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Not in school.

A LOT has been said about the country's appallingly large out-of-school child population and how it adversely impacts chances of upward socioeconomic mobility. A new report titled The Missing Third: An Out of School Study of Pakistani 5-16 Year Olds by the Pak Alliance for Maths and Science contains several revelations about this phenomenon and clears a number of popular misconceptions. For example, Punjab, the province perceived to be the most developed, has the largest out-of-school population with 7.7m children aged from five to 16 years who are outside the education system. Sindh has the second highest out-of-school population with nearly 6.5m. It is followed by Khyber Pakhtunkhwa with 3.8m and Balochistan where more than 2m children do not attend school. The report also addresses the less-discussed subject of equity in access and the age group of school dropouts. There are more than 63m children in the country aged from five to 16 years. Among them, some 27m (42pc) go to public schools while more than 16m (26pc) are enrolled in private schools or seminaries or informal educational set-ups. The remaining 32pc - that amounts to an unacceptable 20 million-plus - do not go to school.

It is not that these children have never see the inside of a classroom. Enrolments occur much later than five years and peak at around nine years. The report says that the state does cater to 62pc of all school-going children, however, 90pc of them drop out before completing 10 years of education, mostly at the age of 11 when primary schooling ends. It bears repeating that the authorities need to address the underlying issues plaguing the education infrastructure and the reasons that force students to stay out of classrooms. A concerted political and administrative effort is required to incentivise school attendance while ensuring equal access - that goes beyond income brackets to include girls as well as children with disabilities - so that these 20 million-plus children have a fair chance to make their place in the world.

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Publication:Dawn (Karachi, Pakistan)
Date:Sep 10, 2021
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