Pakistan faces an enormous challenge of getting its close to 23 million out-of- school children back into schools, however, the lack of attention to education and related facilities  in rural Pakistan presents a mammoth challenge.

As per the preliminary data of the 6th Population and Housing Census of Pakistan, a total of 132.18 million people live in rural parts of the country of the total 207.77 million population of Pakistan. Rural areas of the country account for more than 63 percent of the total population. While Pakistan’s literacy rate dropped to 58 percent from 60 percent from the previous year, over 22.84 million children are still out of school in the country, with 5.06 million of these being primary-age children. As per estimates about half of the out-of- school children reside in rural parts of Pakistan. According to the Pakistan Education Statistics 2016-17 – the most recent detailed survey of education in the country – the major challenge to achieving the goal of education remains in the rural parts of the country  The detailed survey shows that a total of 150,129 primary schools exist in the country, of which 129,351 or 86.15% are in rural parts of the country. Out these primary schools, 121,674 or more than 81% are government-run schools. Interestingly, 108,306 or 89% of these public schools are found in the rural areas. With such a large number of population residing in the rural areas and such a significant number of public school infrastructure available  in country’s rural jurisdiction, the quality of education there should be impressive.

According to the Pakistan Education Statistics 2016-17 – the most recent detailed survey of education in the country – the major challenge to achieving the goal of education remains in the rural parts of the country

But it’s not. And the reason may have to do something with the actual facilities in these public schools. Many of the schools in rural areas lack basic facilities such as a building, boundary walls, electricity, water and toilets. The survey shows that a total of 8,469 primary schools did not have a school building, 93%, or 7,889, of which were in rural parts of the country. Of these public schools sans buildings, 89 were reported to be in Punjab and 86 among these in the rural areas of the province. Sindh had 4,810 schools without a building, of which 4,608 were in rural areas. Balochistan had 1,815 schools not having a building, with 1,500 in rural areas. In Azad Jammu & Kashmir, there were 1,156 schools without a building, again 1,096 of them being in rural settings. Similarly, Gilgit Baltistan had 36 such schools, while FATA, considered a rural area in entirety, had 563 schools without a building. With regards to the availability of electricity in primary schools, a total of 42,892 were reported to not have power. Again, 93% of these schools without electricity were reported to be in rural parts of Pakistan. Of these, Punjab had 3,148 rural schools without electricity, Sindh had 20,868 rural public schools without power, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa 2,664, Balochistan 7,947, Azad Jammu & Kashmir 2,861, Gilgit Baltistan had 445 rural schools sans power and FATA had 2,142 schools that remained without electricity. Drinking water, a basic necessity, is also not available at many of the schools in Pakistan, especially in the rural parts of the country. A total of 29,673 schools were reported to not have the facility. Of these, 27,599 or 74 percent were situated in the country’s rural areas. Punjab had 212 rural schools that did not have drinking water for students and staff; Sindh had 16,139 such schools in rural areas, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa had 2,268, Balochistan had 4,060, Azad Jammu & Kashmir 2,414, Gilgit Baltistan 376 and FATA had 2,125 that did not have the facility of drinking water. Lack of toilets is also seen as a major hurdle to retaining children in schools, but the situation in this regard also remains abysmal.

According to the survey, a total of 29,360 primary schools in the country are without a toilet, and 27,181 or 93 percent among these are in the rural  areas. Punjab was reported to have 326 such schools in rural areas, Sindh 13,994, Khyber Pakhtunkhawa 796, Balochistan 7,180, Azad Jammu & Kashmir 2,136 schools, Gilgit Baltistan had 423 and FATA had 2,320 schools without the availability of a toilet. Security, another major concern for parents, especially girls, is also reported to be missing in many primary schools as a large number of schools remain without a boundary wall. A total of 28,703 primary schools were reported to be without a boundary wall and 26,781 or 93 percent of the total were in rural parts of the country. In Punjab, 1,064 public primary schools in rural parts of the province had a boundary wall missing; Sindh had 14,969 such schools, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa 783, Balochistan 6,032 schools, Azad Jammu & Kashmir 2,396 schools, Gilgit Baltistan had 428 and FATA had 1,104 schools that did not have a boundary wall

Ammar Sheikh is correspondent of Academia Magazine. He has covered education sector as reporter in leading English dailies. He can be reached at ammar. sheikh@academiamag.com and on twitter @ammarshek