Pakistan Coalition for Education in collaboration with Workers Education and Research Organization (WERO), Network of Organizations Working with Persons with Disabilities (NOWPDP) and AzCorp Entertainment organized a Roundtable Discussion in Karachi focusing on “Investing in Education: The Pathway to Democratic & Empowered Societies”.
The event brought together key parliamentarians, standing committee members, economists, key experts and civil society representatives on one platform to discuss the longstanding as well as newfound challenges that the education system has been grappling with, especially since the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. Mir Zulfiqar Ali, Executive Director, WERO and Ms. Zehra Arshad, National Coordinator, Pakistan Coalition for Education commenced the discussion with an overview of the educational landscape under COVID-19 and the widening of pre-existing divides in the education system.
Dr. Baela Raza Jamil, CEO Idara Taleem-o-Agahi, started the discussion by highlighting the lack of consistency in educational policies and the failure to translate policies into actions.
She stated “India’s RTE came out at the same time as ours but the percentage of primary school going students has gone up to 98% in the country and thee quality is increasing consistently.”
She also shed light on the lack of inclusivity in the Single National Curriculum and the predominant focus on teaching Islamic content without taking into account the minorities. Member Provincial Assembly Sindh, Rabia Nizami also added that despite well thought legislation, Pakistan has failed to deliver on the implementation.
“Sindh has a very elaborative legislation regarding RTE, there might be some changes needed as the time advances but it has its pillars very strong if they are properly implemented” she said.
Ms. Shahpara Rizvi, Director Training and Assessment, Sindh Education Foundation, briefed the audience on the waysSindh Education Foundation (SEF) is using technology to bridge gaps and make education accessible for students living in far-flung areas where there is a sheer lack of schools and educational facilities. She also announced that SEF is giving out scholarships and stipends to girls to reduce the number of out of school girls in the province.
Ms. Nuzhat Shirin, Chairperson Sindh Commission on Status of Women, brought attention to the barriers that continue to hold back girls from getting an education in the province. Parents continue to prioritize education for boys over girls due to socio-religious barriers and schools being located at a distance from homes without access to safe transportation for girls, she highlighted. She also stated that forced conversions is a huge issue in the province and parents are hesitant to let their girls out of their homes due to the fear of being kidnapped. She emphasized on the importance of increasing funding for education, specially on allocating more developmental budget to not only create more safe schools but to increase the quality of education in the existing ones.
There is an immediate need for increased financing for education in line with the national and international commitments especially amidst the pandemic, stated Mr. Asim Bashir Khan, a researcher & PHD scholar at IBA. Due to COVID people have exhausted their resources and a large population of students have dropped out due to unaffordability which is why it is necessary for the government to make demand side interventions and introduce stipends to encourage enrollments and reduce the number of dropouts.
The sessions was concluded by Ms. Tanzila Umi Habiba, the honorable Chairperson Standing Committee on Education-Sindh as she emphasized on education being a universal right and its delivery the sole responsibility of the state. She stated that the private education system needs to be regulated and education must not be an exclusive right extended to a privileged few.
She also emphasized that digital learning cannot replace physical education but due to need of the time, we must ensure effective delivery of digital education and further improve its accessibility.
The discussion focused on the urgent need for all education stakeholders, especially the Parliamentarians to come together and address the areas where the public education system is falling short, especially in light of the unprecedented challenges COVID has presented us with.
The session placed a special focus on the crucial role of parliamentarians in bringing effective legislative reforms, employing oversight tools to monitor and facilitate the implementation of existing policy frameworks and mainstreaming the policy discourse around inclusive & equitable education.