The Punjab government had set a target of enroling 4,400,000 (4.4 million) children of age group 4-9 across the province under the Universal Primary Education (UPE) Campaign 2015 which started on April 1.
According to the data obtained by The News from Punjab School Education Department, with the enrolment of 3,848,384 (3.8 million) children at primary level the department has achieved 87 per cent of the target in the first phase of the enrolment drive which continued till May 31, 2015.
However, out of this total enrolment, 1,944,068 (50 per cent) have been enrolled in government-run schools, 1,688,823 (44 per cent) in private schools, 143,098 (4 per cent) in seminaries and 72,395 (2 per cent) in non-formal education system. The second phase of the enrolment drive has started recently after the summer vacation, which is annually observed from early June till mid-August, and will end on October 31, 2015.
One wonders as to why the Schools Department is reflecting enrolment at private schools, religious seminaries and non-formal centres in its enrolment achievement? Shouldn’t one think as to why 44 per cent of the people prefer sending their kids to private schools despite the fact the government-run schools offer free education and free textbooks?
According to the department officials, the data about enrolment at private schools also includes enrolment at schools financially supported by Punjab Education Foundation (PEF). Since the same is not indicated in the data, it is not possible to exactly know enrolment at PEF-sponsored schools. Efforts were made to get the data from PEF but to no avail.
At the same time the Schools Department’s officials claim the enrolment data doesn’t speak about all the private schools in Punjab but most of the low-cost private schools. Many big names in private sector education usually don’t share their data with the government. This means the actual enrolment at private schools would be much higher than what is being reflected in this data. Sources in the department confirmed that elite/ top private schools never shared their enrolment data with the department vis-à-vis its enrolment drive.
A communications officer from UK’s Department for International Development (DFID-Pakistan), which provides broad sector budget support to Punjab’s School Education Department to help improve access to quality of schooling, and support the government’s 2018 education goals, also confirmed that the enrolment achievement includes both PEF and other private schools.
The communications officer also shared key findings of Nielsen’s household survey, held through DFID, to vet enrolment achievement of Punjab in the first phase of the enrolment drive. According to the report, the student enrolment split is 53 percent public schools and 47 percent private schools while overall enrolment percentage in the first phase of UPE Campaign is 90 percent. The key findings of Nielsen don’t differentiate between enrolment at Madrassahs and non-formal system in total enrolment at private schools.
Even if one does not indulge in debate about government’s “efforts” to get students enrolled in private schools, the data reveals growing trend vis-à-vis people preferring private schools over the public ones. This is indeed worrisome aspect since public schools offer free education while private schools charge fee at will. The shift towards private schools should also serve as a notice to the Punjab government which over the years has been ignoring the much-demanded and much-needed regulatory body for private schools which besides charging fees collect different kinds of funds. The mandatory purchase of stationery items and uniforms from prescribed shops is another aspect exposing private sector fleecing the masses in the name of education. This should certainly be a wake-up call for those at the helm and efforts should be made to bring the government-run schools in a position where people prefer these over private schools. The low quality of education, lack of facilities and access to schools are often cited as reasons behind growing shift towards private schools.
Above all under the Punjab Free and Compulsory Education Act 2014, it is responsibility of the provincial government to provide free and compulsory education to “ALL” children of the age of 5 to 16 years of the province. However, presently, the law is toothless as no rules of business have been framed to ensure its implementation.
Undoubtedly providing free education opportunities to all children of the province is a big challenge for the government as there are financial constraints besides societal issues. However, there is a constant demand from the stakeholders that the government should come clean vis-à-vis data and should bring it on table to ascertain the magnitude of the issue and make concerted efforts to achieve this goal. Pakistan has not held population census since 1998 which shows seriousness of the incumbent as well as successive governments vis-à-vis assessing prevailing crises in different sectors like education and subsequent planning to address challenges these sectors face.
When contacted School Education Department Punjab (Special Secretary) Ahmad Ali Kambo said the enrolment drive should be seen in context of international commitments vis-à-vis Millennium Development Goal (MDG) of achieving 100 percent enrolment a primary level. He said private sector was extending support to achieve this target. About the Right to Education (RTE) law of the province, the Special Secretary said the government plans to achieve 100 percent enrolment at public schools by the year 2018.
Meanwhile, analysis of the enrolment data by The News shows some very interesting trends and patterns. For example, district Khushab, hometown of incumbent Secretary School Education Department, Punjab Abdul Jabbar Shaheen, has the lowest percentage (27 pc) of enrolment in public schools when compared with overall enrolment. The district recorded 50 percent enrolment in private schools and the rest in Madrassahs and non-formal system.
According to the data, overall percentage of boys is 53 percent while that of girls is 47 percent. The top five districts with highest enrolment of boys (when compared with overall enrolment) are Bhakkar (59 pc, Bahawalpur (59 pc), Muzaffargarh (59 pc), Chakwal (58 pc) and Faisalabad (58 pc). The top five districts with highest enrolment of girls are Rahimyar Khan (58 pc), Toba Tek Singh (57 pc), Narowal (56 pc), Nankana Sahib (56 pc) and Okara (55 pc). The top five districts with highest enrolment in Madrassahs when compared with overall enrolment are Bahawalpur (17 pc), Khushab (16 pc), Lodhran (16 pc), Rahimyar Khan (10 pc) and Rajanpur (9 pc). The district Khanewal with 77 percent students has highest number of students enrolled in public schools when compared with overall enrolment followed by Pakpatan (76 pc), Bahawalnagar (72 pc), Vehari (68 pc) and Okara (68 pc).
The district Sheikhupura with 68 percent students has the highest number of students enrolled in private schools when compared with overall enrolment followed by Faisalabad (64 pc), Multan (63 pc), Gujranwala (58 pc) and Attock (54 pc).