We are still way off the mark
Last week the Education for All Global Monitoring Report was launched. It looked at how 164 countries across the world had performed after committing to six education goals in the ‘Education for All: Meeting our Collective Commitments’ framework at the World Education Forum in Dakar, Senegal, in the year 2000. On Wednesday, 22nd April, 2015, the review report was launched in Islamabad and an “Education for All 2015 National Review” summed up Pakistan’s part of the tale.
The report identifies a shortage of schools in Pakistan, teacher absenteeism, lack of qualified teachers, and missing infrastructure facilities that have hindered the growth of the country’s education sector. Moreover, it cites out-of-school factors such as cultural constraints, insecurity, poverty, lawlessness, political instability and weak governance as part of the problem. Natural disasters that destroyed school buildings and infrastructure, and serious issues of militancy in parts of Pakistan have continued to get in the way of achieving targets.
Pakistan committed to more than just the Education for All goals back in year 2000. We all know about the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) from the UN Millennium Declaration through which a new global partnership was to help reduce poverty and enhance socio-economic development endeavours. There were eight national MDGs targets and more than 30 indicators for Pakistan against which progress was to be measured. By 2013, we had achieved three of these targets and as we now approach the end of 2015, the chances of us getting anywhere the rest are fast diminishing.
The report identifies efforts by Pakistan to accelerate the pace of achievement of EFA goals by making constitutional amendments (in the form of Article 25A) and introduction of enrolment campaigns and provision of free textbooks to students. In reality, little has been achieved in the name of education. The state is hard-pressed to provide free education to all children and has failed miserably in keeping up standards.
If a layman was asked how Pakistan’s education system was performing, it is extremely likely that he would paint a grim picture, and rightly so. When we talk about stepping up security measures for schools, we find out that over 40 per cent of schools in Sindh are currently functioning without a boundary wall, let alone a security guard. When we say we need more teachers, media reports uncover thousands of ghost teachers chipping away at the quality of education. Close to 20 per cent of all public primary schools in the country have only one classroom and close to 40 per cent have no electricity.
Snapshots of “Pakistan education” on search engines reveal inattentive students sitting under the open sky or in cluttered classrooms, and teachers seen adjusting tactlessly to the unkempt surrounding. International and national organisations publish reports which boast, on their cover pages, pathan minors from rural backgrounds clumsily clad in cobalt blue and white, their dull classrooms in the background and withered books in their hands.
These images are not just representative of the larger reality but also bring education failures out in the open. We may have a thriving private schooling system but the proportion of children it caters to is hardly a pie in the sky. Majority of our children are made to attend schools without drinking water or toilet facilities.
One of the six EFA goals is to provide access to free and compulsory primary education of good quality to all children, irrespective of race and gender. Pakistan is already lagging behind in its goal to achieve universal primary enrolment and a 100 per cent survival rate. The current net enrolment rate is 69 per cent — up from 57 per cent in 2002. At a survival rate of 67 per cent, children across the country are dropping out of school due to various social and financial factors and 6.7 million children are still out of school.
Statistics gleaned from the report show that the country has performed poorly against the target of 50 per cent higher adult literacy rates by 2015. From 46.5 per cent in 2002, it has gone up to only 56 per cent (in 2013). Not only is this growth insufficient, a dearth of national statistics also limits out capacity to measure real change. As education researchers, we scramble for information that is both reliable and updated but sadly, in many places, we are bereft of consistent scientific evidence of progress.
The current state of education facilities in the country puts girls in a tenuous position. 55 per cent of all out-of-school children are girls, and Pakistan has the second largest gender disparity for enrolment in the South Asian region.
Budgetary allocation for education has been widely criticised as being too low, but the mind whizzes away at how the spending of already available resources is fraught with inconsistencies. An increase in the current education budget may be one bite too many for Pakistan as one of the eminent challenges facing us is the underutilisation of budgeted money. The report claims education is the fourth most corrupt sector in the country (2010). Schools and teachers are falling short of their duties while funds are still making it to their destination.
We know that education remains a forgotten cause in this country, however loud and clear the political rhetoric about implementation of Article 25A may be. But, a huge part of our population awaits a decent education. We need more literacy programmes, especially those that target far flung areas and marginalised sections of society (such as women and minorities). Enrolment programmes are nothing better than double-edged swords – they cannot be successful unless there are more and better schools, with trained and sustained teachers.
The report suggests raising tax revenues to increase spending on education and tackling governance issues that lead to widespread corruption. And as the budget 2015 approaches, interest is building up around the allocation of funds to different sectors, but for education, this should be on the back burner. The sector needs a new wave of reform and an intense reordering of priorities.
Prosperity through education is probably a distant dream for Pakistan because as far as education indicators are concerned, we are pretty much just treading water from year to year. And, in 2015 there is simply no ‘Education for All’.
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The opinions expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the viewpoint or stance of SDPI.