Post-pandemic education crisis in Pakistan
22.8 million children in Pakistan between the ages of 5 – 16 years are currently out of school.
Another 1 million children are at risk of dropping out-of-school by the end of the pandemic across the country.
Among those children from underprivileged backgrounds particularly girls in provinces where education indicators presented a dismal picture even before the pandemic are at a higher risk of being deprived of their constitutional right to education.
More than ever, Pakistan’s education system requires a nationwide, multi-pronged strategy that would ensure access to education for each child and work towards overcoming learning losses incurred during the pandemic.
To achieve such an undertaking, there is an urgent need for pan-national coordination between the federating units.
In line with the aforementioned, a much-needed measure was taken with the revival of the Inter-provincial Education Ministers’ Conference (IPEMC) during the pandemic and the federal and provincial governments’ renewed resolve to leverage the platform beyond emergencies.
The platform could prove critical in creating national ownership of education reforms and making education possible for the most marginalized learners, especially adolescent girls across the country while preserving the integrity of the 18th Constitutional Amendment that made education a provincial subject.
Moreover, the platform could become a valuable source of inter-provincial learning through knowledge-sharing among the federating units so that best practices of one province could be adopted by the others and potentially benefit children across Pakistan.
The suggested initiative can prove especially beneficial for Balochistan province which has the largest proportion of out-of-school children in Pakistan: 47 percent of children of school-going age in the province are out of school and 78 percent of the girls between the ages of 5 – 16 years cannot access education.
Revisiting education policies at the provincial level to identify context-specific solutions to address key barriers to access quality education will be of paramount importance.
The role of provincial education departments to lead such gap-analysis exercises in collaboration with the civil society is likely to catalyze the process.
One such initiative was taken by the International Rescue Committee (IRC) recently that included the publication of a five-part series of white papers that identified key issues impacting adolescent girls’ access to education in Balochistan.
Based on the review of secondary data and interviews with parents, teachers and school administrators, each white paper offers potential solutions to combat long-standing issues that hamper the provision of quality education in the province.
Some of the critical challenges identified in the white papers include unavailability of sufficient schools, the distance of schools from homes, shortage of qualified female teachers, lack of school infrastructure, and gender-insensitive school budgeting.
The white papers and policy papers developed by the civil society organizations are a fruitful resource for the education department of Balochistan to plan the required education reforms and ensure that quality education becomes possible for every child in Balochistan irrespective of their gender and socio-economic background.
Pakistan must no longer rely on piecemeal solutions to address the country’s education emergency.
The federal and provincial governments must put into action all possible collaborative and independent efforts to ensure that past gains made within the education are not lost to the pandemic and that quality education becomes possible for all children across the country irrespective of their gender, and socio-economic background.
—The writer is Acting Country Director at International Rescue Committee