Recent figures doled out by the Government of Punjab’s School Education Department claim a whopping increase in spending on education in Punjab, yet the serious lack of one of the most vital facility in an educational environment leaves one wondering where all that increased spending has gone.
Libraries are one of the most important features of an academic setting, be it at the elementary or post-doctorate level. Besides being powerhouses of knowledge courtesy of their usually vast collection of academic books, libraries around the world are revered for being agents that introduce novice minds to the wonderful world of reading, and through it, the joy of understanding a wide variety of concepts. School libraries are crucial for introducing children to books that are other than academic to enable their intellectual, cultural and emotional growth, as well as enhanced general knowledge.
Sadly, libraries appear to be worth not much for policymakers in Punjab, as evident from the harrowing statistics regarding their existence, or rather the absence of it, in just the capital of the richest province in the country. According to the annual school census conducted by the Punjab School Education Department and made available online recently, a total of 842 primary and middle schools are operational in Punjab’s capital Lahore, yet only 13% of these have provision of a library, or a shadow of it, called “library room”.
That’s 107 of 842; meaning thousands of children enrolled in 735 public primary & middle schools in Lahore – the heart of Punjab, home ground of the country’s ruling party – have probably never been inside a library. But what’s more worrying is the number of books the schools that purportedly have libraries – or “library rooms” according to official statistics – possess.
The combined number of books in “library rooms” in public primary and middle schools in Lahore comes to 54,384, an average of 500 books per schools that have a provision for a library. Otherwise, the average number of library books per school in Lahore drops to 64.5 if stretched across the entire number of primary and middle schools in the district.
Mind you, the sad stats relate only to middle and primary schools in Lahore and there is no way to really tell if the books said to be available in the “library rooms” at various schools in the district are in fact any different than those which are part of the syllabus.
According to the School Education Department, the provincial government’s educational spending has increased “manifold since the start of Chief Minister’s Education Reforms Roadmap”.
It said Punjab had seen an unprecedented 500% increase in education budget, up from Rs 63 billion in 2007-08 to Rs 345.61 billion in 2017-18, adding that the budgetary allocation for education was now 17.5% of the provincial budget.
All that sounds very good and indeed a great feat on part of the government, but increasing the budgetary allocation without planning provisions for something as vital as libraries can in no way do long term good for the cause of raising a truly educated population.
Pakistanis are known to have a herd mentality when making educational and career decisions. Part of the problem has to be our tunnel-vision approach to education and the limited exposure of our children to content that is other than academic. A love of reading is one of the most noticeable traits among people in countries that have exhibited economic, intellectual and creative progress over the years. We too need a generation fed on novel ideas and inspiration derived from books of varied nature to take the country out of its monotonous economic and socio-political rut.
But that is hardly achievable if the state fails to provide avenues to the masses to open up their minds by inculcating a love of reading and books. The effort must start now and it must start with public schools.