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Pakistan: Number of School-going Children on the Decline [REPORT]

Karachi: The number of school-going children is on the decline despite constant pledges and assurances by successive governments to increase literacy rate. At present, only about 27.5 per cent of the school-age children in the city are enrolled in schools. The low enrolment figures for schoolchildren belonging to the most prosperous of Pakistan's cities bode ill for the country's future, a survey conducted by a local NGO in collaboration with the provincial Education Department revealed. The report, which is primarily devoted to the issues related to education sector, has discussed academic problems at length. It said that the education system, especially in Karachi, was in disarray. "Studies show that only 65 to 70 per cent of children under the age of 12 are enrolled in schools, less than half of whom actually complete primary school," it said. Only 1.1 million of Karachi's school-age children actually were attending school - 0.5 million in public schools; as many in private schools and the rest in Madressahs. "Since the lowest estimate of school-age children in Karachi is four million, even in this wealthiest, most developed city of the country, it would appear that no more than 27.5 per cent of school-age children are attending school," the report observed. It said academic standard in majority of educational institutions functioning in the city was so poor that even reading and writing ability could not be assured to the students. "According to the UNICEF figures, a nationwide sample of children in grade five revealed that only 33 per cent could read with comprehension, while a mere 17 per cent were able to write a simple letter," said the report. "Development experts point to a number of factors for the poor state of public education, including the low percentage of gross national product devoted to education and inefficient and corrupt federal and provincial bureaucracies. "One member of the Prime Minister's Education Task Force estimates that up to 50 per cent of the education budget is pilfered." The report bemoaned the absence of universal education. "Despite recently promulgated laws on compulsory education, neither the federal nor provincial governments are providing sufficient resources to assure education," it observed. The survey said information about progress in educating girls was contradictory. "A recent survey found that the enrolment rate for girls under 12 was 65 per cent, which is less than that of boys (75 per cent), but is considerably higher than the 1990 figure of per cent. "Since official figures count at most 1.5 million school-age children in public and private schools and Madressahs in Karachi (of an estimated four million or more between the age of 5 and 14), enrolment figures of 65 and 75 per cent are difficult to account for. "Similarly, the female literacy rate has doubled during the past two decades, although, at roughly 27 per cent, it is just over half that of males. However, an Oxfam report released last year stated that the proportion of girls enrolled in school fell by 10 per cent in the first half of the 1990s." The report says girls still lagged far behind boys in education and other social benefits. "According to a United Nations study, girls receive less nourishment, health care, and education than boys do. According to a 1996 report by the Islamabad-based human development centre, only 16 women are economically active for every 100 men," observed the report. "Similarly, a study by the Sindh Education Department concluded that most girls in rural areas do not go to school because they have to look after the household while their mothers help in the fields. In Karachi, only 45 per cent of girls completing matriculation exams in science last year would be able to find places in government-run colleges, as against 95 per cent of boys passing the same tests. For 14,424 girls passing the exam last year, only about 8,000 places are available, according to 2002 figures. In Sindh province conditions are much worse, with only 12 per cent of the province's women having received any formal education," the report claimed. It has also spoken of the efforts made by the Punjab government to improve its educational system. In 1998, the government of Punjab, the country's most populous province, began an ambitious programme to improve the quality of its educational system. A comprehensive survey was performed to identify school buildings that were being misused and a large number of teachers and administrators who were not performing their duties or even showing up for work. Administrative action against these 'ghost schools' began and the government was better placed to ensure that its education budget was not misused. The Punjab government also worked closely with both international and local NGOs to improve primary and secondary education. However, no legal action has been taken against those found responsible for the misuse of government property. [FACE Newsletter]

Posted on 2003-06-25

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