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Still far from the target

October 05, 2011

IN 2000, states and development agencies from across the world gathered in Dakar to reaffirm their commitment to providing Education for All (EFA). The Dakar Framework of Action was adopted, with 182 countries, including Pakistan, committing themselves to achieving EFA targets by 2015.

And yet, the EFA Global Monitoring Report 2011 suggests that: “The world is not on track to achieve the Education For All targets set for 2015. Although there has been progress in many areas the goals will be missed by a wide margin.” However, following the EFA commitment Pakistan has taken some post-Dakar actions at the policy and planning level and has established a separate EFA unit under the education ministry and formed national and provincial EFA forums and technical groups for a national plan. But the effects of all this have not been felt at the grass-root level.

In our attempt to attain the required level of progress in achieving the EFA targets what we have failed to focus on is developing and implementing a comprehensive strategy based on the district, taluka, village and school level. There is a dire need for districts to be more vigilant and proactive in investigating the root causes for the inordinate delay in the march towards the required results.

Many of the reasons behind this poor progress are sure to vary from region to region. Every province and area has its own approach towards addressing and understanding the issue. In fact, in some places, like Sindh, the reasons may vary from district to district. It is of utmost importance to develop a keener understanding of and show sensitivity towards the behaviour patterns, perceptions and the ways of approaching the issue of education by the various target groups before planning projects aimed at behaviour change. Without this, no amount of planning can bring the change we look forward to and a uniform approach will not prove successful. What must be studied and kept in mind during the planning phase are factors like the cultural and socio-economic features of an area, and this is only possible if a deeper commitment to the cause of education is in evidence.

A number of training workshops for the preparation of district EFA plans were held some years ago in the provinces to train district officials and others concerned with EFA planning, monitoring and evaluation. These workshops began in August 2003 and ended in October 2003. In the then NWFP, two workshops were conducted to cover 24 districts. In Punjab, three different workshops were conducted in Lahore, Rawalpindi/Islamabad and Multan covering 34 districts.

In Sindh, three workshops were conducted in Hyderabad, Karachi and Sukkur, whereas in Balochistan only one took place in Quetta. The participants/trainees of these workshops were executive district officers, nazims, NGO representatives and others. Draft district EFA plans were prepared by the participants of the respective districts under the guidance of training teams. The participants were given the task of finalising the plan in consultation with district EFA forums and others. These plans were supposed to be discussed and approved for full-scale implementation, but whatever came of this exercise did hardly anything for the cause of education.

Keeping in view the dismal rate of progress towards the EFA goals, the role of the district education department needs to be reviewed, discussed again and redesigned. It would be a good move to have separate research, advocacy, implementation, monitoring, supervision and mentoring units established at the district level with their sub-units at the taluka and school levels. We often ignore the role of research and advocacy at the district level in public-sector departments. While it is crucial to undertake serious research to investigate what is hampering the attainment of EFA goals, it is, at the same time, imperative that the education department initiate advocacy efforts to mobilise and engage the people as they attempt to proceed, so that the public can own the process and does not feel alienated or gets the feeling that the goals are developed somewhere else without a knowledge of ground realities and priorities and that these are just being imposed upon them.

Although, there are various initiatives and efforts taken by civil society to inform people about the importance of education and its impact on their lives, dedicated involvement of the relevant district authorities in advocating and mobilising the people can cause the impact to be much greater. The research may focus on burning issues that impact speedy progress on goals like access to education, gender relationships in the area, the gender gap and power dynamics etc. Considering all these factors before coming up with a strategy and a plan is halfway to success.

Education For All is a basic right that lies at the heart of development. It must be a national and international priority and requires a strong and sustained political commitment, enhanced financial allocations and the participation of all key stakeholders in the processes of policy design, strategic planning and implementation.

Responsive, participatory and accountable systems of educational governance and management are only possible through constant and meaningful engagement of all key stakeholders at all levels with special emphasis on community ownership of the cause. Moreover, in light of the urgency of the matter as 2015 approaches, we must initiate more rigorous efforts to honour our commitment. Meaningful and responsible engagement of all stakeholders is the only way to increase the possibility of achieving the EFA targets.