The transformation of the education sector is necessary to save Pakistan’s future, said the British High Commissioner to Pakistan, Adam Thomson, in his keynote speech to the national body of the English Speaking Union (ESUP) on Thursday.
The event was organised by the union’s president, Barrister Shahida Jamil, and its vice president, Byram D Avari, at the Beach Luxury Hotel. While speaking on ‘Pakistan’s Education Emergency: Failing a Country’, Thomson described the educational reform a ‘panacea’ or cure-all remedy for most of the challenges.
Primary school enrollment in Pakistan is merely 56 per cent in contrast to the average global primary enrollment which has gone beyond 87 per cent. “Seventeen million Pakistani children who qualify as primary school students are not enrolled in any institution,” he said. The current situation of education is “disastrous”, said Thomson. This is an alarming figure as it is equivalent to the entire population of the megacity Karachi.
“It is now too late for Pakistan to meet the target,” said Thomson, referring to Pakistan’s “failure” to meet Millennium Development Goal 2 of achieving universal primary education by 2015.
Not putting all the blame on Pakistan, Thomson pointed the finger at the international community that failed the country. “We focused on short-term security issues and not on medium-term and long-term projects that would erase unemployment by strengthening the education sector.”
He informed the audience that the United Kingdom, after analysing the scope of disaster, has decided to help the country. “By 2015, we will help support the education of around four million children, train at least 90,000 teachers and provide funds for six million textbooks, at a cost of hundred billion rupees.” The United Kingdom is also helping rebuild schools in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa that were destroyed either by militants or floods. “We [the British] cannot flourish if you do not flourish and you’ll never flourish without giving priority to education.”
He cited Mohamamd Ali Jinnah in his speech, “Education is a matter of life and death for Pakistan”, and reminded the audience that through the 18th Constitutional Amendment, education is not a privilege but the right of every citizen.
Thomson admitted, however, that Pakistan is three times bigger than his country and the United Kingdom’s contribution and support would hardly reach 1 per cent of Pakistan’s GDP.
“The problems of such a large-scale country can only be fixed by itself,” he said while insisting that education reform is possible. He shared the example of Brazil where the literacy rate in a province among eight-year-old children jumped to 73 per cent from 43 per cent within three years.
Thomson praised the initiatives taken by the Punjab chief minister more than once and said that a number of projects initiated by him have started producing results.
Of every ten children not in schools around the planet, one is a Pakistani, he added. “The country is not only failing its present but its future as well.”
Published in The Express Tribune, March 17th, 2012.