Neglecting our most powerful weapon

Published: June 14, 2016
The writer is a child rights activist and development practitioner with a Master’s in Human Rights from the London School of Economics. He tweets @amahmood72

The writer is a child rights activist and development practitioner with a Master’s in Human Rights from the London School of Economics. He tweets @amahmood72

“Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.”

                                                                                                                                     — Nelson Mandela

Education has never been a priority for successive governments in Pakistan and that’s why we are a nation with the second highest number of out-of-school children in the world after Nigeria. Scores of national and international reports launched, one after the other, keep highlighting the worsening state of education in the country, the latest being that of Alif Ailaan and the Sustainable Development Policy Institute’s (SDPI) “Pakistan District Education Ranking 2016”. If we have to improve the state of affairs in this country, one of the key areas of focus should be a serious emphasis on education. Countries like Brazil have shown that a country can improve its economic and political standing in the international community by prioritising and investing in education.

As has been highlighted in various surveys and reports in recent times, including the one by Alif Ailaan and the SDPI, Islamabad, Punjab, Azad Jammu and Kashmir and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (K-P) all have relatively better scores on education and infrastructure indices. However, Fata, Balochistan and Sindh are consistently poor performers, relative to the rest of the country. The top 22 districts all belong to Punjab, with K-P breaking in at the 23rd rank with Mardan. The latest district rankings show that Lahore slipped from the number three position in 2015 to 22nd in 2016. This is a city from which Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has been elected seven times. It is quite clear that there is a need for a sustained focus on education even in mega cities like Lahore. Similarly, Quetta slipped from number 45 in 2015 to number 59 in 2016.

What is encouraging is that K-P has demonstrated improvements in both enrolment and gender parity scores. However, the retention rate of the province declined, consequently affecting its overall education score. Nevertheless, there have been substantial improvements in school infrastructure in the province, highlighted by its third rank in this area. There is still room for improvement though as 50 per cent of its schools still lack the provision of all basic facilities. Balochistan and Sindh continue to suffer from the lowest education and infrastructure scores. Balochistan’s education score has dropped, moving it to the last rank, and except for Quetta (which is amongst the top 50), almost half the districts of the province rank outside the top 100.

The quality of education imparted in the country remains the biggest challenge, as there are only moderate improvements in the score of learning outcomes as evidenced by the Alif Ailaan report. The evidence from Islamabad, Punjab and K-P demonstrates that strong political commitment can translate into improved education outcomes. The overall evidence from across the country, however, remains troublesome and suggests that Pakistan will need dramatically more political commitment to secure a decent future for its children. Balochistan is at number eight in the provincial and national education scores, even below Fata which is a matter of serious concern. The majority of districts of Balochistan rank outside the top 100 (27 out of 32) whereas eight of the bottom 10 districts are from the province. Only eight of the 31 ranked districts in the province scored above 50 on the education score. These statistics are an eye-opener for the PML-N and its allies in government in Balochistan. They should be more than enough to shake them up to focus on improving the state of education in the province. Balochistan was the second province after Sindh that introduced the Right to Free and Compulsory Education Act in 2014, however, it is clear that passing legislation alone does not necessarily translate into political will for implementing it and making budgetary allocations for the sector. K-P also remains below the national average, with a slightly reduced education score. Unlike in Punjab, K-P’s districts are more evenly distributed whereby one specific region does not dominate the rest, as was the case in previous years.

The goal of the federal and provincial governments has to be to achieve the aims related to education highlighted in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG). Without an urgent effort by the governments to first collect and collate, and then act on the data for the education-related SDG targets, Pakistan will fail to deliver the SDGs, as it failed to deliver the Millennium Development Goals (MDG). Learning a lesson from the MDGs, it’s important that the process for implementation and monitoring progress of improvements is initiated immediately involving the provinces. Pakistan missed the gender parity target for 2005 under the MDGs and even today in 2016 we’ve not been able to achieve gender parity in education. The high dropout rates for girls is also resulting in their early marriages. There is an urgent need to focus on girls’ education in Pakistan, particularly in areas like Balochistan, Fata, K-P, southern Punjab and Sindh. Implementation of Article 25-A must be prioritised and a monitoring system put in place to ensure that all children between five to 16 years of age attend school. Teacher absenteeism also requires to be checked on a sustainable basis and the biometric time and attendance system should be put in place. Parent-Teacher Councils and other relevant forums should be involved in the monitoring of schools, teachers and students’ performance.

