Education is a basic source that can, singlehandedly, turn the fortune for any nation, as it can be the best and most appropriate step for the long-term solution of any problems the state is going through. If we see nations who have developed their infrastructure and are in the top ranking, it is primarily because of its focus on its educational system, but unfortunately, Pakistan has an abysmal record in terms of education. It is rather unfortunate that not a single political party, individual or social sector has worked for this cause with complete dedication and farsightedness.
Pakistan has witnessed seven or eight education policies since gaining independence in 1947, eight five-year plans, about a dozen other education schemes and countless education and literacy campaigns but, nevertheless, our actual literacy rate is hovering around a little over 50 percent.
Just to highlight for my readers: Article 25-A of the Constitution binds the state to provide free and compulsory education to all children aged five-16 years. But sadly, despite passage of this law, there has not been any progress on this provision and provinces have yet to frame legislation to implement it. One more campaign is set to be launched in the country to ensure 100 percent enrollment in schools, as federal government is going to launch an intensive campaign across Pakistan that starting in April 2016 will ensure enrollment of every child in school by 2018. The first goal of this campaign is to get 100 percent primary enrollment. After achieving that goal, government will work on 100 percent enrollment in higher education institutions and 100 percent primary enrollment would be achieved before 2018.
This is indeed a good directive from government, reflective of government’s good intentions, but the question is how it is going to be done. There appears to be no substantial answer to that so far. It could be said that the current campaign launched by the federal government might also meet the same fate if the ruling party does not show more sincerity and political will to make the campaign a success.
The concerned world bodies present a dismal picture of Pakistan’s education sector. The United Nations mentioned in one of its reports released in December 2015 that 49 percent of the population of Pakistan lives in poverty, and it has one of the lowest investments for education and health. “Pakistan spends 0.8 percent of its GDP on health and 1.8 percent on education. The report ranked Pakistan 146 out of 187 countries on a human development index, equal to Bangladesh and just ahead of Angola and Myanmar. Pakistan is facing tremendous challenges in the education sector, with approximately 6.1 million children not attending schools at all. The situation is especially alarming in rural areas due to social and cultural obstacles. However, one of the most deplorable aspects is that in some places, particularly northern tribal areas, education of girls is strictly prohibited on religious grounds. This is a gross misinterpretation of Islam, which like all religions urges both males and females to acquire education.
The authorities in the education sector in Pakistan are good at setting ambitious targets but inept at following through. Successive governments have abandoned policies of the previous administration and adopted new and more ambitious targets, wreaking havoc on the education system, squandering billions of rupees. As a result, Pakistan has failed to achieve the United Nations’ Millennium Development Goal of primary education for all children by 2015.
I personally believe that there is a lack of political will and sincerity behind this failure. Every government announces a campaign to bring all children to school, but nothing substantial happens except for publication of government advertisements in newspapers and sloganeering on the electronic media for a few months. Our educational system needs to be harmonised and equalised. The implementation of one language, one syllabus and one system is the long-term solution to the problems that act as an impediment in our national progress. In the view of importance of education, government should take solid steps towards implementation instead of projecting policies. In this regard, the allocations should be made easy and timely from provinces to districts and then to educational institutions. Moreover, every member of society must play his/her role to be part of the progress of the country.
Last but not the least, I have a question for the federal government the answer to which would be of interest to people of Pakistan: how would the target of 100 percent enrollment be achieved with 60 percent of the country’s population living on less than 100 rupees a day?