PAKISTAN has a heavy task ahead of it: new Unesco figures show that the number of out-of-school children in Pakistan has stagnated since 2009. This follows news by the EFA Global Monitoring Report showing that Pakistan also suffered the second largest cuts in aid to education of any country in the world in the last two recorded years.
Pulling these two stories together, it is starkly evident that some donors are pulling their aid to education just when it is most needed.
Sadly, this trend of stagnating out-of-school children and declining aid is not reserved for Pakistan. Global figures show a similar association: 58 million children are out of school globally, with barely any improvement since 2007. At the same time, aid to education has been cut by a tenth since 2010. It is worrying in the extreme to see both international aid and out-of-school numbers moving in the wrong direction.
Today’s new paper holds several key nuggets of advice, which Pakistan may find useful as it works on its national plan of action. Seven policies clearly stand out as substantially reducing out-of-school numbers and in very different contexts. These include abolishing school fees, increasing spending on education, improving education quality, introducing social cash transfers to offset the costs of schooling, introducing teaching in local languages and overcoming conflict.
For Pakistan, where school fees have been abolished since 2010, and the Right to Education Act is now enacted in most of the provinces, the government’s attention should turn to accelerate the impact of these reforms by considering other policies reaping rewards in other countries.
Doubling spending on education in Ghana, for instance, helped halve its out-of-school rate. Pakistan, meanwhile, is one of only three countries outside of sub-Saharan Africa to spend less than $150 per primary pupil on education. Its recent commitment to increase spending from 2pc to 4pc of GDP by 2018 could go a long way to creating a better balance of access and quality if delivered. Steps must be taken now to ensure this promise is kept.
Improving quality in Pakistan would also be a huge breakthrough. In rural areas many primary schools lack sufficient classrooms to provide a proper five year cycle: In Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, for example, more than half of the schools do not contain the requisite five classrooms. Our latest EFA Global Monitoring Report showed that fewer than half of children are learning the basics in Pakistan whether they’ve been to school or not.
There is also a huge need for more qualified teachers — especially female teachers — to help encourage more girls to remain in school. At current trends the recruitment gap in Pakistan will not be filled until after 2030. Until these challenges are addressed head-on, its out-of-school rates will likely languish.
Similarly, conflict in Pakistan has taken its toll on education access. Ongoing security threats are leaving many children scared to go to school. In Nepal, ending the civil war helped children living in affected areas begin to have the same education chances as children living in other parts of the country. A similar shift to security in Pakistan would no doubt see similar advantages for its boys and girls, who have long awaited the stability.
Lastly, large-scale social cash transfers could help bridge the divide between the richest children in the country and the poorest, who are more than seven times less likely to go to school. We are heartened by the news that Sindh is switching to branchless banking cash transfers for girls’ education in poorer households and hope this will show just how effective they can be in overcoming poverty barriers to education.
Distributing government funds via cash transfers through parent-teacher councils, as in KP, is a transparent scheme that can also avoid funds being filtered off before they arrive at their intended destination.
Transfers such as these will not address the equally important challenge of enabling children to remain in school once there, however, and are insufficient as a stand-alone intervention for increasing access. Nevertheless they are extremely important for helping the marginalised set foot in the classroom and should be scaled up for all families in need throughout the country.
It was welcome news to hear Muhammad Baligh-ur-Rehman, Minister of State for Education, Training and Standards in Higher Education, announce at the launch event for our latest report this January that he would be implementing a national plan of action for education to accelerate progress and doubling education spending.
With this political will, and increased funds to turn that will into action, we hope Pakistan will reflect on these policies identified as having success in other countries and strongly consider how it can draw insights from such successes on its own terrain.
The writer is director of the EFA Global Monitoring Report, Unesco.
Published in Dawn, July 3rd, 2014