If one reads the foreword to the Alif Ailaan report written by Mosharraf Zaidi, the organistaion’s campaigns director, he states that “the government has given indication that it is listening. In February 2016, for the first-time ever, official government data on out-of-school children was published by the Academy for Education Planning and Management, the institutional national home of National Education Management Information System, which is a compendium of the respective provincial education management information systems. It concludes that a full 24 million children between the ages of five and 16 are out of school. This represents a substantial decrease in this figure of over one million. It also represents a continuing national calamity.” It is indeed encouraging to know that finally the figure for out-of-school children has been officially accepted. For years, the Society for the Protection of the Rights of the Child as well as other civil society groups had been highlighting that 25 million children were out of school and this was always refuted by official circles. The right step by the federal and provincial governments will be to do some serious planning involving all stakeholders, experts and donors to get all children into schools.

Our rulers don’t tire of telling us that ‘children are our future’. Children are not only our future, they are also our present and if we want to improve both our present and future, we’ll need to focus on education. This country needs the leadership and political will to make education the top priority, focus on improving the state of education and ensure that each and every child has access to this fundamental right.

Published in The Express Tribune, June 15th, 2016.

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Reader Comments (5)

  • Avtar
    Jun 15, 2016 - 3:37AM

    Education is more powerful than nuclear technology. It can change attitudes, create motivation, provide skills and income to the family. A while back China invested heavily into education, and one can look at the results. India and a lot of other countries that invested in education can see the results, however, belatedly,Recommend

  • jay
    Jun 15, 2016 - 12:34PM

    This article is printed in a wrong news site. Pakistan does not need education , they need Kashmir ! And they can keep trying ! Recommend

  • Irfan Shah
    Jun 15, 2016 - 2:18PM

    Nice and comprehensive article as always.

    Unfortunately we have the laws but not the rules under these to get these fully implemented with core essence. Alif Ailaan ratings show Sindh, Balochistan and Fata in the bottom lines but surprisingly Sindh is going to be the first province to draft rules of business under the Free and Compulsory Education Act, as sources reported.

    Punjab with around 10 M out of school children still does not guide in accordance to the Punjab Free & Compulsory Education Act which prescribed body will address the complaints under the Act?

    Second to your opinion, there can not be a holistic up lift until there is a strong political will.Recommend

  • imran
    Jun 16, 2016 - 6:19PM

    The most recent estimation as mentioned in the said article make us known that almost 25 million school going age children are currently out of school net in the country of which seven million (aged between three to five years) have yet to receive some form of primary education.

    The Government needs to reel in these out of school children by making clear provisions in the federal and provincial budgets for the education sector. Investments in primary education need to be increased substantially to attain the prospective progress towards set targets and goals outlined in the Sustainable Development Goal 4. To this context, the importance of investing in primary education has been magnified in the aftermath of the 18th amendment whereby access to primary education has been declared as a fundamental right under Article 25-A of the constitution.

    In spite of the world’s largest pool of out of school children, rampant gender inequality in access to education and a mediocre public education system, the education sector has remained under funded in Pakistan, So, public spending is vital for continued growth in the Education sector and has a crucial bearing on progress towards the Education for All Goals.Recommend

  • quatro
    Jun 16, 2016 - 7:49PM

    Girls education provides the highest rate of return on any invested dollar in every third World country on the planet – that’s a fact backed up by UN report. It’s a competitive World and your competing with countries who use their entire population to help grow/prosper. Every year you ignore the problem you fall further behind. Recommend

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