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Right to education: where do we stand?

Dawn's special coverage of the Sustainable Development Goals 2015-2030 continues.
Published Sep 23, 2016 08:02am
Goal 4: Quality education


• 49pc of children comprehend English sentences and 50pc are able to solve 2-digit math divisions

• 20pc of children between six and 16 years are out-of-school, and the remaining 80pc enrolled don’t learn much with inadequate learning methods used

By Baela Raza Jamil

The writer is a commissioner at the International Commission on Financing Global Education Opportunity and a trustee-advisor at Idara-e-Taleem-o-Aagahi. She can be reached at itacec@gmail.com

In grade five, two public school students, Rubina and Chakar, were taught to rote learn without understanding what they were memorising. Because of inadequate learning methods, they were unable even to read a story usually taught in grade two. This demonstrates evidence of a learning crisis when only 55pc of school-going children are able to read stories in Urdu, Sindhi, and Pashto. According to a 2015 Annual Status of Education Report (ASER) report, 49pc comprehend English sentences and 50pc are able to solve two-digit math divisions. With an education challenge of such magnitude, it makes good sense shifting the national agenda to achieving learning outcomes, thereby sharing focus with universal primary enrolment goals. However, this realisation has taken a quarter of a century to materialise within global education agendas. The trajectory to attaining inclusive and equitable education for all started from the 1990 World Conference on Education for All in Jomtien, Thailand to the 2000 World Education Forum in Dakar that kick-started the Education For All movement and the United Nations Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), leading to the global endorsement of 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and SDG 4 on education. This shift, in fact, underscores that ‘schooling is not learning’ and that holistic ‘learning’ lies at the heart of the human development enterprise. That said, Pakistan must actively engage in setting standards that are widely understood, tracking progress and making information public.


When annual provincial education budgets are under-spent, especially for development purposes, and non-salary costs rise up to 50pc, it is not so much about lack of capacity but lack of bureaucratic will.


Therefore, SDG 4 prioritising equitable quality education and promoting lifelong learning opportunities for all fits into the above paradigm. This goal has seven targets and three means for implementation, covering all levels of education; from early childhood, primary to secondary, technical vocational for decent jobs, and university through formal, non-formal and technology enabled channels, conducive learning environments, adequacy of trained teachers and opportunities for scholarships to pursue continuous learning. While mapping the right to education for all between the ages of five and 16 years (Article 25-A), including provincial education sector plans, there may be convergence with the targets and strategies of SDG 4, but it is lack of implementation that continues to deprive millions of an education in this country. Additionally, the fractured system poses multiple challenges, though most surmountable with knowledge assistance from private partners and supplementary international financing.

Holistic ‘learning’ lies at the heart of the human development enterprise.—White Star
Holistic ‘learning’ lies at the heart of the human development enterprise.—White Star

Has more money helped?

When annual provincial education budgets are under-spent, especially for development purposes, and non-salary costs rise up to 50pc, it is not so much about lack of capacity but lack of bureaucratic will. In fiscal year 2016-17, provincial and federal governments have earmarked SDG related budgets, but they must be spent, too, in time with maximum multipliers across sectors. Most allocations have increased threefold since 2010, such as in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan, but with poorly planned utilisation. Prioritising better governance, Sindh Chief Minister, Murad Ali Shah, for instance, referred to quality education and job opportunities in his first speech in July. However, with the poorest learning scores among the provinces and Fata — scores attributed to poor quality teaching and low enrolment and retention rates — despite its Rs176bn budget, the Sindh government has its work cut out. If the province spends at least 12 times as much on teachers’ salaries as it did in 2010, where are the results? Much like the other champions of education – the prime minister, opposition politicians, provincial chief ministers – who can move the needle on results by pushing the political-civil juggernaut, Mr Shah’s newly inducted government will have to implement education reforms desperately needed in a province where, for example, 52pc of government primary schools are without toilets and 40pc don’t even have drinking water.


Pakistan showcases many islands of excellence and innovations by public and private initiatives that can be harnessed to turn around its education metrics within the 2016-2030 timeframe.


The ASER 2015 survey found 20pc of children aged between six and 16 were out-of-school – and the remaining 80pc enrolled in schools not learning much given the inadequate learning methods used. This points to disinterest at addressing the gaps. Not to mention, with elections in 2018, education promises will make a difference in intergenerational constituencies.

Partnerships, technology, inclusion of the most vulnerable groups, especially girls without access to opportunities, is integral to the education agenda for the 21st century. Influencing the ‘learning’ agenda as an activist at domestic and global levels, I see the glass half full. Pakistan showcases many islands of excellence and innovations by public and private initiatives that can be harnessed to turn around its education metrics within the 2016-2030 timeframe. This can only happen if active political, bureaucratic, civil society and industry partnerships are channeled – the domestic front has to be aligned to achieve targets. That said, most provinces are spearheading some kind of public sector initiative; education foundations are reaching out to the private sector with public financing; two major public-private partnership units are working in Sindh and Punjab, providing a legal umbrella to transparent procurements for co-sharing financing and management. There are technology-enabled learning and governance innovations multiplying with many youth-led social sector start-ups. There is an urgency to find domestic resources within, working through mixed clusters of infrastructure and education; health, nutrition and education; agriculture, skills and education, etc. Reworking this equation will draw donors, industry and foundations in support of the education drive. When development materialises, hundreds of thousands of students will be able to access 12 years of quality learning with hope for future economic prospects.


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