Candidates belonging to Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), that has governed Sindh for the past 10 years, failed to attend an event organised to bring the contestants face to face with the voters ahead of this month´s general election to discuss the dismal state of education in District Shaheed Benazirabad (formerly Nawabshah), named after the assassinated former prime minister and a key political battleground for the party.
Dr. Qadir Magsi – STTP, Mr. Najaf Raza – MMA, Gul Muhammad Rind – PTI, Syed Kazim Ali Shah, PSP and Ms Afshan Iqbal – Independent participated in the discussion and presented their vision to reform Shaheed Benazirabad’s state of education. PPP candidates were conspicuous by their absence.
The town hall type meeting was organised by Ilm Pirayo, Sindh Sanwaryo and Alif Ailaan, and was attended by parents, youth activists and civil society members of four provincial assembly constituencies: PS-37, PS-38, PS-39, PS-40, and two national assembly constituencies: NA-213 and NA-214.
The educational landscape in Shaheed Benazirabad shows that the availability of government girls’ schools beyond primary access, quality of education, and missing facilities and poor school infrastructure are the three most important factors contributing to failing education standards here.
Out of all the government schools in the district, only 18% are exclusively for girls, rest being for boys. Girls’ schools are lower in number at every level of schools as compared to that of boys. The ratio of girls to boys’ primary schools is 1:5.
The students graduating out of the primary level do not have enough schools to attend post primary and this result in a steady decline in enrolment at middle level as compared to the primary level, forcing the children to discontinue their education. There are only 2 higher secondary schools for girls in the district.
Moreover, of the schools that exist, 95 schools in the district are not functional and of the schools that are functional, 29% of schools in the district still lack drinking water; 41% of schools do not have electricity; 30% schools do not have a boundary wall around them 39% schools do not have a functional toilet in them.
Despite repeated promises and attempts to provide basic facilities and improve school infrastructure by successive Sindh governments, 231 schools are still shelterless out of a total of 2,639.
As a result, learning outcomes of the students of Shaheed Benazirabad are critically low. 2,327 schools in the district are without science labs, and 2,346 schools in the district are without libraries. As per Annual Status of Education Report 2016, only 2% of grade 5 students can read English sentence meant for class 2 and only 3% of grade 5 students can do two-digit division meant for class 2.
While speaking at the session, Dr. Qadir Magsi stressed on the uniform education system across the board where the child of a poor and underprivileged gets access to the same education standard as that of the rich.
Mr. Gul Muhammad Rind emphasised on increasing girls’ education facilities, provision of missing infrastructure facilities and madrassa school reforms.
Mr Najaf Raza, while sharing the education statistics, promised opening of 213 closed government schools, provision of electricity in the schools, establishment of science laboratories and libraries’ in over 2,300 government schools within one year of his tenure after getting elected. He further underlined the need to increase education facilities for girls to minimise the gender disparity in enrolment.
Syed Kazim Ali Shah accentuated the need to increase the education budget in order address the issue of missing infrastructure and access to quality education. All the panelists unanimously agreed on provision of more facilities for girls to access better and quality education.
Towards the conclusion, all contesting candidates signed on a charter of demands for the constitutional provision of quality education for children of Shaheed Benazirabad, and promised to deliver on the charter if elected during upcoming elections.
The charter, backed by a host of organisations, parents and community members in Shaheed Benazirabad, outlined the following demands:
People highly value education but linear approaches not working
Gender disparity, lack of specialist teachers to be addressed
Community members secure pledges from candidates