Getting Education In Sindh On The Right Track

Sindh Education Minister Sardar Ali Shah plans to introduce concrete reforms that bring education in the province at par with the best public schooling systems in the world. He talks to Arshad Yousafzai about the challenges that are impeding progress on his plans.

Syed Sardar Ali Shah had big plans in mind as he took charge of the Sindh Education and Literacy Ministry following the 2018 general elections. He vowed to make public schooling in Sindh as good as could be and to exhibit the seriousness of his resolve, Shah got his only daughter and two nieces enrolled at Government Girls Pilot Secondary and Primary School in Hirabad, Hyderabad. But despite sincere efforts, little of what Shah envisioned public schooling in Sindh to become has actually become a reality, with traditional hurdles like red-tape, financial constraints, and resistance by various staff unions standing in the way of improvement. But undeterred, Shah continues to tackle the bull by the horns and plans to win international collaboration and assistance to uplift the education sector in the province.

Only criticizing the PPP’s 11-year government for the state of education in the province would be unfair. The fact is that education system across Pakistan has been on a decline since the independence.

Sole Responsibility

 

In an exclusive interview with The Academia Magazine, Shah said it was unfair to blame the Pakistan People’s Party for the mess the education sector of the province was currently in. “Only criticizing the PPP’s 11-year government in the province would be an injustice. The fact is that education system across Pakistan has been on a decline since the independence.” To back his claim, Shah dug into a chapter of history. “Zulfikar Ali Bhutto made several educational reforms in 1972 under his nationalization policy. At that time, a number of varsities, schools, and colleges were established across the country. Unfortunately, General Zia-ul-Haq toppled Bhutto’s civilian government and sent him to jail. The Zia regime brought several evils to the society, including placement of a number of illiterate and ineligible persons in faculties of mainstream educational institutions.”Shah claimed that around 40 thousands illiterate people were inducted as teachers between 1985 and 1988. “They were appointed on the basis of their political support for the Zia regime. His political allies would recommend people to Senior District Officers of the Education Department. And the appointments were made the very next day. Such a practice was common in KP, Balochistan, and Sindh,” he added.

Politics And Education

The Sindh minster for education said although the Zia regime saw its end in 1988, the country’s political climate remained unstable in the decade that followed. None of the four governments formed durinig that decade completed their tenure, eventually leading to the coup by General (r) Pervez Musharraf in October 1999. “This is why none of the governments implemented any kind of sustainable education policy,” Shah said. “The point is, from 1977 to 2008, Pakistan suffered the worst kind of political instability. That’s almost three decades. How can one expect the education situation to be anything but what is after 30 years of political turmoil?” 

Asked what had changed after 2008, Shah said PPP tried to rectify the overall system, including the education sector, dying its five years in power at the Center. “The PPP government devolved education to the provinces in 2010 under the 18 Amendment. In the last 11 years, teachers have been appointed on merit. And the trend of political appointments has been rooted out,” he said. “With education now a provincial subject, Sindh has brought many changes in the system of education,” the minster responded to a query. “We have introduced a bio-metric system for the attendance of teachers, appointments of trained teachers have been made possible through a third party, critical review of curriculum has been undertaken and several other changes have been made. The most significant change was establishing compression English schools for poor children.” 

Hurdles In Reforms

One of the key challenges on the road to reform were the powerful teachers’, staff, clerks’ and other employ associations, which, according to the minister, “have been working like mafias at government-run educational institutions”.“Pro-status quo bureaucrats also resist change”, he said, adding that when teachers staged protest demonstration “anywhere in the province, the civil society also comes out in their support. This is why bringing reforms on a fast-track basis is not possible”.Shah also highlighted some of the financial constraints that hampering the pace of progress in the education sector. “Although I am fully committed to uplift education in Sindh In the next five years, financial constraints have handed a major blow to my vision. To begin with, the federal government cut down Sindh’s education budget as soon as I took charge as provincial education minister,” he claimed. He said the federal government transferred funds to the provinces according to the NFC Award. “The central government has to pay Rs 55 billion per month to Sindh, but, Sindh receives just Rs 30 billion to Rs 35 billion. This raises the question, where will the Sindh government raise the remaining Rs 15 billion from? As a result, the provincial government has to slash budgetary allowance of almost all departments, and education is no exception”.

Teacher Talk

Commenting on the reforms with respect to teachers and their role, the PPP stalwart said the government was planning to link teachers’ promotion and rewards strictly with the performance of students. “Teachers who are not teaching would be deprived of taking incentives as well as promotions. In my opinion, teachers are responsible for producing capable students. And it’s their foremost duty to make students able to perform,” Shah added. “Under the new system, it would be mandatory for a teacher to perform his or her duty honestly, else there will be no promotion or increase in salaries.”

From 1977 to 2008, Pakistan suffered the worst kind of political instability. That’s almost three decades. How can one expect the education situation to be anything but what is after 30 years of political turmoil?

Private vs Public Education

To a query about the provision of education in public system versus the private system, the minister said the there was no way the two could be held in comparison. “I believe there is no connection between the private sector of education and the state-run schooling system. The private sector operates only to make money and does not even abide by rules and regulations. It has also become known for exploiting parents,” he said. On the other hand, the state-run schools provided free education to children by fulfilling their constitutional responsibility, he added. Shah said Sindh was the only province in Pakistan where education was free up to the intermediate level. “Sindh’s education department doesn’t collect fees from students studying in higher secondary schools or government colleges. Also around 350,000 thousand girls enrolled in grades 6 to 10 receive a monthly stipend of Rs 10,000.”  The amount of stipend has been revised from Rs 3,500 to Rs 10,000, the minister revealed. “The move is aimed at encouraging girls to get education up and increase their enrollment at schools.”Asked about his thoughts on the educational divide between rural and urban areas, the education minister said education was far better in urban areas, while the situation of education in rural areas was deplorable. Asked why it was so, Shah said, “There are simply no checks and balances on government schools in rural areas.” “No one cares if schools in rural settings are closed, functional or nonfunctional. No one cares if a teacher comes to perform his duties or not. But, we are committed to filling this gap between urban and rural areas. We are planning to form either a cluster of 8 to 10 schools or campus schools to keep a close eyes on the system of delivery of education and provide children education at their doorsteps.”