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Despite better school enrolment, Sindh’s foundational learning still low - The News

Students take lessons during class in Sindh. - AFP/File

The Annual Status of Education Report (ASER) 2023 was launched on Wednesday, providing insights into the education of children aged five to 16 years in Sindh.

The report focuses on measuring foundational literacy and numeracy in the province but also includes themes to highlight access to technology, wealth inequality, gender and impact of climate change.

The launch event was attended by government officials, civil society representatives and development partners. ASER Pakistan, a programme of Idara-e-Taleem-o-Aagahi (ITA), aims to provide estimates on children’s learning status, aligning with education targets or the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals indicator 4.1.1.a. and Article 25-A of Pakistan’s constitution.

At the outset of the launch ceremony, ITA Chairman Kazim Saeed provided an overview of the key aspects of the report, according to which the programme reached 48,097 children aged three to 16 years in Sindh, out of whom 20,858 were girls.

Furthermore, approximately 37,788 children aged between five to 16 years were assessed using foundational learning or grade 2 level learning tools in Urdu, arithmetic and English.

The assessment covered 1,002 villages/blocks in 25 rural and 30 urban districts, encompassing 811 schools in rural areas and 20,395 households in both rural and urban localities.

According to the report, this approach provided insights into the educational landscape, and its challenges and potential opportunities, and overall ASER Pakistan reached out to 106,000 households in 151 rural and 123 urban districts of the country.

The report showed an increase in enrolment rates for both early childhood education (ECE) and six- to 16-year-olds in Sindh, signalling a positive trend in demand for education.

It indicated that the province boasts an 86 per cent enrolment rate for children aged six to 16 years, demonstrating a significant improvement from 76 per cent in 2021.

This surge in enrolment reflects concerted efforts by the government, the Sindh Education & Literacy Department, the Sindh Education Foundation and private partners to enhance access to education for children across the provinces, reads the report. The urban enrolment rate was 95 per cent, while 39 per cent children were enrolled in ECE or early years.

The report highlighted a shift towards private schooling in rural areas from six per cent in 2021 to 12 per cent in 2023, while government schools continued to play a pivotal role in accommodating majority (88 per cent) of the six- to 16-year-olds for the year 2023.

“This analysis sheds light on the dynamics of educational preferences and choices among parents in Sindh, highlighting the need for targeted interventions to ensure equitable access to quality education across both public and private sectors,” states the report.

“The poorest and poor continue to highlight gender gaps not just between richest and poorest but also within poorest quartiles with a 10 per cent difference; girls lag behind boys in enrolment.”

ASER 2023 revealed a dip in learning levels in rural Sindh with Sindhi/Urdu story reading of fifth graders slipping from 40 per cent in 2021 to 39 per cent in 2023.

A similar trend was seen in English sentence reading: 22 per cent (23 per cent in 2021) of children could read a set of sentences fluently in English, and 27 per cent (28 per cent in 2021) could solve two-digit arithmetic divisions.

“Learning losses persist from Covid-19 and the floods 2022 — this dip in the learning levels is concerning as learning levels remain very low and are declining over the years when compared with the year 2019.”

One of the stark contrasts was observed at grade 3 level learning outcomes: according to the report, only eight per cent of children could read an Urdu story, five per cent could read a set of English sentences fluently and only a meagre three per cent could solve a two-digit division that is aligned with grade 2 curriculum. “This foundational crisis once not attended to in grades 2/3 persists in the later grades and is evidence of the poor learning outcomes at higher grades. Moreover, boys continue to outperform girls in all three competencies in rural areas; however, in urban areas, girls are performing as well as boys,” reads the report.

“Encouragingly, the percentage of out-of-school children has notably decreased in Sindh, reflecting enhanced access to education opportunities for both males and females. Gender gaps persist, but more girls and boys are going to school as compared to 2021 (national and Sindh).”

The gender gap is narrowing nationally, and in Sindh too since the 2022 floods. Compared to 2021, the current report indicates a notable decrease in the number of children who are out of school. The teacher attendance rate is 89 per cent in rural areas, while students’ attendance is 75 per cent in government schools, an increase over 2021.

The report points out that 74 per cent of households reported possessing a mobile phone (urban 88 per cent), 37 per cent had a smartphone at home (urban) and 13 per cent had access to internet connectivity (urban), underscoring the transformative potential of technology in education.

Moreover, ASER’s focus on climate change shed light on the impact of environmental factors on education, highlighting the need for climate-resilient education strategies and awareness initiatives.

The report found that only 18 per cent of households reported being aware about climate change, while 28 per cent of households reported that their psychological well-being was substantially affected due to natural disasters.

Meanwhile, Sindh reported having three per cent of children in government schools and six per cent of children in private schools with any functional disability.

The report emphasised on inclusivity, calling for actions from the state and other stakeholders to provide accessible learning opportunities and facilities in schools for children with functional disabilities which are often ignored by parents and teachers.

ASER indicated that 63 per cent of assessed children in Sindh had received all basic vaccinations with proper documentation (37 per cent reported having none).

Despite a 10 per cent improvement in enrolment levels in 2023 (from 76 per cent in 2021 to 86 per cent in 2023), Sindh still ranks lowest in foundational learning, with majority of the schools at primary level being one-two teacher schools, concludes the report.


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