REACHING THE MARGINALISED

UNESCO SAYS PAKISTAN IS DRIFTING FROM THE UNIVERSAL PRIMARY EDUCATION GOAL 2015

TARIQ AHMED SAEEDI
(feedback@pgeconomist.com)
Apr 26 - May 2, 2010

Universal primary education can emancipate the people from the morasses of economic hardships and give sustainability to developments. Government is finding sources of revenue to increase weight of its spending for developments. The cost cutting seems to be ubiquitous in most of the countries around the world recovering from the financial crisis. Government in Pakistan is also seeking supports to halve its spending on the developments. This readiness to share responsibilities of all aspects of human developments will be effective if the marginalised segments of the society that make significant population of Pakistan are delivered the benefits of developments. Unfortunately, in Pakistan the gulf between rich and poor is wide and therefore literacy rates in two classes are dissimilar. Over 85 per cent of children with little difference of boys and girls of richest households attend primary schools. The rate is negligible with regard to poor households.

A global recognised fact is universal primary education, which is a core of human development, can not only bring marginalised people in the mainstream but also reduce poverty and make development sustainable. It is striking to know that although Pakistan has per capita income equivalent to that of Vietnam, education poverty in Pakistan is three times.

That education gives a way to social and economic mobilisation is unquestionable, yet what should be the standard of education? Is this a kind of education standard that is prevalent in Pakistan's education system or it should be likened to one that is in vogue in developed economies? The question is not new in its substance and has surfaced many a time. To make a person capable of contributing his best to building of society is the cornerstone of education. As per international definition, quality of education is that when literacy, numeracy, and essential life skills are attained.

Recently, Unesco has challenged the straitjacket approach regarding number of years that have become mandatory for students to spend in school. "Ultimate measure lies in what children learn and quality of their education experience," said the global aid body in its latest education for all global monitoring report 2010.

In Pakistan, quality of education is not equal for all and for many it is a rare commodity that escapes students right from primary education level to higher studies. However, the non-quality education at the primary level has a far-reaching impact. In Pakistan, each year flocks of students leave primary schools without acquiring basic reading and writing skills. The failure of many students in the next levels has genesis in improper education at primary level. They lack the skills of comprehending textbooks and are reinforced to memorise the texts. Language divide is another blot on the education system of Pakistan. Vernacular or local language remains a medium of instruction until a student is three steps below secondary level. Public schools are yet to adopt English language subject from primary level. Students with lean background of English language find themselves unfit during higher studies. The outcome is unfortunate since they lose their performance mainly due to lack of language comprehension and become second-rate employable.

All developing economies naturally look towards education reformation in developed economies, reformation that has brought a considerable change in the community building and that elevated status of such economies as human success models others to follow. The dilemma starts in the implementation of such models. The implementation gap is what particularly in case of Pakistan has brought to near failure policies and reforms that have been coming across to improve literacy rate since the country's inception.

Government spending on education sectors has never been impressive on one hand, the monetary chasm left by the state that private sector and parallel education system have plugged has increased the social and economic disparities to a precarious level on the other.

Poverty is what widens the disparities further. Since a large portion of the population lives below the poverty line, obviously not everybody can afford to attain basic literacy in absence of state-funded schools. Even if government spends funds on education sector, the funds are not enough to extend the outreach of quality education to the marginalised segment. In other words, quality education is confined to wealthiest few while rest of the population reel under extreme education poverty.

Disparities including gender, wealth, location, ethnicity, language, and location impede progress of country. Gender gap in Pakistan is wide and enrolment ratio of female in schools is low as compared to male. In Pakistan, there is no discernible gender gap for the urban households, but only one third of girls from the poorest households are in school. Gender gap is higher in rural areas than in urban areas. Similarly, attendance is higher in urban than rural areas.

According to the report, Pakistan is sluing out of the track for achieving universal primary education by 2015. The report termed gender discrimination, poverty, and regional differences as main hurdles. It found Sindh and Balochistan as relatively more education poor provinces than Punjab. In Pakhtoonkhawa, the attendance rate for boys was estimated at above average and for girls below average. Long distance to schools was also underscored in the report as a major reason of low attendance of girls. It said that with each 500-meter increase in distance from the school girls' enrolment plunges rapidly. Small numbers of girl primary schools encourage low attendance, since people in rural areas prefer to admit their female children in girl school and to have them educated by women.

Government has formulated a national education policy that is addressing the issues obstructing the progress in education sector, particularly the gender gap that needs to be abridged on war footing for community building. However, the policy is yet to be implemented.