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Primary education in Pakistan | Power cut at UoP

Primary education - a bridge from misery to hope
May 14, 2008: Education, particularly primary education, has a crucial role in the overall development of an individual, and ultimately of society. Quality primary education is considered a foundation for social and economic progress as well as a source for enhancing human capabilities.

In the era of scientific advancement and technological revolution, where quality education is on top of the agenda in the global scenario, Pakistan, unfortunately, has not been able to ensure access to primary education to a majority of children in the country. The phenomenon is so disappointing that over six million children are out of school in Pakistan (UNESCO's EFA Global Report, 2008). And out of those who attend, 45 per cent drop out before completing their primary education.

Unfortunately, education has not been a priority of Pakistan since the state's creation. Instead of bringing consistent qualitative and qualitative reforms in education, the front liners emphasised more on event-oriented programmes and cosmetic changes. Successive governments formulated numerous educational plans, policies, commissions but all the efforts, which consumed huge resources of the poor country, were lost at the implementation level, leaving the people in a state of disappointment and apathy.

It is worth mentioning here that the pitiable situation prevails predominantly in the state-run schools, which are dedicated to the under-privileged people of the country. Affluent people cannot event think of sending their children to those poor performing schools. In my experience, the majority of children from lower income families, even the children of government-school teachers, go to private schools, leaving the government schools for those who do not have an alternate option.

The existing failing condition of state-owned schools highlights the fact that the concerned authorities lack a clear vision as to where to go and how to proceed and what to achieve in order to keep pace with the fast-changing world.

Despite the fact that education is free for children and huge resources are utilised and non-government organisations have extended their support, the desired result could not be achieved, which reveals the fact that the root causes of the issue have not yet been determined. A thorough study is required to explore the genuine reason of non-cooperation and resistance exhibited by parents. However, my own experience suggests three major factors which impede the parents in sending their children to schools. There is the discriminatory system of education, absence of liberty for parents to send their children to schools and the suffocating environment in schools.

The discriminatory system of education in the country is a major reason leading parents to de-motivation and apathy in the long run. The elite have high profile English medium schools, while the poor constituency is forced to go to state-run schools with Urdu as the medium of instruction. Most of them are in deplorable conditions owing to the absence of basic teaching and learning facilities. Neither can the children of such schools go for higher education to well-reputed academic institutions and technical institutes nor can they sit for competitive exams within the country due to the lack of English language proficiency.

Urdu is important as a national language but why is it not equally important for all people of the country? People who advocate the Urdu language in schools send their own children to the elite English-medium schools within and outside the country. The product of such schools are later likely to govern the country by holding the key positions. But those who received their education from the Urdu-medium schools mostly are faced with unemployment and frustration. Almost all of them come from under-privileged families.

Looking at the increased ratio of unemployment among youth, a large number of parents prefer to engage their children in labour work from an early age with the hope that they would at least get to learn some technical skills.

A substantial number of children here who might aspire to go to school cannot attend as they happen to be under the tight grip of influential people such as waderas, sardars, chaudhurys, etc. In order to maintain their domination on the poor, the powerful keep their innocent children isolated from the rest of the world by not allowing them to benefit from schools, which may also exist on paper only in the remote areas of the country with thousands of teachers drawing their salaries from the government exchequers without actually getting to teach.

The findings of a seminar held on June 11, 2006, reveal that 6,000 schools were closed down in the Sindh province alone (Khan 2006). Likewise, there are said to be thousands of ghost schools and ghost teachers in different provinces of the country. Out of a number of schools in a district of Punjab, 10 had been converted to cattle sheds (Dawn 2006). And despite the fact that the prevailing situation is known to the state machineries, no effective measures have been taken regarding the matter. The situation has led a large number of children to the corridor of darkness and a black future awaits them with the state machinery becoming a silent spectator to the phenomenon.

The school environment is crucial in attracting children towards education. It can really contribute to a child's development and learning. An overwhelming number of state-owned schools depict a situation which has had negative effects on the children's physical and mental wellbeing. A number of schools here are without roofs and the children have no other choice than to sit on the dust, bearing the harsh behavior of their traditional teachers. The scorching heat in summer and chilly wind in winter makes life miserable and in order to avoid the suffocating situation, many children have been known to run away from the schools.

Life is even more difficult for the female students with there being no proper washrooms and boundary walls also. And what are the children to do when the teachers too are hardly ever available. According to the Human Development Report 2005, one in 40 government schools in the Punjab province has no building; one in five has no electricity or water, one in four has no furniture and one in seven has no toilet.

The same kind of situation prevails in the other provinces too. Thus, many parents, despite realising the importance of education, prefer not to send their children to school with a fear that the suffocating and uncongenial conditions there may have irrecoverable negative effects on their psychological and physical health.

