Despite the consecutive raises in annual education budget, pushing its total outlay to Rs 221 billion by 2019-20 from Rs 106.093 billion in 2013-14, schoolgirls’ enrolment and dropout ratio in Sindh has declined, questioning the provincial government’s intent to keep education sector among its top three priorities. The enrolment ratio of schoolgirls in Sindh has declined to 39% as compared to 61% of boys. On average, the overall dropout rate in primary classes in Sindh is 23%, according to data compiled by this scribe. The investigative report based on research, interviews of stakeholders and field observations says that in rural areas, the main reason behind low enrolment and high dropout is location of schools 5 to 10 kilometres away from villages and other settlements. Other reasons are corruption from top to taluka level in school funds, non-availability of transport, poverty, age above 13 (parent disallow girls), harassment of girls along school routes, price hike, and non-availability of female teachers in almost 99% of schools. However, these factors apply about 50% low in urban areas and that is why literacy rate of cities and towns is high as compared to villages. According to a report of Alif Ailan, an organisation which records enrolment and dropouts, the major reasons for girls’ dropout are parents needing help with work (29%) and parents not allowing them to continue (27%). For girls, access is also an issue – among boys, only 5% dropout is because their school is too far, as compared to 13% of girls. Among boys, the major reasons for dropout include the child’s reluctance to attend school (51%) and parents needing help with work (34%). The latest Economic Survey of Pakistan 2019 report says that literacy rate of females and males in Sindh has decreased from 63.0% to 62.2%, triggering a new challenge for the Sindh’s Education Department. In an interview during a field visit, Agha Fakhr Hussain Durrani, additional secretary (secondary), Schools Education and Literacy Department, Government of Sindh, was asked why Sindh’s literacy rate has dropped as compared to other three provinces of Pakistan. Agha replied, “Before 2008, literacy data was all made up due to negligence of the responsible officials of that era. However, after 2008, such data is being maintained properly.” He said that in order to raise literacy rate in Sindh, particularly of girls, there was need to provide pick and drop service to girls, ensure washrooms in every school and construct boundary walls of those schools which lack such facilities, besides providing drinking water facility to the students. He observed, “The girl students feel insecure while passing through routes between their schools and houses due to roaming of unruly males, most of whom gaze at the girls, and it is also one of the causes behind dropout ratio of schoolgirls. As a result, parents stop sending girls to schools. There is a need to correct such persons in society for promotion of girls’ education.” Agha said the School Management Committees (SMCs) needed to be activated immediately, as they could help in the provision of facilities to the students. The SMC funds should also be released timely and the SMC members must be empowered fully to make decisions for resolving school problems. Furthermore, powers in education department should be decentralised from top to district level to run affairs in good manner. There is also need to empower Headmasters and principals so that they could solve schools’ problems amicably. To a question that provincial education budget is not sufficient to raise literacy rate, Agha said Sindh education budget was sufficient to raise literacy rate of girls and boys, but the actual need was to use it properly. He said that repair and maintenance funds of Sindh education department, which are to the tune of billions of rupees, should be used properly. “Doing all above will greatly help raise the literacy rate in the province,” Agha hoped. Agha said that Sindh education department had formed Reforms Support Unit to enhance literacy ratio of girls and boys. Data from the Sindh Education Department reveals that 2,735,156 students are enrolled in primary schools out of which 1,048,610 are girls (38%) as compared to 1,686,546 boys (62%); 171,463 students are enrolled in middle schools out of which 74,509 are girls (43%) against 96,954 boys (57%); 118,978 students are enrolled in elementary schools with 55,216 girls (46%) versus 63,762 boys (54%); 855,842 students are enrolled in secondary schools, of them 350,281 are girls ( (41%) and 505,561 boys (59%); 347,689 students are enrolled in higher secondary schools out of which 123,409 