In a recent move, thousands of public schools are being closed down or merged in the different provinces of Pakistan as a result of the rationalisation process of schools. The enormity of the exercise raises certain questions regarding the factors that led to this major decision by the government, especially when the education emergency report came out with startling figures about the educational status in Pakistan. According to this report, about seven million children are out of school and about 20 percent of students drop out before they reach class five. These figures should not be unexpected as the education has never been on the government priorities in Pakistan.
Despite the global realisation of the crucial role of education in economic and social development, we don’t find some serious, holistic, coordinated, and sustainable efforts to improve education in Pakistan. In the era of knowledge economy, the amount Pakistan spends on public sector education is embarrassing, a mere 2.1 percent – the least in the region.
The closure of a number of public sector schools is a matter of concern in this backdrop. Some major reasons given for this exercise include ghost schools, schools as a result of political pressures, schools with very low number of students, and multiple schools in the same vicinity. These reasons may have some weight but another very important factor which has led to this situation has not been taken up in the discussion. It is the emergence of private sector schools which have played a role in depleting the strength of public sector schools and as a result a number of public sector schools turned into sick units falling prey to the process of rationalisation. The public sector schools which were known for their quality education have now turned into deserted places.
It is important for policy makers and researchers to understand the real reasons of the plight of public sector schools. I am referring to some of the reasons here:
a.An important factor is the impact of neo-liberalism on education which can be seen in Pakistan in the last three decades. Some of the attributes of neo-liberalism include open competition, no interference of state, maximisation of profit and exploitation of labour. We see private sector schools enjoying free competition without any interference of the state. This kind of freedom is unthinkable in public sector schools.
b.In the wake of globalisation, a number of multinational companies and business opened their outlets in Pakistan. This situation led to the realisation of the vital role of English language as a prerequisite for getting a good job. This led to the popularity of English medium schools that mushroomed in all nooks and corners of urban Pakistan and are now spreading into rural areas as well.
c.The situation of the public sector schools deteriorated over the period of time due to the shortage of teachers, teachers’ absenteeism, and lack of accountability, etc.
d.The private sector was well equipped with the skills of marketing and showcasing. They cashed in on the need of English language.
e.The parents found a special attraction in English medium private schools, as besides the claims of the provision of fluent English, these schools offered the opportunity of social status and prestige.
f.The role of state is crucial in this regard. The government, instead of strengthening the public sector schools, gave up on them and started encouraging NGOs to adopt sick schools and run them.
g.It was this callous attitude of the state that gave last blow to the public sector schools. The poor funding, lack of patronage, and conservative management rules and regulations are speeding the death of public sector education.
The private sector’s pull together with the government’s ineffective policies is depleting the public sector schools. The rationalisation process in the coming years will be closing down more public sector schools. To meet the educational requirement of Pakistan we cannot have an either/or approach as private sector should complement the public sector to cope with the enormous challenges of access and quality in education. The government needs to have trust in the public schools and should provide them space for innovation and creativity together with an effective system of monitoring and accountability.
The writer is Professor & Director of Centre for Humanities and Social Sciences at Lahore School of Economics and author of Rethinking Education in Pakistan. E-mail: [email protected]