It is high time for the state machinery to stop the practice of experimentation and come up with practical steps to revamp the situation. The front liners should understand that educational reform cannot be brought about by sentimental speeches, televised slogans and wall-chalking. It needs clear vision, commitment and a strong will.

A well thought out education policy, based on people's aspirations, the demands of the time and contextual realities of the varied setting of the country, needs to be formulated and implemented in a systematic way. But this will only be possible when the stakeholders such as community, intellectuals, teachers and politicians make coordinated efforts with a common vision. As part of the efforts, the joint forces should not nullify the previous plans, rather they should study the causes of failure of such plans in order to be able to learn from the mistakes of the past.

The concept of devolution of power is successful, provided it is materialised in its true sense. Local authorities can understand well the nature of issues and ways to address them. Through this approach, district authorities can set priorities and implement the policies, keeping the needs of the area in view. Appointment, promotion and evaluation of teachers as well as the issue of ghost schools and ghost teachers should also be dealt with at the district level. The issues will not be overcome unless the local authorities, particularly civil servants and politicians set achievable targets and are accountable to higher authorities. A law needs to be enacted whereby people with ill practices in the field of education are brought to book.

Pouring money into the sector might not be helpful until the institutions are competent enough to utilise it in effective ways. Hence, the government should make effective plans to build the capacity of the stakeholders by engaging the well-reputed institutions of the country to ensure both qualitative and quantitative reform in the education system.

In the process of reform, the state has to make both English and Urdu accessible for the public to decide which medium suits their children in terms of their future development. However, it is known to the public that English is the language of science and technology and a strong tool to prepare the new generation for the workplace at the national and international level.

By Mohammad Rahim (Dawn)

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Power cut forces UoP to close institutions
Peshawar: Educational institutions on the University of Peshawar (UoP) campus were closed down for six days Tuesday due to the prolonged power shutdown that resulted in acute shortage of water on the premises.

The power shutdown and subsequent water shortage on the campus not only multiplied the miseries of boarding students, professors and other dwellers, but also made it difficult for the intermediate students to appear in their ongoing exams in a convenient manner.

The continued load shedding has also affected research activities in the UoP. Some senior faculty members were of the view that power outages would also result in huge losses to the UoP, as costly machinery and research projects of MPhil and PhD students were feared to went out of order.

"Protein, Enzymes and DNA samples need -70 Celsius to live on and start vanishing on -40," said a senior professor on the condition of anonymity, adding if the power supply remained disconnected in the same manner, all the research entities would get spoil. Thus the efforts of many PhD researchers could be damaged, he maintained.

Central Research Laboratory at Physics Department has machinery worth billion of rupees that could be damaged if power supply to it is disconnected even for a single moment, said another senior faculty member. "Yes, we have power generators to continue the flow of power to the costly machinery in case of power outages. But running power generators continuously too is a very costly process, as each generator consumes 40 litres of petroleum per hour, unaffordable for the department," he remarked.

A teacher of Chemistry Department said there were dozens of barrels of Volatile Organic Solvents in the department that needed uninterrupted power supply. The VOS was highly inflammable, needed to keep on required low temperature by fans and exhaust fans, which stop functioning on power disruption increasing chances of explosions, posing serious threats to life and building of the department, he argued. Besides, he said, cost of VOS was worth millions of rupees.

"The Expensive Organic Reagents worth Rs3 million, need to be placed at 5 Celsius was adversely affecting due to frequent power cut. Another precious machine 'Nuclear Magnetic Resonance (NMR)' worth Rs25 million, facilitated by the Higher Education Commission to the Chemistry Department is yet to be installed, as the officials fear damages due to power breakdown," he further informed. The NMR has a powerful magnet that, if damaged once, would be repaired by US with Rs1.2 million.

"The continuous long power suspension is causing huge losses for the university. Therefore arrangements should be made for restoration of power supply to the university on war footing," he remarked.

The power breakdown, besides material losses to the university was also affecting the precious time of the students, particularly those appearing in the ongoing FA/FSc examination. The university campus besides other institutions housed historic Islamia College Peshawar and Jinnah College for Women Peshawar; the two top class institutions of the Frontier. Continuous power breakdown was badly affecting their studies. There was also water shortage in the hostels due to which staying there had become impossible.

Peshawar University Teachers Association have expressed grave concern over the continued power supply cut, saying the Wapda authorities and the government should immediately restore power supply to the university so that the precious time of students could be saved from going waste. The FSc students and their parents expressed serious concern over the power outages and said if there is a major fault in electricity, the board authorities should postpone the exam till restoration of power supply. The News
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