MULTAN: The representatives of the Punjab government, the School Education Department, the Ministry of Federal Education and Professional Training, UNICEF and UNESCO have stressed the need to focus on sustainable development goal - 4 (SDG-4).

On the inaugural day of a two-day consultation workshop on “the Education 2030 Agenda” on Wednesday, UNICEF Punjab Chief of Field Office Douglas G Higgins said a high level of commitment at federal and provincial levels was required to ensure access to inclusive, equitable and quality education for children. He said that ensuring quality education was a major concern of the province and their targets and inspirations were very clear to bring about a positive change in the life of children and women of the province.

According to a press release, the workshop aimed at developing an understanding on SDG-4 and devising a strategy to align it with the sector plan.UNESCO’s Vibeke Jensen said the SDG-4 was to ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all. It is part of the 17 UN SDGs, which made up the Agenda 2030 for sustainable development. She said that all what was needed was to realise provincial vision and strategies for education within the framework of the SDG-4 and fully understand all its targets, implementation strategies and the implications and opportunities within the provincial context. In doing so, she said, Pakistan could build on some of the good practices developed over the past years. One of such commendable practices was the enactment of the 18th Amendment’s (Article 25-A) which stipulated “free and compulsory education” as a constitutional right of all children from 5-16 years, in full alignment with the SDG framework and its principal commitment to “leave no one behind”.

Punjab Education Foundation Chairman Qamarul Islam Raja highlighted the initiatives by the Punjab to bridge the gap in education. He said targets were there but the challenge was to achieve them and such consultations would help the government achieve the targets.

At the inaugural session, Federal Secretary for Education and Professional Training Muhammad Humayun said there were over six million children out of school. He said that the provincial consultations on the SDG-4 across provided a unique opportunity to develop an integrated strategy not only to address the unfinished agenda of millennium development goals but also for the advancement of quality education in Pakistan.

Mahmoodul Hasan Mirza, Punjab additional secretary for school education, said the main focus of the consultation was to understand the global SDG-4 expectations and interpret them in the context of Pakistan, particularly of Punjab. “The discussion is also meant to contribute towards inspiring and guiding the education stakeholders to ensure that the education agenda is fully integrated with the education sector plan and optimally achieved,” he said.Jan Madad, education specialist with UNICEF, made a presentation on the SDG-4 unpacking the seven targets of the SDG-4 and its three means of implementation. In the backdrop of devolution, the fundamental responsibility of implementing the SDG-4 agenda in Pakistan lies with provincial governments. He said financing the new education agenda was essential, yet there is a need to look into the utilisation capacity of the provinces to use the available funding in education sector.

On the first day, inaugural and plenary sessions were followed by group works to generate discussions on awareness raising and familiarisation with the SDG-4 agenda and understanding in the context of provincial sector plan priorities.

TRADERS: The All Pakistan Anjuman Tajiran (APAT) warned on Wednesday of countrywide protests against a government’s directive to shut down shops at 8pm.

APAT Chairman Khawaja Salman Siddiqi told reporters traders would announce their protest strategy.

He said that every time on the start of summer season, the government created hardships for traders with such illogical decisions.He said markets would remain open till late night.

He said the government should have overcome the energy crisis.

“Traders are paying their electricity bills regularly but they are being forced to bear the brunt of the country’s energy shortfall,” he said.

Published in Dawn, April 21st, 2016