sitting on the floor but whether these children are endowed with enough knowledge and skills or not. She further argued that in number of private schools, classrooms are equipped with air-conditions but students know nothing. While I share the essence of her argument but we must not forget that the ultimate purpose of school is to render an environment that enables and motivates students for learning.

Secondly, there is no mechanism to investigate whether the children who are enrolled in the government schools, getting stipends, free books and uniforms; are actually learning anything at all or not? Among 5 government schools that I visited, none of the students from 3-4 class was able to read or properly respond in English except recounting basic alphabets. Class 3 student finds it difficult to answer “Where do you live?” With such an education these kids are barely getting literate, let along educated.

We must also understand that 21st century demands a holistic approach to education. Our schools need to encourage children for out-of-box thinking, nurture curiosity and help flourish innovation and creativity. Without these skills, no matter even if we achieve 100% enrolments, we should be rest assured that we are encouraging a generation of illiterates who will be a socio-economic and political problem for the country rather than a potential dividend. 

I am glad that with the help of financial contributions from friends, we have provided this school with desks.  

1 comment:

  1. Bravo Kashif. Great work in highlighting these often over-looked prejudices and writing them in an accessible manner. Good luck with your future endeavours!