Sharing the responsibility

Abdus Samad
Friday, Jun 10, 2022

Universally accepted fact that education plays a pivotal role in social, political, economic and moral development of a society, summons more attention to the matter, especially in the currently polarized developing societies. As education greatly helps in eradicating poverty and allied societal problems, so in this context, the United Nations committing to the 2030 agenda for sustainable development, recognized that “eradicating poverty in all its forms and dimensions, including extreme poverty, is the greatest global challenge and an indispensable requirement for sustainable development.”

The UNESCO Global Education Monitoring Report and the Education Commission’s Learning Generation Report provide important evidence on the impact of education on individual’s earnings and economic growth. Some of the finds illustrate that education reduces poverty by increasing individual earnings, thus paves the way for reducing economic inequalities.

When it comes to Pakistan, Though since time of independence, it has evolved significantly in many sectors, yet education sector still leaves much to be desired. Lack of focused intervention will certainly make the situation grave with every passing day and unattended matters will keep haunting us. Education system in Pakistan because of its unsteady character is making the youth face the brunt; females more than males. Though covered under article 25-A of the Constitution of Pakistan, education is the basic right of all children aged 5-16 years old; however, this right is not being given due attention.

The political governments seem more focused on infrastructure development programmes to whitewash their election campaigns, rather than working for the human development indicators, which are otherwise essential for sustained development. Primarily fueled by the socio-economic and budgetary constraints, 22.8 million children of school going age are out of school in Pakistan (UNICEF). A report by the Idara-i-Taleem-o-Agahi titled ‘Measuring the Impact of COVID-19 on Education in Pakistan’ portrays a grim picture which reflects that the enrolment of girls aged 5-16 years is merely 39 per cent. Considering the 49.2 per cent women population in Pakistan, this figure would further decay the social fabric of the society and significantly hinder the socio-economic development if not addressed at priority. Every government in the past has made tall claims about revamping the education sector yet failed to spend more than 2 per cent of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) on education. At the community level, one of the key challenges is low level adult literacy and lack of effective demand for children’s education.

Common hardships to education sector in economically constrained countries including Pakistan are; Lack of funding, having no teachers or untrained teachers, absence of class rooms, lack of teaching material, exclusion of children with disability, gender bias, conflict in the area, distance from school and expense of education.

In the backdrop of Government of Pakistan’s facing difficulty in addressing the issue at its own, especially when the number of out of school children is high and facilities are meager due to economic constraints, role of civil society run programmes takes paramount importance. In Pakistan, this void, to some extent, is being filled by the Rural Support Programmes (RSPs) that are working for the betterment of the local community in Pakistan, especially, women’s empowerment and girls’ education. In this context, Sindh Union Council and Community Economic Strengthening Support (SUCCESS) Programme, implemented by Rural Support Programmes Network and its three RSPs, is one such programme that is playing a pivotal role in women development in rural areas of Sindh.

“No nation can rise to the height of glory, unless women are side by side with you” - Muhammad Ali Jinnah

The Father of the Nation, Quaid-e-Azam, highlighted the importance of women’s empowerment seven decades ago, but this still remains a dream. SUCCESS is contributing its role in providing literacy and economic assistance to many vulnerable women of rural Sindh under the Programme; 1400 Adult Literacy and Numeracy Skills (ALNS) centers have been established in eight districts to enroll 35,000 illiterate adolescent and women. ALNS center Samai Unar in Larkana district, is one of the shining examples of what could be achieved with little will and determination. The center that was embraced by the local community with open arms won their hearts, as it provided a ray of hope for young girls and women. The center hosts 20 learners, ranging from 16 to 62 years of age, who are inducted for an emergency education intervention for a period of 8 months. They are taught by a graduate from the same village who teaches basic reading and writing skills in English, Sindhi and Mathematics. Upon completion, the learners receive a certificate equivalent to passing grade two. It may seem that the project is operating on a small scale, but the acceptance of the local community and the impact it is creating is a real success. Many of the housewives waking up in the early hours of the morning to balance their house chores with classes reflect their desire for education and commitment to passion. Previously, these girls did not have access to any formal education and those, who did have access, did not have the liberty to study alongside boys, owing to decades’ old taboos and cultural norms.

These centers provide the girls and women exposure to basic numeracy, English and Sindhi reading, writing and speaking skills. Many are now able to read labels and expiry dates on medicines and signs at the hospitals where they visit frequently with their families. These small interventions are a breath of fresh air, but they need the government’s support for a sustainable future and effective utilization of these women centers. The government must ensure that women are facilitated at the village level by addressing the cultural challenges which are roadblocks to women’s education. Female teachers must be made available to girls’ schools to uplift the community. ALNS centers could be utilized as a Launchpad for women’s education in rural areas; however, it is up to the policy-makers to devise sound development policies to carry on the education of these girls after grade two. Induction of girls to regular classes regardless of age, additional funding in the education sector, hiring of more female teachers from local areas and establishment of small women-only-facilities would be an appreciable start. SUCCESS has also made significant headways to strengthen the local community by organizing them into community institutions to support the community in achieving economic growth and sustainability. Local Support Organization (LSO) Noor, fostered at union council level, operating in Larkana, made commendable efforts to help the local community ensure socio-economic development: 100 pc member households have been administered corona vaccine during the pandemic with the help of the government health department, community members were educated about the importance of sanitation, more than 500 students were enrolled in schools after the LSO took an initiative to revamp three schools in

the area, and a school was renovated and made operational with the help of local authorities and SUCCESS so that children could re-enter local schools.

For any society to achieve prosperity, it is a prerequisite to invest in education as it is the only way to help people out of the poverty trap. Even though public-private partnerships could play a crucial role in the betterment of any society whilst taking the strain off the government, the government must devise sustainable policies that would enable less privileged households to access education. Emergency interventions by international donors could also be catered to benefit from the individuals who received education through them.

The government may consider partnership with international and national donors working in the education sector in Pakistan. Furthermore, the policy-makers could introduce a legislation where all the business owners and industrialists, earning over a certain amount, must adopt a school and is made responsible for its high performance. Many businesses may also pool in money to support such initiatives. This would be more effective as the money would be directed to that school and the donor would take ownership of the students in that school. Industry supported schools may offer technical education, which subsequently can provide skilled manpower to the industry with vocational training relevant to the industry. This would directly serve the need of the industry and increase the employment rate in Pakistan. Private schools in Pakistan generate billions in revenue and have the expertise as well. They should be incentivized to adopt and operate schools in far-flung areas and train teachers.

This would not only help the local community but would also provide teachers the necessary skills to teach the future generation of Pakistan in an efficient manner. The education system in Pakistan needs an overhaul but only sound policies and help from programmes like SUCCESS, it could be achieved in an efficient manner with less economic strain on the government.

The author is a development professional with Rural Support Programmes Network