June 02 - 08, 2003



The Ministerial meeting of South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) on the conclusion of its two-day conference on "education for all" (EFA) in Islamabad last week urged their respective government to allocate at least four per cent of their GDP for education.

The first ever ministerial meeting of SAARC unanimously adopted a declaration on EFA with a resolve to improve quality of education and mobilise financial resources. The SAARC members expressed commitment to provide free inclusive, gender responsive quality basic education for all including all marginalised and vulnerable groups.

The members agreed to work in collaboration to promote adult literacy, especially for women in the context of the United Nations Literacy Decade and in the spirit of Dakar Declaration. They urged international donor agencies and communities to honour their commitments made in the World Education Forum in Dakar to achieve the EFA goals.

Addressing the mediamen at the close of the conference, Education Minister Zobaida Jalal said that we have prepared strategies and are now entering the challenging phase of the implementation. The meeting deliberated on the theme of quality financing of education and gender parity, she added.

Zobaida said that practical recommendations have been put forth by the group of all member countries in the spirit of EFA and Millennium Development Goals. "We need to trust each other work as powerful strategic allies, valuing the comparative advantages and be open to critique for the public good," the Minister added. She appreciated the role of UNESCO and other UN agencies for supporting Pakistan in activities for the enhancement of education sector.

She said that the papers presented on financing frameworks for education from each of the seven countries reveal an enormous commitment and well-researched positions on education target strategies and resource requirements. Each country has to translate in real terms the recommendations of the Islamabad declaration to enhance allocation for learning competencies and bridging and gender gap, Zobaida added.



The Education Minister informed that the Secretariat of South Asia Forum on EFA established in Islamabad would be shifted to Dhaka with all facilitates. The major theme agreed for the ministerial meeting to be held in 2005 is decentralisation with a focus on implementation of Kathmandu and the Islamabad declaration.

The declaration was read by Dr. Muhammad Shougee from Maldives in the concluding session of the first ministerial meeting. Earlier, Finance Minister Shaukat Aziz, who was the chief guest for the morning session, observed that the highest rate of illiteracy and poverty exist in this region, so the need of the hours is to make concrete efforts for the betterment of the next generation. He said that Pakistan will increase 20 per cent of its coming budget for the improvement of social sector and education would get a maximum share.

Federal Minister for Investment and Privatization, Abdul Hafeez Shaikh who also addressed the conference, urged all countries of South Asia to work together for the promotion of education in the region as this is the only way to raise the living standards of the people.

"If we want to 'exploit true potential of the South Asian region, there is need to ensure quality education, learn and reach but more to each other from sharing of experiences, "he said. Hafeez Shaikh said that holding of the conference on Education for all (EFA), shows determination and resolve of the leadership in South Asia to give greater emphasis on the promotion of education as "the countries that did not invest in people have been left behind", he added.

Highlighting the role of Pakistan government in the promotion of education in the country, the Federal Minister said that for over three years, the government is trying to ensure greater enrollment and improve quality, bringing madaris to the system of modern education and created a commission on Women Development for broad-based education by involving the community. With macro-economic stability, the government has enhanced budget for education with focus on removing gender disparity, he said adding that 'education for all' is an overwhelming and difficult goal and appropriate response would be needed to redouble our efforts to achieve it.

During her welcoming address, Federal Education Minister, Zobaida Jalal said that the ongoing ministerial meeting has two cutting edge themes of quality and financing of education. She said the only solid survival strategy to all social sectors and economic development is making the education as priority number one for Pakistan. The countries of the region are on their way towards mobilising a movement to support the promotion of education, she said there is unprecedented political will to work for education and divert resources towards the enhancement of education activities.

The education minister said in case of Pakistan quality of education, gender disparities continue to be our challenges. To meet these challenges the government had developed the education sector reforms action plan to increase literate, enhance primary, middle, secondary and higher education enrollment, she said adding that in the last 20 years the government has rehabilitated 11,000 schools out of 100,000 trained 175,000 teachers at primary and elementary levels and reviewed curriculum up to intermediate level.

In her address, the Executive Director of UNICEF, Ms. Carol Bellamy said that poverty and ignorance are obstacles to progress and that can be overcome by quality education. Girls education is the single best investment that any society can make, she added.