Education disaster

By Zubeida Mustafa

THE story goes back to the year 2000 when 1,100 participants from 164 countries assembled in Dakar (Senegal) for the World Education Forum.

The Dakar moot set for itself the goal of ‘Education for All’ and underpinned it with six specific targets to be achieved by 2015. Unesco stepped forward to monitor progress on these goals annually.

Thus an independent team was constituted and the Global Monitoring Report was born. GMR 2015 was launched last week and summed up the achievements of countries in the education sector.

The score card is not too inspiring. The key finding is that only half of all countries have reached the goal of universal primary education. The report says 80 million more children are in school today than 15 years ago. But the worrisome reality is that millions of children and adolescents are still out of school as states have failed to keep pace with the growing world population.

For us Pakistan is of primary concern. Being the sixth most populous country in the world and a major contributor to the global pool of illiteracy Pakistan is now widely seen as a basket case. Aaron Benavot, director of the EFA Global Monitoring Report, says, “Three years since Malala Yousafzai was shot for speaking out about her struggle, and that of other young girls, to get a decent education a new Unesco report has revealed that little has changed in Pakistan. It remains the only country outside of sub-Saharan Africa to be in the bottom 10 countries in the world for overall achievement towards Education for All.”

As major contributors to illiteracy, we are seen as a basket case.

This is a pity because the six targets seemed so achievable when they were adopted. Besides, the barriers of parental resistance have now been pulled down to a great extent. Hence the poor results point to the poor performance of those entrusted with the responsibility of educating our children. .

In 2012, out of a target of 100pc, the goals of ‘early childhood care and education’ and ‘educational access for all children’ scored 82pc (enrolment) and 72pc respectively, while the figure for ‘equitable access to appropriate learning’ was 49pc instead of the ideal 97pc. Illiteracy was reduced by 27pc, not 50pc. The GPI on ‘eliminating gender disparity’ was 0.87 at the primary and 0.74 at the secondary level. The ‘improvement in educational quality’ was not measurable.

Although budget figures show a rise under education heads — not as much as desirable — there has been pilfering and misappropriation. Foreign aid for education has gone up, but has not created the intended impact as donors have in their ignorance misdirected a lot of aid to inappropriate projects.

The responsibility lies squarely on the government which is constitutionally mandated to provide free and compulsory education to children from five to 16 years of age. There is also the debate over quantity vs quality that hasn’t been fully addressed. Hence, the ASER reports — the best independent measure the country has to gauge education quality — show year after year how low the students’ learning output is. Yet five million children from five to nine years remain out of school.

The government has left it to the private sector to fill the gap. This comprises profit-making commercial education entrepreneurs, big and small, who have mushroomed across the country, NGOs who depend on aid and donations to provide affordable education, or madressahs funded by their patrons from abroad. The net result is Pakistan’s education system suffers from lack of uniformity and forms an uneven playing field that promotes inequities. Education is not the equaliser that it should be.

This scenario cannot be transformed without an active role played by the government. Given the size of the population and the geographical area to be covered it is beyond the capacity of the non-governmental sector to provide access to education on a big scale. There are thousands of NGOs working in this area but their impact is limited because each works in isolation. Hardly any join hands to optimise the impact of their efforts.

The NGOs are not even united on a common vision of education in Pakistan. Their strategies vary and there is no collective research being done on classroom approaches, medium of instruction, curricula, textbooks, etc. The numerous NGOs that can be defined as education-related and have good intentions simply follow hit-and-miss methods.

The need is for NGOs to create a common platform. Some of them should become agents for advocacy and research to act as pressure groups to force the government to get its act together. Others should be service providers and run schools to develop a model that succeeds. They should work jointly to share each others’ expertise and experience. This platform could pressurise the government to upgrade its own institutions and expand its services rather than find escape routes to shelve its responsibilities.

Source: Dawn