Can it just educate instead?
There is no denying the fact that education is considered a fundamental human right and an essential ingredient for individual as well societal development. Article 37 b of the constitution of Pakistan, given under the heading ‘Promotion of social justice and removal of social evils’, reads as follows:
The state shall “remove illiteracy and provide free and compulsory secondary education within minimum possible period”
Recently, the under the 18th amendment, a new sub-clause 25A, pertaining to Right to Education has been added which reads: “The State shall provide free and compulsory education to all children of the age of five to sixteen years in such manner as may be determined by law”. And what is that law? It either does not exist or not being implemented.
In addition to these constitutional provisions, Pakistan was also signatory to many international treaties and conventions which obligated it to provide equal access to education to all of its citizens without any sign of discrimination on the basis of gender, race, cost, creed or ethnicity. Two important international conventions are worth mentioning in this regard: the 1990 Jomtien World Declaration on Education for All (EFA) and the Dakar Framework for Action 2000, which declared eight Millennium Development Goals to be achieved by 2015.
According to these MDGs, Pakistan was expected to achieve 100 per cent net primary enrolment rate by 2015 and 100 per cent completion/survival rate to Grade V by the same year. In terms of literacy, it was expected to achieve overall 88 per cent literacy rate for 10+ years aged population. To achieve steady progress in this regard, Pakistan announced three education policies in 1992, 1998 and 2009 and a number of development plans, including National Plan of Action 2001-2015, and Education Sector Reforms (ESR).
The current scenario
The target date to achieve these goals expired on 31st December 2015. It is high time to assess what progress Pakistan has made in this direction. Two points are worth consideration while assessing the progress of Pakistan towards achieving EFA and MDGs. These points are access to education and equality. Table 1 indicates the targets to be achieved by 2015 and actual attainment.
Pakistan was expected to achieve 100 per cent net primary enrolment rate by 2015 and 100 per cent completion/survival rate to Grade V by the same year
These figures clearly show that Pakistan has not only failed in achieving the targets set by itself, but is disappointingly far from achieving these targets in near future. If we analyse retrospectively, we find surprisingly that over the last two years, instead of going up word, literacy rate has actually declined. Table 2 indicates literacy rate in the year 2012 and 2014 with reference to various sectors and regions.Source: PSLM 2013-14
A careful analysis of these figures and other relevant data reveals that except in KPK, literacy rate in all the provinces, both in urban as well as rural areas, has declined. Same is the case with female literacy rate. This shows the commitment and seriousness of political leadership and the impact of faulty polices pursued by them. Even in Punjab, where high fake claims are made at the highest political level, the situation has actually worsened. One of the reasons for failure to achieve developmental goals is that more than 7,000 primary schools only in Punjab have been shot down in the name of rationalisation and consolidation. Other provinces followed the same policy as well. But the more alarming element that is going to have tremendous and far reaching social consequences for the society is the quality of public education and multiple disparities being promoted because of ill planning and unequal distribution of resources.
Pakistan is confronted with a multitude of problems including poverty, social inequalities, unemployment and extremism, to name the few. Although the reason for low quality of life of all the individuals and societies may not be attributed to illiteracy but still the basic literacy and numeracy are considered a crucial part of individual development. Without an optimum rate of education and literacy the real potential of individuals and the societies cannot be realised and the society cannot be put on the path of sustainable economic development. Experts believe that countries are under developed because most of their people are under developed, having had no opportunity of expanding their potential and capacities in the service of society.
In a developing country like Pakistan, where there is low economic activity, education is the only vehicle for upward social mobility of poor and marginalised people
Educationists and economists also agree that at least 70 percent literacy rate is important for states to reach the take-off stage for achieving economic and social development. With current literacy rate of about 58 per cent and primary enrolment rate of 57per cent, the country cannot embark upon the path of social development. In the presence of wide spread disparities and multiple inequalities education can be a great leveller, provided people have equal access to quality education at all levels.
In a developing country like Pakistan, where there is low economic activity, education is the only vehicle for upward social mobility of poor and marginalised people. However, since the last two decades or so, education has stopped to play such kind of transformative role. Although education in Pakistan has always been very selective and elitist in nature, this character has become more pronounced of late. Unequal access to education has created multiple disparities. Similarly, low quality of education in public sector institutions, particularly in higher education institutions, has resulted in a competitive disadvantage for poor communities and consequently they are being further marginalised and excluded from the social and economic sphere of life. According to one government source social and economic exclusion has resulted in multiple deprivation of more than 50 per cent of Pakistan’s population.
UN agencies have developed a new post-2015 agenda for progress and development of individuals and societies. Pakistan has participated in these preparations. The theme adopted for the post-2015 agenda, which covers the period from 2015 to 2030, is “Sustainable Development” and accordingly Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) have been developed. Sustainable development entails that all sectors of society are included in the development process. If Pakistan wants to avoid failure in future and does not want to miss the chance of sustainable development, it has to abandon the policies of elitism, exclusivity and marginalisation. Instead, Pakistan will have to pursue such educational policies that would provide equal access to quality education to all, including women, rural communities and marginalised people to include them in the development process.