KARACHI, Pakistan, Feb. 24 (UPI Next) -- Despite enactment of a law to guarantee free and compulsory schooling for Sindh's children, the state of education in Pakistan's second most populous province lags behind even militancy-plagued tribal areas in the country's northwest.
The Sindh Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act was adopted last March in light of Pakistan's constitutional guarantee that the state is to provide free and compulsory education to all children between the ages of 5 and 16.
The only provision of the new legislation that has been implemented is the distribution of free textbooks. Shakeel Memon, a spokesman for the Sindh Education Ministry, told UPI Next 5 million students across the province from the first through 10th grades have received free textbooks.
Education in Sindh, however, continues to lag.
A 2012 survey in Sindh found 32 percent of the province's children age 6 to 16 were out of school, a higher rate than in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas where 25 percent of the children were out of school, even though the tribal areas are rife with militancy and Pakistan military operations.
The report said Sindh students' performance was worse than that of FATA students in native language performance, English and arithmetic. For example, 42 percent of FATA children performed well in arithmetic, while in Sindh only 27 percent of children performed well.
According to the most recent Pakistan Social and Living Standards Measurement Survey conducted by Pakistan's Bureau of Statistics, in 2011 in Sindh's rural areas, 58 percent of boys were enrolled in school, while only 25 percent of girls had ever attended.
Mohammed Zaman village, with 25 houses, is in Sindh's Qambar-Shahdadkot district. In the 1970s, all the village's children, boys and girls, went to school. Today, none does.
"The teacher posted at the school is irregular and seldom attends the school," villager Mushtaq Ahmed told UPI Next.
"All the boys are being sent to another school, which is some 2 kilometers [1.2 miles] away from the village. The villagers are reluctant to send their girls to the school because they consider that it could be unsafe for them," Ahmed said.
Dur Mohammed Buriro, an education campaigner from the district, told UPI Next there is a long history of neglect of education in Sindh.
Starting in the 1980s, the regime of Gen. Mohammad Zia ul-Haq, Pakistan’s president at the time, was focused on bolstering the teaching of Islam and set up the Sindh Islamic Mission. At the same time, the regime ignored the needs of public schools, leading to scores of them shutting down.
"With no government attention paid to school monitoring, schools began to shut down and no new schools were opened in response to [the] increasing population," Buriro said.
A 2010 World Bank presentation said there was a high level of gender and rural-urban disparity and that 5,500 schools had been closed. More than half of the children in Thatha district, a coastal district in southern Sindh, are out of school; for those who do go, the dropout rate is almost 62 percent, the 2012 survey found.
Pakistan spends 2 percent of its gross domestic product on education and ranks 146th of 187 countries on the U.N. Development Program's Education Attainment Index. The Society for the Protection of the Rights of the Child, a U.N.-accredited Pakistani organization, projects the number of children who are out of school will increase to 5.4 million by 2015.
Asghar Soomro, an education activist in rural Dadu district, told UPI Next there is a disconnect between legislative intent and government follow-through.
"We've very beautiful laws on the paper. The problem is the lack of implementation, Soomro said.
"The main problems ailing the education system in rural areas could be the poor quality of teachers, unavailability of female teachers, financial mismanagement and irrelevant education.”
Sindh's education minister, Nisar Ahmed Khuhro, said while thousands of schools remain shuttered in Sindh, the number has been exaggerated.
"Around 3,000 schools, not 5,500 schools, are closed in Sindh. If we count three teachers for each closed school, there could be 9,000 teachers getting salaries without attending the schools," he told UPI Next.
He also noted a lack of resources.
"We've 27,957 schools without power. There could be one solution that we arrange solar energy for them. But we don't have resources. About 24,000 schools are without playgrounds and 20,000 are without water," he said.
Buriro said literacy will not improve unless there are local schools and those schools will not survive without the help of local communities.
"The first priority for the government should be raising … enrollment in schools. [If there are] no students in schools, then who will get the free and compulsory education?" he told UPI Next.