Education receives another blow in Sindh

The recent “monsoon on steroids” and subsequent flash floods have caused death, destruction, displacement, disease and loss of livelihoods across the country. Sindh remains the most affected province. About 14.5 million people have been displaced within the province.

Worryingly, climate cruelty has dealt a mortal blow to Sindh’s education system, in terms of infrastructure damage. According to Sindh Education Minister Sardar Ali Shah, monsoon rains have damaged some 15,000 schools this year, while 5,000 school buildings are being used as shelters for climate refugees. He said: ‘There are fears that these pupils will leave school for good.

The government does not have the resources to restore these 20,000 schools once attended by some 2.5 million students. Thus, the academic path of most students this academic year is compromised.

Sindh Education Minister Sardar Ali Shah announced the establishment of tent schools. One wonders how the Department of Education will accomplish this herculean task of opening temporary learning centers across the province. A classroom should have basic learning tools, adequate lighting and fans.

Why wouldn’t the provincial government consider setting up tents for climate refugees? Why move school children into tents? Why aren’t tent cities established in flood-affected talukas and union councils?

The other day, flood survivors in Larkana and Kharipur Nathan Shah staged protests in Larkana and Dadu’s taluka Mehar, demanding materials for shelters and food delivery. The District and Session Judges of Larkana and Dadu expressed their displeasure in their reports on the measures taken by the District Administration for the displaced persons and highlighted the severe shortage of tents, food and medicine for those affected by the rain. This damning report not only highlights the historic disregard for the urgent needs of flood victims in the two hometowns of Bhuttos and provincial captain Murad Ali Shah, respectively, but also symbolizes the poor delivery of public services in all contexts following the torrential rains.

Needless to say, the provincial government’s announcement of tent schools is more of a political slogan than a practical solution. Administrative incompetence is measured by the fact that “one teacher for 30 students” is still a distant dream. Also, the education department provided the textbooks to the students after the start of the school year.

Why wouldn’t the provincial government consider setting up tents for climate refugees? Why move school children into tents? Why aren’t tent cities established in flood-affected talukas and union councils?

Recently, the Department of Education recruited about 40,000 Primary School Teachers (PST) and Junior Primary School Teachers (JEST) through the test conducted by IBA Sukkur. The criterion announced for the recruitment of candidates was to obtain 55% in each subject planned for the written test. The candidates did not obtain the prescribed marks. As a result, the success percentage was reduced from 55% to 40%. It is a living testimony to the absence of a clear educational policy. Provincial teacher recruitment policy requires applicants to pass a written test in 8 subjects.

The Annual State of Education Report (ASER) 2021-22 has called for an education emergency in Sindh following the provincial government’s wavering commitment to maths enrollment and learning outcomes, in science, Urdu and English. According to the ASER report, 66% of children in the age brackets of 3-5 years are currently not enrolled in any early childhood education (ECE) program. Article 25-A of Pakistan’s constitution guarantees “free and compulsory” education for all children between the ages of five and sixteen.

Education specialist Dr Ayesha Razzaque noted that the floods have exacerbated the existing problems in the province as Sindh “was already performing quite poorly on all education indicators of students attending schools or their academic performance in mathematics and language learning skills”.

The truth is that primary school has collapsed, due to poor governance, lack of control mechanism, untrained and unmotivated teaching community and the introduction of English in teaching primary.

As a result, public sector schools in Sindh have ceased to produce reflective, cognitive and productive learners. Learners are seen as “empty vessels” whose primary role is to passively receive academic input through lectures and direct instruction. Passive learning kills the creative power of students. Cramming weighs on their imagination and cognitive ability.

It is said: “education is when the mind expands, not when the mind memorizes”. The solution is to move to student-based learning. Teachers and students play an equally active role in the learning process.

No challenge is as great as a struggling education system. Addressing this is obvious: ending financial indifference to public sector education; provide emergency funds for destroyed school infrastructure; ensuring transparency and meritocracy in teacher recruitment; bringing technology into smart classrooms; requiring public sector education employees to enroll their children in public schools, colleges and universities; exams at different levels instead of testing memory power should check critical thinking and evaluation skills; embrace climate change and prioritize climate resilience; plan the evacuation and subsequent accommodation of climate refugees to prevent schools from becoming accommodation centers in the future.

Norma A. Roth