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Pervez Musharraf termed education "as our long term salvation"

April 08 - 14, 2002

It is gratifying to note that there is an increasing realisation among the developing countries including Pakistan that without investing in human resources development, sustained economic development will remain a distant dream. The present government of Gen. Pervez Musharraf has not only realised this fact, it has placed this objective high on the priority list of the government.

Inaugurating the first ever Virtual University project in Islamabad last week President Gen. Pervez Musharraf termed education "as our long term salvation" and called for focusing all energies in this field. "My government will not be found wanting in emphasising on the essentials and the prerequisites of education for progress in Pakistan", he said adding that there was tremendous amount of international support for promoting the cause of education in Pakistan and many countries are prepared to help us in our endeavours to achieve this noble objective. Some are prepared to swap their outstanding loans against Pakistan for the cause of education, Gen. Musharraf disclosed.

The Federal Minister for Education, Zobaida Jalal, who led a high level delegation to the United States recently, expressed her optimism that the US government would agree to a swap of its remaining official debt payable by Pakistan with financial support to education reforms, including improvement in the level of literacy in the country. While talking to some newsmen informally she said that her meetings in the United States with the cabinet secretaries, including Secretary of State Colin Powell and National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice, she received a favourable response to her proposal. She also mentioned the Canadian government's willingness to swap its 485 million Canadian dollars loan outstanding against Pakistan with allocations for financing the education system in the country.

It may be recalled here that during the recent official visit of President General Pervez Musharraf to Washington, President George W. Bush announced total forgiveness of one billion dollars out of the official debt of $2.8 billion which Pakistan owes to the US. The proposal has since been approved by the US Congress also. The US President had also expressed his desire to extend liberal assistance to Pakistan for its education reforms programme. It was in this context that Zobaida Jalal mooted the proposal for the absorption of the remainder of the US official loans in the financing of various education and literacy programmes in the country.

As can be noted from the expression of goodwill towards Pakistan by high ranking US officials during the course of their meetings with Zobaida Jalal and her delegation, there appears to be every likelihood that the remaining portion of the official US debt would be allowed to be transferred to the country's education budget in the coming years. This would be indeed a development of far-reaching significance for the country which has been facing an acute shortage of cash resources for speeding up educational reforms and expansion at primary and secondary level and establishment of vocational schools and institutes for imparting technical education to the youths of the country. At the same time, the level of higher education also needs to be upgraded in keeping with the prevailing international standards.

The major factor impeding the expansion of educational facilities in the country has been the low level of budgetary allocations both at the centre and in the provinces. It sounds unfortunate that the expenditure on education has remained low at no more than three per cent of the gross domestic product. It will not be surprising if this includes both the development and the running expenditure. What was still more unfortunate was that in the case of a resource crunch, the axe has almost invariably fallen on social sector allocations. The federal education minister's statement a few days back that the government's education sector programme for 2001/2004 required Rs. 55.5 billion is self-explanatory. As an amount of Rs. 30 billion had already been allocated, it is still facing a gap of Rs. 25.5 billion.

The answer to what needs to be done for the uplift of the education sector and increasing literacy across the country has never been an enigma. Education is one area where, over the last five decades, the input in terms of wide-ranging expert recommendations from a number of commissions and committees set up for the purpose have been enormous. But somehow most of their recommendations remained unimplemented and the system continued to suffer from numerous problems. The situation had worsened to a point where ghost schools were unearthed in abundance. It is not usually realised that unless the whole system is revamped to suit the present day needs of a technology-oriented society, the desired results can not be achieved.

The new strategy is to encourage a compact between the public and the private sectors to move towards the goal of spreading literacy, taking it ultimately to every nook and corner of the country. While resources for education are now to be created through soft loans, grants, debt swaps, private sector, philanthropists, expatriates and educational foundations, there is something more than that will always be required. This is a reservoir of committed educationists whose services can be summoned for the purpose. But the condition is that their opinions and suggestions should be given the weight they deserve. The commitment to education will always remain quintessential.