Education is the bone and blood of modern-day societies. No nation can think of attaining progress and prosperity without adequate and inclusive education. Those nations that realized the significance of education timely have achieved unprecedented glory and dignity. Nations that undermined its importance have been handicapped by the anathema of illiteracy, incompetence, and militancy.
Like many other postcolonial societies, the crisis of education, in Pakistan in general, and in Sindh in particular, is acute and chronic. In this context, the one percent passing ratio in the Junior School Teachers (JEST) test should be no surprise for students and policy makers of Sindh. Many factors can be held responsible for worsening the crisis of education. Pervasive poverty, a rising ratio of early dropouts, existence of ghost schools and teachers, and official negligence are some of the factors that lie at the heart of the education crisis of Sindh.
The latest ASER report is an eye-opener and self-explanatory for all and sundry in Sindh and the rest of Pakistan. It exposes the underlying structural flaws and has put Sindh on the lowest education ladder. The report states that 56.2 percent of grade five children cannot read a story in any national language, 69 percent cannot read a story in English language, and 69.5 percent cannot solve basic mathematics problems. The issue of out-of-school children is also worrying; according to a recently released report, in Sindh, 6.5 million children are out of school. That is 44 percent of children in Sindh.
There are a number of factors that are responsible for this mess in education, a peculiar and prominent one is the problem of ghost schools and ghost teachers. There are thousands of ghost teachers who are teachers only on paper. They continue to draw salaries but never visit the school in which they are posted. There are also ghost schools where no educational activity has ever taken place, but funds are continuously released.
Pervasive poverty is also one of the factors that proves to be a stumbling block in education, as poor parents send their children for work instead of school. It ultimately results in child labour and an increase in the number of out-of-school children. Government must take some serious steps to discourage the twin problems of child labour and out-of-school children. It can also take some inspiration from the midday meal programme introduced in the neighbouring India.
Lack of education is the mother of all evils. Education in Sindh is ailing because of corruption and other factors. The biometric mechanism introduced by the Sindh government proved to be counterproductive as it failed to compel ghost teachers to be punctual in schools. Rather, it oversized the burden on the national exchequer and gave rise to massive corruption.
Without an efficient, vibrant, and impartial system of accountability, perennial educational anomalies cannot be solved, and good results cannot be achieved. Therefore, government should take steps to introduce the results of internal and external accountability, aiming at improving the system of education. It is true that the crisis of education has been exacerbated by the pandemic, however, gloom is a useless emotion, and every cloud has a silver lining. The province of Sindh can overcome the crisis of education by taking serious efforts to implement meaningful reforms. It should introduce the mid-day meal option in order to discourage early dropouts. A strict mechanism of accountability will help the province to elevate its standard of education.