Nisar A. Memon
14-January- 2020 – Pakistan Observer
Is education a nation builder? Does it help in socio-economic development? Can it defend us against internal and external terrorism of individuals, groups, institutions or countries? Should it be our highest national priority? Is it synonymous with Sovereignty?
The answer is emphatic yes. The reasons are manifold and very visible in the success of civilizations with education over the ones which perished for want of education. Muslims conquered the world when they were the best in education and science. It is visible even now, with low levels of education they have been subjugated by nations with higher levels of education. Within the broad spectrum of Muslims, countries with better literacy than ours, the non-cotton producing countries like Bangladesh and Sri Lanka produced cotton products of higher values than Pakistan. Countries with lower quality mangoes are earning more than us due to education and their better marketing and technology.
A recent education survey of Pakistan by Gallup indicates that over the past nineteen years, the number of primary schools increased by 18%, middle schools by 83% whereas the number of high schools increased by 110%. The same survey shows increasing number of the female institutions, female registration, and female university enrollment rose by ‘an astounding 1,790% over the past 20 years.’
The other indicators, however, are dismal with lower literacy rates and slowing down of universal secondary education since 2011. According to UNICEF, currently Pakistan has the world’s second-highest number of out-of-school children with an estimated 22.8 million children aged 5-16 not attending school, representing 44 per cent of the total population in this age group. Disparities based on gender, socio-economic status, and geography are significant; in Sindh, 52 percent of the poorest children (58 percent girls) are out of school, while in Balochistan, 78 percent of girls are out of school. Nearly 10.7 million boys and 8.6 million girls are enrolled at the primary level which drops to 3.6 million boys and 2.8 million girls at the lower secondary level.
The key challenges are poor learning environment, outdated course curricula, lack of trained teachers, ineffective parents and school committees, many a schools lacking: boundary walls, sports ground and facilities, necessary furniture, labs, electricity, toilets, clean drinking water, and to top it all is the insufficient allocation of funds. The government has earmarked Rs 77.262 billion for Education Affairs and Services in the federal budget for 2019-20 against the revised allocation of Rs 97.155 billion for the current fiscal year, showing a decrease of around 20.5 percent. The government also reduced the budgetary allocation for higher education sector, and serious concerns were raised in Vice Chancellors Conference recently held by Higher Education Commission. Pakistan’s public expenditure on education as percentage to GDP estimated at 2.4 percent in fiscal year 2018-19, is the lowest in the region.
These challenges and status make us think why we are in such a pathetic situation. If we compare Pakistan’s development, we find countries like Korea, Japan and China have progressed well economically and in defense production due to their focus on education. Their societies realized the potential due to education and confirm a clear correlation between education and development.
January 24th is observed every year as Education Day internationally. These thoughts are penned ahead of that date to impress upon all stakeholders; specially the leaders of federal and provincial institutions of Pakistan i.e. parliament, cabinet, judiciary; to come out in open and state their position on education. The parliament and provincial assemblies have a leadership role to play by opening debate in coming days to ensure they evolve a national consensus to comply with Article 25A of our Constitution which states: “The state shall provide free and compulsory education to all children of the age five to sixteen years in such manner as determined by law”. The governments should allocate necessary budget towards its implementation over a period of time on fast track to amend the situation.
Education should not only be considered as meeting our constitutional and U.N. obligations but to protect and preserve our sovereignty. Can Parliament get ready for coming January 24th to give this gift of ‘Education for All’ to people and demonstrate by acts that they can come together by deeds and not statements, like they did in recent past on Services Bills.
People often ask – is someone listening? This will be answered in affirmative if parliament takes decisions, which it can and must. If not, the youth from middle, poor and thinking privilege class may respond by taking to streets to bring education system transformation towards establishing a just society with dividends of delivery of fundamental human rights for all, since without it no social, political and economic justice will be achieved nor shall we achieve the moto inscribed on Jinnah’s Sindh Madressah School gate in Karachi, ‘Enter to learn, go forth to serve’
Nisar A. Memon is a former federal minister and senator.