The author (she) holds a doctorate in education.
Discussions of education often categorize the institutions of our local school education sector into public schools, private schools (the most expensive segment of which is called “elite schools”), and madrassahs.
In 1995, the government launched a national project to support communities in the establishment of Basic Education Community Schools (BECS) to augment the limited capacity of public and private schools (which were beginning to proliferate at the time) for the unschooled. children (OOSC) aged 4 to 16 who did not have access to formal schools. The original idea was to phase out these schools as the formal school system closes the gap on the supply side.
Nearly three decades later, we find that this will probably never happen. In 2021, the government transferred BECS schools across Pakistan to the respective provincial governments while the federal government retains operational control of approximately 248 schools in ICT.
Over the past year, I have visited more than two dozen of these schools through ICT. BECS have very humble beginnings; many began to operate from a single room that could be spared in a house, others from a balcony. Even today, about 70% of these schools are managed by a single teacher in a single room used for several grade levels. About 17% (30 schools) of ICT have two teachers, only 3% have three teachers and 6% have four, five or six teachers.
Most of these schools are run by women and the reason why they exist, continue to operate despite government neglect and have grown over the years can only be attributed to entrepreneurship and l initiative of these women. Some have taken out loans to add more classrooms and capacity.
One school I visited had expanded to four classrooms with an equal number of teachers after the founder of BECS spent her own resources. Today, the school gives a semblance of a low-cost school with classes separated by level and children dressed in uniforms.
Similarly, another school in the south of the city is what the BECS management team calls a community model school. It is comparable to a rural formal school. This school was notable for its good management, emphasis on etiquette and personal hygiene, and children’s ability to answer questions about sums and multiplication, and to read and write reasonably well. It was also better organized in terms of following a curriculum, preparing for lessons, and taking regular tests. According to the leadership team, children at this particular school have historically outperformed their formal school peers in fifth-grade exams. Since the school has been in existence for many years, it is now run and attended by the second generation and enjoys a high level of trust from the community in which it operates.
However, while the description above may be encouraging to read, it is an outlier. Most BECS have no bathroom, no access to drinking water, no furniture, no electricity, no air conditioning in the summer and no heating in the winter. The worst of them can make you think of an unsanitary chicken coop. Learning outcomes are often poor – children read and write at much lower levels than their peers in mainstream schools. Teachers say some of these children have been weeded out of formal public schools unwilling to bear the consequences of the lower average performance of their fifth grade cohort.
Many founders of BECS are women with varying levels of qualification: 12% of teachers are matric, 25% intermediate, 41% BA and 22% master qualified. Additionally, many hold vocational education credentials such as a BEd or Med. One founder I met is nearly overqualified with a BEd/MEd now admitted into an MPhil program at AIOU. She started her one-room school more than 15 years ago as the only source of income to support her two brothers and two sisters. She and her retired father told me very proudly how his nominal salary of 5,000 rupees at the time helped them educate his siblings. With her voice broken with emotion, she insisted that she would continue to lead this school even if public support dried up.
The teacher at another one-room school said she was not allowed to work outside her home and was allowed to start her BECS four years ago, with support and encouragement from her family when her husband lost his job. The management of his BECS allowed him to work within his constraints.
Another woman is the main caregiver at home. She gave up a job at a private school and preferred to start her own BECS, albeit at a lower salary, as it allowed her more flexibility in finding a work-life balance.
BECS receive only a fraction of the financial support from public sources, unlike their regular public school counterparts. For example, BECS teachers previously received a salary of Rs 9,000 which has been increased to Rs 12,500 for 2021-22 – including monthly charges. Instead of continuing this support, in June 2021 the government reduced public funding for BECS to zero in its PSDP – i.e. the government decided not to extend the project. For now, this situation has not changed in the 2022 budget proposal. BECS teachers received salaries until June 2022 through the non-development budget under the direction of BECS while no funds have been allocated for development activities, including the provision of missing facilities, which these schools sorely need.
Today, in addition to the 426 mainstream public schools under the Federal Directorate of Education (FDE), there are 248 BECS serving areas where the FDE remains unable to provide formal schools in the ever-expanding southern regions, southeast, west and north. to the west as well as the slums dotting the city. Together, BECS serve approximately 8,000 children, while another 35,000 to 50,000 ICT children are out of school. If the government withdraws what little support it would extend to BECS who will take those 8,000 children out of school – children that mainstream FDE schools will not have the capacity and will not want to admit due to its admissions policy. obsolete.
The area of competence of the Ministry of Federal Education and Vocational Training (MoFEPT) in terms of school education now only extends to the areas of ICT and the federal government. But the icing on the cake is that the portfolio ministers of the Federal Ministry of Education and Vocational Training (MoFEPT) were elected representatives from areas far from Islamabad. Instead of smothering this much smaller and more manageable problem, successive ministers have been more interested in launching national programs and initiatives that (after the 18th Amendment) are clearly beyond their purview. Apparently, solving the problem of school education for ICT is not ambitious enough, not big enough for them, and does nothing for their distant constituents and, therefore, their re-election prospects. For this reason, I recommend that at least the MoFEPT be awarded to a local MP from the matchmaking area.
MoFEPT officials argue that the government cannot provide funds for any type of construction to these schools (because they are on private land) although there is enough money parked under various budget headings. This technicality of the same government department which, until a few months earlier, saw no “technical obstacle” trampling on the HEC ordinance, not just once or twice but three times, at the whim of the president of a certain group working at the PM House.
This is all happening at a time when there is a glamorous ‘Turnaround Pakistan’ conference taking place at the Islamabad Convention Center which even had a session on the OOSC. All governments, past and present, have claimed to care about the cause of out-of-school children, and yet there is no budgetary allocation to support, let alone improve, these schools. The PTI government attempted to sell a new collection of SNC textbooks to the public as a silver bullet to end “educational apartheid” in the country. Meanwhile, the real apartheid that exists and allows, even requires, the continued existence of BECS has not been touched.