September 25, 2020
In 2017-18 budget speech, the Sindh government announced that it will increase the education budgetary allocation from Rs 163.1 billion in 2016-17 to Rs 202.2 billion. Despite this increase, the condition on the ground is shoddy with poor infrastructure and serious governance issues. PCE developed a plan to engage district administration, local government representatives, school management committees, head teachers, community members and other key stakeholders to identify the root causes of the deteriorating education situation in the province. The model that PCE developed was to include all key stakeholders in Focus Group Discussions (FGDs), Community Consultations, Capacity Building Sessions as well as creating a volunteer People's Action Group for Education (PAGE). This group was formed in anticipation that the local issues could be identified, prioritized and resolved at the local level. PCE carried out its first phase of activities in August, 2017 where a school based survey was to be carried out in two selected UCs of District Jamshoro (Shalmani and Shah Awais). Representatives of PCE also held meetings with the local authorities, community members, school management committees and parents. The outcome of the survey and the meetings revealed much greater underlying issues that were not known before the start of the intervention. PCE team also visited schools of UC Shalmani and Shah Awais to experience the extent of deterioration prevalent at the school level. School visits also helped in validating the claims made by the community members in the FGDs.
Despite various attempts, the District Education Department officials were reluctant to cooperate with the implementing partner/ member of PCE. The District Executive Officer - Education (DEO) refused to provide a No Objection Certificate (NOC) to carry out a school based survey in the selected UCs. The DEO justified his denial by stating that he does not have the authority to give out such permission instead permission must be sought from the Provincial Education Department in Karachi. However, once the objective of the survey was made clear to him, he gave a verbal permission to conduct the survey without a formal written letter. The implementing partner/ member also sought the permission from Provincial Education Department which was declined.
Without the written permission, Head Teachers were also reluctant to provide information with regards to the School Management Committee funds received and utilized. Most of the Head Teachers also stated that they have not received any funding from the government and have not kept any record of its utilization.
For an in-depth analysis of the situation at hand, PCE team interviewed all key stakeholders of the District Jamshoro. The key stakeholders included Local MPA, UC Vice Chairman, Head Teachers, District officials, community and SMC members. A series of questions were put forward and responses were documented for the purpose of further analysis. The most predominant factors identified through these interviews and analysis contributing towards low enrolment in schools as well as deteriorating education situation in the District are discussed below.
Prevalent socio-economic condition in the District: Through the findings of the FGDs and various interactions with the district authorities and officials, community members and local government it was revealed that the most predominant cause of children not attending schools is poverty. Most population in the district is rural which is involved in agriculture in the fertile parts, employed in various industrial activities including coal mining and fishing industries. Parents were not willing to send their children to schools as they are employed in the local mining industry. Girls were not allowed to go to schools due to certain social constraints as well as to carry out household chores during the day including taking care of their younger siblings. Most of the population lives in mud houses and lives hand to mouth. Those who live in the urban centers have better employment opportunities but mostly send their boys to schools.
Lack of infrastructure and non-availability of teaching staff: PCE team visited a number of schools in the area only to discover that most schools lacked basic facilities such as safe building, clean drinking water, electricity, furniture etc. This was made evident by the fact that in one of the schools visited, a part of the school roof fell a day after the visit, injuring school staff. Some of the primary schools visited in the rural parts of the district were one-teacher schools where all children sat in the same room regardless of their grade and subject of study. The teachers present in these schools also complained about not having enough staff members including cleaners and peon. They stated that they have no choice but to ask the students to clean their rooms, furniture and surrounding areas as there was no cleaner available.
Irrelevant Education System: Most of the community members and the local government representatives interviewed during the assessment of the on-ground situation stressed on the need to have more relevant education curricula. They stated that the education their children receive in schools is not relevant to their way of lives. They stressed on the need to have more skilled based learning for their children so that once they graduate, they can help out their families and have more employment opportunities. Most parents did not see the utility of the current education provided in the government schools and insisted on sending their kids for employment instead.
Bad governance: Interviewing Head Teachers from local schools revealed that most of the schools, whether primary or secondary, have not received any government funding. This includes funding for furniture and building repairs, learning materials, school running costs etc. One of the schools visited in Thana Bula Khan area, received contributions from its local industrialists, which included school uniforms, water coolers, library books, furniture etc. Some schools in the area also received contributions from local and international NGOs who helped creating a better learning environment for students. All Head Teachers and the District officials stressed that no government funding has reached the schools. When questioned about the school running costs, they said that it is mostly through contributions donated by a local influential.
Another revealing fact was the new model Sindh government has been implementing throughout the province. This model has merged three or four adjacent primary schools in to one, creating a dispute amongst the staff members. Only one Head Teacher is appointed to look after these merged schools regardless of the fact that these schools may be a kilometer or more apart. Similarly, primary schools, adjacent to Middle or Higher Secondary Schools, have been made in to a "Cluster". The primary school staff of such schools report to the Head Teacher of the Middle or Higher Secondary School. This ad hoc governance structure has created an uncertain environment at the school level.
Can the situation be improved?
The Jamshoro case and the situational reality has prompted us to draw some conclusions as to what the future course of action should be in terms of fixing education and reducing drop outs. Initially, the assumption made was that owing to the lack of social accountability and absent citizen participatory mechanisms, education has deteriorated in condition throughout UC Shalmani and Shah Awais. However in the due course, it became evident that the nature of problem is not just limited to this line of reasoning, although it was a major contributing factor. As it is with all evidence based interventions, the design of the intervention allowed for reflexivity. In this case, the emergent ground realities pointed towards an increased and targeted intervention in the UCs of Shalmani and Shah Awais. Owing to the problems identified by the community, there are a few recommendations which PCE aims to put forward.
Decentralization and Local Government's role in education: From the FGDs and observations made by the PCE team, it was evident that there is disconnect between the local government and education governance. The UC councilors as well as the other elected members need to be integrated with the monitoring mechanisms of schools in terms of school development plans. It was observed that there was a visible absence of local government in governance of schools.
Revision of curriculum: From the group discussions with parents and head teachers, it emerged that the parents and the children do not see the value of education as an investment. Many questioned the utility of sending their children to schools amidst high transportation costs. It seemed this lackadaisical attitude stemmed from the content of teaching at these schools. As most of the school-going aged children belonged to the farming or mining communities, they could not relate to the curriculum being taught in the school. Therefore, it is recommended that the curriculum be revised on an immediate basis to include vocational training for the children as well as young adults so that the community and the parents see the utility in education.
Building more schools: Shortage of schools in the UCs of Shalmani and Shah Awais, has resulted in many children especially girls, to remain out of school. Coupled with the sporadic number of middle schools as well as high costs of transportation, many parents preferred to not send their girls to schools. It is therefore recommended that the provincial government increase the non-salaried budget as well as development budget to build more schools for girls.
Governance issues: There is a need at the provincial level to reassess the policies and plans that have been implemented. It is also vital that policies are developed through an inclusive process where local communities, civil society and other key stakeholders are also represented. Government also needs to ensure transparency and accountability to tackle corruption. There is a need for institutionalizing social accountability mechanisms through capacity building at the local level to enable the citizens for better monitoring role.
About the writer: Umar Bin Tahir is a Policy Advocacy Coordinator with the Pakistan Coalition for Education (PCE). He tweets at @UmarBinTahir