Only 35 per cent of school children, aged 6-16, can read a story, while 50 per cent cannot read a sentence. – Photo by Fayyaz Ahmed

Today, Pakistan is crippled by an education emergency that threatens tens of millions of children.

No country can thrive in the modern world without educated citizens.

But the emergency has disastrous human, social and economic consequences, and threatens the security of the country.

2011 is Pakistan's Year of Education.

It's time to think again about Pakistan's most pressing long-term challenge.

The economic cost of not educating Pakistan is the equivalent of one flood every year. The only difference is that this is a self-inflicted disaster.

One in ten of the world’s out-of-school children is a Pakistani.  That is the equivalent of the entire population of Lahore.

There is a zero per cent chance that the government will reach the millennium development goals by 2015 on education. On the other hand, India, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka are all on their way to achieving the same goals. India's improvement rate is ten times that of Pakistan, Bangladesh's is twice that of Pakistan.

But, despite this gloomy situation, determined efforts can show results in only two years. What is required is an additional spending of Rs.100 billion, a 50 per cent increase over current spending.

Pakistanis have a constitutional right to universal education, a little discussed or known fact of the law. What has been overlooked in the discourse on the 18th Amendment is that education has now become a right and no longer a privilege as it was previously. Article 25A sets up a possible scenario where a citizen can take the government to court for not providing them access, or even be the grounds for a suo moto action.

At current rates of progress, no person alive today will see a Pakistan with universal education as defined in our constitution. Balochistan would see it in 2100 or later.

Just one year of education for women in Pakistan can help reduce fertility by 10 per cent, controlling the other resource emergency this country faces.

There are 26 countries poorer than Pakistan but send more of their children to school, demonstrating the issue is not about finances, but will and articulating demand effectively. It is too easy, and incorrect, to believe that Pakistan is too poor to provide this basic right.

Pakistan spent 2.5 per cent of its budget on schooling in 2005/2006. It now spends just 1.5 per cent in the areas that need it most.  That is less than the subsidies given to PIA, PEPCO and Pakistan Steel. Provinces are allocated funds for education but fail to spend the money.

We presume the public school system is doing poorly because teachers are poorly paid, this is untrue. Public school teachers get paid 2/3rds more than their equivalent private low cost school counterparts; they earn four times that of the average parent of a child in their school. Despite this, on any given day 10-15 per cent of teachers will be absent from their duties teaching.

There is demand for education that is partly being addressed by low cost private schools, even one third of all rural children go to these schools (public schools can cost Rs.150 per month, low cost private schools the same or up to Rs.250). Despite the large presumption of the media, both domestic and international, this gap is not actually being addressed by Madrassahs. Only six per cent of students go to Madrassahs.

Only 35 per cent of school children, aged 6-16, can read a story, while 50 per cent cannot read a sentence. Their performance is only slightly better than that of out-of-school children, of whom 24 per cent can read a story. This alarmingly demonstrates the ineffectiveness of schooling.

30,000 school buildings are in dangerous condition, posting a threat to the well being of children. Whereas 21,000 schools have no building whatsoever.

Donors are not the solution, while they grab headlines regarding their development work, government spending remains the majority by an overwhelming margin.

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