"Just one-fifth of Pakistan's military spending would be sufficient to finance the universal primary education." - File Photo

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan, with one of the world's largest out-of-school population, about 7.3 million, spends over seven times as much on arms as on primary schools, says a report of the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (Unesco).

The discrepancy between primary education and military expenditure is so large that just one-fifth of Pakistan's military spending would be sufficient to finance the universal primary education, asserts the 'Education for All (EFA) Global Monitoring Report 2011' published on Tuesday.

It said that diversion of national resources to the military and loss of government revenue meant that armed conflict shifted the responsibility for education financing from government to households. The report called on national governments and donors to urgently review the potential for converting unproductive spending on weapons into productive investment in schools.

The 1999-2008 period which was marked by high economic growth, real growth in education spending was higher than the rates of economic growth. The total public expenditure on education as percentage of GNP was 2.9 per cent in 2008, compared to 2.6 per cent in 1999.

The report says that the impact of armed conflict on education has been widely neglected. This hidden crisis is reinforcing poverty, undermining economic growth and holding back the progress of nations. In Pakistan, some 600,000 children in three districts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa were reported in 2009 to have missed one year or more of school because of conflict and displacement.

Insurgent groups in KPK and Fata have attacked girls' primary and secondary schools. The report says that motives for attacking education infrastructure vary. Schools may be seen as embodying state authority and, therefore, a legitimate target, especially when insurgent groups oppose, as in Afghanistan, the type of education promoted by governments. The use of schools by armed forces can lead to their being targeted by anti-state groups and abandoned by communities.

In recent years, the country's madressahs have been viewed as a recruiting ground for potential terrorists. However, there is little credible evidence to support this conclusion, the report says.

Most parents send their children to the madressah to receive the Quran education, or to escape a failing state system. The real challenge for Pakistan is to strengthen the failing state education and to build bridges between that system and madressah schools.

“Yet the generalised international climate of hostility towards madressahs, fuelled by donors, is not conducive to bridge-building,” the report says.

In Pakistan, the post-independence government adopted Urdu as the national language and the language of instructions in schools. This became a source of alienation in a country which is home to six major linguistic groups and 58 smaller ones.

The report says that Pakistan has one of the world's largest youth bulges, with 37 per cent of the population under 15. Unemployed educated youths figure prominently in some armed conflict in Pakistan.

The report said that 49 per cent of the poorest children aged 7 to 16 were out of school in 2007, compared with 5 per cent of children from the wealthiest households. Location and gender reinforce the disparities - poor rural girls were 21 times less likely to be in school than wealthy urban boys.

The number of children out of school in the country may fall by one-fifth to 5.8 million by 2015.

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