THE state of education in the country is extremely worrying: we are second in the global ranking of out-of-school children, with seven million not attending primary school and three million who will never see the inside of a classroom. Despite having 10 education policies since independence, Pakistan has failed to prioritise education to the extent that at the current rates, Punjab will have the capacity to educate all its children by 2041 and Balochistan by 2100. Under the 18th Amendment, the state must provide free and compulsory education to all children between five and 16 years of age. Meanwhile, 2011 has been declared by the prime minister as 'the year of education'. The hyper- bole notwithstanding, the Millennium Development Goal vis-Ã -vis education is now out of reach for Pakistan. These grim facts are presented in the report , prepared by March for Education, a project of the Pakistan Education Task Force. The facts indicate that Pakistan is slipping rapidly into the abyss of illiteracy and its consequences: poor employment prospects, low economic levels and social fragmentation. Policymakers would have us believe that the problem lies in the lack of funds. Education budgets have constantly shrunk over the years, and a recent Unesco report points out that the country spends over seven times as much on arms as on primary schools. Yet money is not the real problem: 26 countries poorer than Pakistan manage to send more children to primary schools. The main issue is the lack of political will and commitment. The report says that the situation can be turned around in a matter of years if there is sufficient political will — this has been seen in countries including India and Brazil. Pakistan's politicians and policymakers need to demonstrate this to make education a priority. Otherwise, they will be compromising the country's future.
March 09, 2011