are girls (35%) and 224,280 are boys (65%). The official documents available with this journalists state that in this fiscal year 2019-20, Rs 241 billion have been allocated to the education sector against Rs 190 in 2018-19, a growth of a whopping 27%. The Sindh government increased non-development budget of education from Rs 178.7 billion to Rs 211 billion in 2018-19, whereas on development side, Rs24.4 billion have been allocated in ADP 2018-19 as compared to Rs 17.1 billion in FY 2017-18. The provincial regime also raised its expenditure from Rs 146.7 billion in 2016-17 to Rs 166 billion in 2017-18, showing an increase of 13.16 percent. Moreover, Rs 166.003 billion were spent in 2017-18, Rs 146.732 billion in 2016-17, Rs 135.008 billion in 2015-16, Rs 117.122 billion in 2014-15 and Rs 106.093 billion in 2013-14. However, the literacy rate has increased in three other provinces of the country, outshining Sindh province. In an interview during field visit, Ali Gul Khuhro, the head master of Government Primary School, village Dilawar Khuhro, district Khairpur Mirs, informed that 16 girls out of 24 enrolled in the school in class one in year 2014 dropped out in the fifth class by 2019. Comparatively, the dropout of boys remained 22 out of 36 in this batch. In previous batch of 2013-2018, the number of dropout girls from class one to five was 17 out of 23 as compared to boys’ ratio of 27 of 43. Similarly, in batch 2012-2017, the number of dropout girls from class one to five was 10 out of 20 as compared to boys ratio of 15 to 40, Khuhro said. In batch 2011-16, the number of dropout girls from class one to five was 10 out of 15 as compared to boys ratio of 8 to 21, Khuhro further revealed. “The reason behind the dropout of girls after completing fifth class is location of middle and high schools away from villages. Mr Khuhro, who is also a former leader of Primary Teachers Association, said majority of girls passing fifth class could not join middle or high schools as they have no source of transport to reach there. Only one percent girls, after passing fifth class, can afford transportation charges for joining middle or high schools, he informed. He said that second reason is age factor of girls as after age of 10-13, girls are not allowed by parents to continue education because schools do not have female teachers. Khuhro informed that there are only 115 female teachers in the primary schools of taluka Gambat as compared to 385 male teachers. He asked the government to appoint more female teachers in the schools, particularly in rural areas. Other reason of girls’ dropout is household work, he added. It is good that education is free in government schools but a girl student could not afford transportation charge of Rs400 on daily basis for going to middle and high school. In an interview during field visit, Yasmeen Brohi, Vice President, Government School Teachers Association, District Larkana, told a shocking story of corruption in the Education Department and termed it behind low literacy rate of girls. She said that massive corruption was rampant at district level across Sindh, including Larkana, which needed to be stopped. Giving example of a corruption, she said that Rs36 lakh were approved for her Government Girls Mughal High School Larkana for its repair and maintenance, but some corrupt officials of audit and others sections of Larkana district pressed the school’s headmistress to give Rs20 lakh share from Rs36 lakh to them as bribe and use only Rs16 lakh on the school repair and renovation; otherwise, funds would not be released. “And that happened. As the headmistress was honest official, she rejected their pressures and demands as a result, the approved fund was returned back to the education department. How can we raise literacy rate if such corrupt mafia, backed by political and elected representatives, is left free to roam and loot public wealth ruthlessly,” Yasmeen said. She said, “My school’s dropout ratio is zero as no student leaves study between class 6th and 10th. A latest World Bank report published earlier this year says that in Sindh, girls are particularly vulnerable to poor conditions of school sanitation and water facilities. Badly maintained toilets and lack of access to clean water are often a huge hindrance for girls and discourage them from attending schools regularly. The probability for school participation at upper grades declines faster for girls than boys in rural areas in Sindh. The report says that in terms of gender outcomes in enrolments, there was a decline in gender parity in primary education from 69 percent to 62.4 percent between 2012 and 2018 in government schools.