A multi-party convention held in Rawalpindi to discuss the state of education in the district saw a majority of candidates for the forthcoming general elections, belonging to different political parties, leaving after speaking in generalities and not waiting to address or endorse a charter of specific demands drawn up by the community.
Neither did they speak in detail on issues confronting government schools of the district nor outline concrete plans to address them over their five-year term in the event of being elected. The convention was organised by Alif Ailaan and Sustainable Social Development Organisation (SSDO).
It was attended by Barrister Danyal (PML-N for NA-62), Sheikh Arsalan (PML-N for PP-16) Sumera Gul (PPP for NA-62), Col. Amjad Sabir (PTI for NA-59), Haji Rizwan Ahmad Awan (MMA-JI for NA-PP-14), Sheikh Rashid Ahmad (AML for NA-62) and Dr Azhar Aslam (independent candidate for NA-60) along with parents, youth activists and civil society members.
As per Annual School Census 2017 done by Punjab Government, 62% of all the schools in the district are primary schools. There are only 40 higher secondary schools in district Rawalpindi which make 2% of the total schools. The students graduating from primary schools do not have enough schools to attend post primary. The middle and high or higher secondary schools are at greater distances from their homes.
Lack of schools beyond primary levels explains why there is a drop in the enrolment rates as we move up the higher classes. This trend can be observed as there is only 1 middle school for every 4 primary schools. There is only 1 higher secondary school for every 10 high schools in the district.
Almost half of the schools in the district have unsatisfactory building condition. 57 schools have buildings which fall under the category “completely repairable”. 23 schools in the district have dangerous buildings. There are 120 schools in the district that do not have a boundary wall and 141 schools are not secured because of no main gate.
Rawalpindi is ranked at the bottom of the province based on the learning outcomes demonstrated by the students in PEC assessments. The learning outcomes in Science are specifically low.
One of the reasons is a shortage of science labs and subject specialist teachers in schools. Out of the 17,443 teachers appointed in the district, only 2,501 (14%) are subject specialist teachers and only 338 (2%) are senior subject specialists. 282 of the 428 high and higher secondary schools in district Rawalpindi lack science labs.
When asked about their 5-year plan to reform public school system in their constituencies, Barrister Danyal stressed upon investing more in early and primary years learning and teachers training, discounting the value in creating science labs and building school infrastructure.
He also questioned the effectiveness/efficacy of Article 25-A which, in his opinion, focuses heavily on enrolment and less on working out ways to bring the quality up to international standards. In his opinion, enrolment should not be a litmus test for evaluating a system’s response to the education crises.
He disagreed with the data that was presented highlighting the state of education in Rawalpindi, claiming that schools in Rawalpindi are better off than other districts, and yet admitted that he had little faith in the government system. Thus, no one from his family enroll their children in government schools because of their poor quality.
If elected, he promised to focus exclusively on early years’ education, private recruitment of teachers, reform tests and assessments system, and reversal of devolution of education affairs to provinces.
Dr Azhar Aslam also strongly spoke of centralising education again, which garnered applause from the audience. He, however, questioned Danyal’s policy of focusing solely on primary schools, saying that if there aren’t enough middle schools, the drop-out ratio would still remain the same as now. He also talked about introducing speed education program, an accelerated learning program for out-of-school children who can do their matriculation within four years of starting the program.
MMA-JI’s candidate Haji Rizwan announced to spend 5% of Pakistan’s GDP towards education if their party forms the government. He was the only speaker to admit and accept a politician’s responsibility towards ensuring implementation of Article 25-A, as opposed to Barrister Danyal, Sheikh Arslan and Col. Amjad Sabir who deflected responsibility of improving government schools and passed it on to ‘educationists’ and ‘government’ to do what was needed.
PTI’s Col. Amjad Sabir promised to increase salaries for teachers and providing more research, instructional and learning tools and science labs in Rawalpindi’s schools and classrooms for improved student-teacher relationship. He advocated for providing a friendly environment in schools where children should not have to fear a beating from their teachers that basically discourages them from learning.
PPP’s Sumera Gul who had joined in late briefly talked about improving conditions of schools in her constituency and refused to call schools without basic facilities such as water, electricity and science labs ‘complete schools.’
Untrained and disinterested in the job, many pursue other agendas
Salvaging the situation is not a one-organisation job