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By Khawaja Amer 

Sindh Chief Minister Murad Ali Shah’s commitment and efforts to accord priority to education are definitely very encouraging. In the fiscal year 2014-15, about 22 percent of the overall budget in Sindh was allocated to the education sector, but only Rs11.52 billion was actually utilized out of the total budget of Rs33 billion.

The education department in Sindh failed to make use of even half of the budget, showing the low level of their seriousness to revamp the education sector. Moreover, education is not just about allocating whooping sums that in any way go underutilized but it is also about careful planning and systematic and structural changes.

Whooping sums and little output

In fact, mere allocation of funds will not serve the purpose unless transparent and judicial utilization of the fund is ensured. Despite the allocation of Rs160.7 billion for education in fiscal year 2016/2017constituting largest chunk of the current budget, 28 percent-almost a quarter (24%) of Sindh’s school going children aged between 6 and 16 are out of school.

Of the remaining 76 percent, 55 percent of Class-V students cannot read Class-II level Urdu text and only 24 percent can comprehend written English.

While that pretty much sums up the ‘quality of education’ provided to students, the infrastructural side too presents a bleak picture. 52 percent public and 40 percent private primary schools of rural Sindh still do not have functional washrooms; 33 percent of private primary schools and 41 percent of government primary schools do not have boundary walls.

Challenge for Murad Ali Shah

There are over 40,000 ghost teachers and 5,229 ghost schools in Sindh, eating up quite a large share of Rs. 145.02 billion education budget.  So the problem is not just of money, it is also about poor governance.

52 percent public and 40 percent private primary schools of rural Sindh still do not have functional washrooms; 33 percent of private primary schools and 41 percent of government primary schools do not have boundary walls.

Now the biggest challenge for Murad Ali Shah would be to eliminate all ghost schools and remove all ghost teachers. Moreover, all those responsible for this sorry state of education in the Sindh Education Department must be severely punished so that others are discouraged from perpetuating these malpractices.

Unless the rampant corruption in the education sector is somehow controlled the yearly increase in the education budget will not serve any purpose. The money thus saved must be utilized for revising the salary structure of the school teachers which is simply miserable.

Shakir Lakhani, a known blogger writes, “On paper, the state is supposed to provide free education to children, but of course in Sindh, this is not possible since most of the education budget is siphoned away to foreign bank accounts and the rest is paid to “ghost” teachers who exist only on paper.”

Low salaries give little incentive to teachers

Despite the nature of the job and its importance in society, government school teachers are still receiving very low salary packages. The minimum basic salary of a school teacher is only Rs3,530 per month while the highest basic salary available to a teacher is Rs6,060. A poor financial package, among many other factors, is one of the major causes of the declining standards of teaching at the government schools.

Read more: How to attract the best and brightest into teaching our future generations?

A primary school teacher (PST) in Grade-7 collects Rs3,530 as basic salary, Rs1,588 as house rent allowance and Rs1,000 for medical and travel allowances. The annual increment is a paltry Rs190. Some senior officers in the education department shared with this author this information on the condition of anonymity.

A PST in Grade-9 is entitled to a basic pay of Rs3,820 along with Rs230 annual increment and Rs1,719 house rent. People in this grade receive Rs1,000 for medical and travel purposes, they further said. On the other hand, a PST in Grade-10 gets Rs4,955 as basic salary, Rs1,870 house rent and Rs1,000 for medical and approximately Rs1,100 conveyance allowance. They get Rs260 in annual increment.

Public and low-cost private school teachers in Pakistan do not get sound pay packages that fulfill the recommendations proposed by UNESCO. And while elite private schools do pay teachers relatively well, it is not enough to run a household in the midst of rising utility bills, and the high cost of living. This is another cause of frustrating output of school teachers in Sindh.

In order to make both ends meet the teachers start giving tuition at home and the tuition session continues till late night. Some of them also muster the energy to tutor privately even on weekends. As a result, the teachers are so exhausted that they are not in a position to take classes with full energy.

Promoting public-private partnership in education

On the other hand, the Chief Minister must also ensure that budget is utilized on improving the learning environment in classrooms and other measures that together improve the quality of education. He may take assistance from the World Bank’s cutting-edge research and impact guide on education for policy making.

In Angola, for instance, the Banks’ analysis of education system helped pave the way for large-scale reforms student assessment. It also helped in result-based-financing of education.

Read more: Higher Education Vision 2025

It may also be mentioned here that another good option for the government would be to enter in partnership with the private sector for rehabilitation of schools which are in hopeless condition. A number of those involved in the school business will surely be ready to accept such offers. One can definitely understand that it is not possible for a country like ours, which is unable to allocate more than 2 percent for education in the budget, to provide high-quality education to all.

Fairly large number of countries have or are opting for the public-private partnership for there are ways in which the two can join together to complement each other’s strengths in providing education services and helping Third World countries to meet the Millennium Development Goals for education set by the World Bank.

Khawaja Amer is a freelance journalist. He has worked in major international & national papers including Khaleeq Times and The News International. He contributes frequently to Dawn and Express Tribune. The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Global Village Space’s editorial policy

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