IT is heartening to see the Sindh chief secretary taking interest in worsening education affairs in the province. Recently, he has convened a meeting on education reforms in Sindh, focusing on three programmes – public-private partnership, school consolidations and academies model in the UK.
The latter is being considered for replication with some contextual changes. The participants of the meeting included representatives of the World Bank, USAID, DIFD, UNICEF and civil society members.
The meeting highlighted some genuine issues being faced by the education sector.
This meeting seemed quite different as the style of discussion was frank and open to the extent that they accepted their failure and focused, without any rhetoric, on solving the problem.
One must give credit to the senior minister, chief secretary and the education secretary for speaking the truth and encouraging participants for the same, which was quite unprecedented and the first step in the right direction. However, solutions presented in the end were not well-thought-out and symptomatic because of vested interests of commercial consultants.
Since the Supreme Court was looking for some actionable solutions and recommendations, I presented three things: a suggestion, a question and a comment.
In my suggestion, I referred to the Nadra report which had detected 60,000 Sindh government employees holding two jobs, and the majority of them belonged to the education department.
History of public-private partnership in Pakistan indicates that it has been full of confusions and ambivalent approaches towards this. Sometimes the past government had denied the role of the private sector in education to the extent that all private schools were nationalised except the religious ones during the 1970s.
Sometimes there is a grant-in-aid schemes to encourage the private sector. Instead of solving the problem, such approaches have ended up creating social stratification due to different education systems. Now education has been turned into a commodity where poor parents send children to government schools and madressahs, while others choose schools according to their economic conditions.
In view of this scenario, I requested the Supreme Court, the senior minister and others stakeholders to come up with clear policy in terms of its long-terms priorities.For example, whether the Sindh government intends to promote consumer choices with regard to schools or strengthen a uniform education system in order to plug the gap between the haves and the have-nots.
Lastly, 91 per cent of schools in Sindh are primary schools and this is the area where the main problem lies.
The management should be the responsibility of the local government, while the provincial government should look after curriculum and textbooks, monitoring and evaluations, funding and teacher training.
These points require a thorough consultation with particular communities, parents and teachers unions. Taking these key stakeholders on board will pave the way for sustainable and long-term solutions.