By: Abdul Razaque Channa
What if you and I are uneducated, have never been to school, do not know how to send and receive text messages and are repeatedly called jahil (illiterate) and andha (blind)? Being illiterate may not kill a person but the feeling of being a jahil does, if not socially, then emotionally for sure. A girl, a sister, a daughter and a wife who may be a part of our family, neighbourhood, city or country may possess such feelings.
When it comes to the crucial question of the provision of education, there seem to be two pivotal forces: the state and its citizens. It is the state’s responsibility to ensure that males and females residing in both rural and urban areas are educated through mass literacy programmes. Secondly, the 180 million citizens of the state hold the right to receive education, of which 48.1 per cent are females. It seems that little success has been achieved by the state as far as imparting education is concerned. Policies and action plans are routinely produced. However, the reasons behind their failure have not been ascertained.
Articles 15, 25, 26 and 34 of the Constitution ensure the rights of freedom of movement, equality of citizenship, access to and participation in public spaces and non-discriminatory treatment and full participation in national life to women, respectively.
The ministry of education at the federal level (before devolution took place) and the department of education and literacy in Sindh, have put in efforts to implement the relevant articles of the Constitution in their educational policies and strategic plans. Similarly, all these policies and plans have declared girls’ education to be compulsory and primary education to be free for everyone. The 1970 education policy states: “establish separate girls’ schools wherever possible to overcome parents’ resistance to girls’ education”.
The education policy between 1972 and 1980 makes education up to tenth grade free for boys and girls and the national education policy between 1992 and 2002 ensures distance learning to increase women’s access to education. This policy also provides gainful employment opportunities for women. With the passage of time, various governments have taken decisions at the policy level to enable women’s participation and empowerment. Such empowerment and participation may be seen in the national education policy between 1998 and 2010, where the female has remained the main focus, as it states: “Take steps to ensure full participation of women in all spheres of life, introduce free and compulsory education in all provinces … relax the age limit for female teachers and provide special package of incentives to facilitate their entry into the profession.” It further suggests “constructing new elementary schools and classrooms preferably for girls”. These policy documents elaborate a distinctive way of treating primary education and particularly, female education.
These state documents highlight the importance of female education and promote gender equality. However, the situation is contrary to the one envisaged by these policy initiatives. Reports published by the National Commission for Human Development and Unesco indicate that Sindh has an overall literacy rate of 59 per cent for population over 10 years in age. There is a wider gap between rural (43 per cent) and urban (73 per cent) literacy rates. Within the rural population of Sindh, the female literacy rate is just 22 per cent. There are a total of 45,044 primary schools in Sindh of which girls’ primary schools number 7,283. Most schools are either co-education or are specifically for boys. Apart from this, most teachers employed in primary schools are male. About 40 per cent of the population in Sindh has never attended school and 55 per cent of this population resides in the rural areas.
Looking at these statistics, can we still hope that the Right to Free and Compulsory Education Bill passed by the National Assembly recently will help Pakistan boost its Educational Development Index ranking of 113 out of 120 countries? Is the government’s five-year strategic plan (2010-2015) of reaching 86 per cent literacy in Sindh by 2015 achievable? How sincere is Sindh’s department of education and literacy in achieving these aims and providing education to the female population of the province?