Education is considered a fundamental human right and an essential ingredient for individual as well societal development. Article 37-B of the Constitution of Pakistan, given under the heading ‘Promotion of social justice and removal of social evils’ reads as follows:
The state shall “remove illiteracy and provide free and compulsory secondary education within minimum possible period.”
Recently, under the 18th amendment, a new sub-clause 2-A, pertaining to Right to Education has been added, which reads: “The State shall provide free and compulsory education to all children of the age of five to 16 years in such manner as may be determined by law.”
In addition to these constitutional provisions, Pakistan is also signatory to many international treaties and conventions which obligate it to provide equal access to education to all of its citizens without any discrimination on the basis of gender, race and ethnicity. Apart from other indirect provisions, two important conventions are worth mentioning: the 1990 Jomtien World Declaration on Education for All (EFA) and the Dakar Framework for Action 2000.
The Jomtien Conference reaffirmed the right of every person to receive education, which satisfies his or her basic learning needs. This declaration announced the six goals of EFA, which are to be achieved by the year 2015. These EFA goals include expanding early childhood care and education; providing free and compulsory primary education for all; promoting learning and life skills for young people and adults; increasing adult literacy by 50 per cent from the level of 1990; achieving gender parity by 2005 and gender equality by 2015; and improving the quality of education for all.
The Dakar Framework of Action (Senegal, 2000) was adopted in which the international community once again recognised illiteracy as a priority issue; it set a number of goals to be achieved by the year 2015. By signing these two documents, the international community, including Pakistan, affirmed their commitment to eradicate illiteracy within a stipulated period of time. It is believed that illiteracy not only hinders the development of individuals’ full potential and their participation in a democratic society, but also has repercussions for the rest of their lives. It affects personal and family life of the individuals, deprives them of the benefits of development and hinders the enjoyment of other human rights.
The Dakar Framework of Action not only announced eight goals, commonly known as the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) pertaining to various aspects of human life, but also set measurable targets and indicators to monitor progress of the societies in this direction. Out of these goals, two exclusively relate to education.
Goal two pertains to achieving universal primary education, and the relevant target reads “ensure that all boys and girls complete a full course of primary schooling by 2015”. Attainment of this target requires an increase in the net enrolment ratio of children at the primary level and improving the completion rate of primary schooling.
Goal three encourages the international community to promote gender equality and empower women; it reads “eliminate gender disparity in primary and secondary education preferably by 2005 and at all levels by 2015”. Achievement of this target requires improving the ratios of girls to boys in primary, secondary and tertiary education.
Twenty-three years down the road since the declaration of EFA, and just about two years away from the target year 2015, it is high time to assess Pakistan’s achievement and progress in this direction, particularly with reference to universal education and gender parity. According to MDGs, Pakistan was expected to achieve 100pc net primary enrolment rate by 2015 and 100pc completion/survival rate to Grade V by the same year.
In terms of literacy, it was expected to achieve overall 88pc literacy rate for 10+ years aged population. To achieve steady progress in this regard, Pakistan announced three education policies in 1992, 1998 and 2009 and a number of development plans, including National Plan of Action 2001-2015 and Education Sector Reforms (ESR).
These policies and plans set different dates to achieve the millennium development goals. The National Plan of Action on EFA (2001-2015) declared to achieve increase on the following indicators by 2005.
Literacy from 49pc to 60pc:
Net primary enrolment from 66pc to 76pc
Middle school enrolment from 47.5pc to 55pc
Secondary school enrolment from 29.5pc to 40pc
Higher education enrolment from 2pc to 5pc
The Medium Term Development Framework (MTDF) 2005-2010 set the target to achieve 77pc net primary enrolment ratio, 80pc completion/survival rate to Grade V and 77pc overall literacy rate for 10+ years population by 2010. Similarly, in terms of gender equality, Pakistan was expected to achieve full gender equality in primary enrolment ratio as well as youth literacy by the year 2015. The relevant target set under MTDF was to achieve 0.94 Gender Parity Index (GPI) for primary enrolment and 0.85 GPI for youth literacy.
The analysis of available data reveals that progress of Pakistan toward achieving the MDGs is not only unsatisfactory; rather highly disappointing. We are not only far away from achieving these goals by 2015 rather under the current pace of development these goals seem to be totally unachievable.
Although the literacy rate in Pakistan has increased over the years but because of high population growth, the absolute number of illiterates has increased. At present, the literacy rate of 10+ age population as well and the net enrolment rate at the primary level is about 58 and 68pc respectively, with higher gender disparity index in literacy rate than in primary enrolment rate.