The Pakistani government needs to wake up to its responsibility of providing quality education for all, the 2009 UNESCO Education For All Global Monitoring Report— Overcoming inequality: why governance maters— states this loud and clear. Pakistan features prominently in this year’s report, which notes the role of governance failure in hindering provision of education for all in the developing countries. Pakistan along with Nigeria is predicted to account for one third of the world’s out-of-school children by 2015 where Pakistan is estimated to have 3.7 million of these children. More importantly, the report does not sugarcoat the fact that Pakistan’s attempts at forging public-private partners and developing social safety nets for the poor, though heavily publicized, have in practice failed to deliver because of poor planning, lack of financial commitment, fragmentation of responsibility among government department and heavy dependence on donors.
Noting the major differences in the opportunities for children within developed and developing countries, the report notes that one in three children in the developing countries reaches primary school age having their brain development impaired due to malnutrition. In parts of South Asia, this figure reaches 40 per cent. Similarly, while over a third of children in rich countries complete university in much of sub-Saharan Africa, a far smaller share complete primary education and only 5 per cent make it to university. The global disparities are reflected also within countries. Children from the poorest 20 per cent of the population in some of the developing countries are three times less likely to attend primary school as compared to children from the wealthiest 20 per cent. Apart from holding the national governments responsible for this neglect, the report also notes a worrying trend among development donors to deliver on aid commitments. In 2005 donors pledged to increase aid by US$50 billion by 2010 but the current aid commitments have an impending shortfall of US$30 billion against this pledge.
Identifying Pakistan as a particularly worrying case of education failures, the report notes that its education sector suffers from weak governance and high inequality in finance and provision of basic education. Reviewing its highly publicized public-private programmes within the education sector, the report notes that such initiatives have neither been properly funded or organizational streamlined. Responsibility for running public-private partnerships rests not with the Ministry of Education but with the semi-autonomous education foundation that depend on their ability to raise external funds. These partnership attempts remain heavily donor dependent thus putting their sustainability into question.
The fate of the social protection initiatives, including microfinance, public works, pensions and various social safety nets, some of which are directly linked to education programmes, has been no better. Programmes overlap in their scope, with uncoordinated financing and delivery modes. Coordination is lacking among bodies responsible for implementation including the ministries of education, labour, social welfare and special education, and science and technology along with the National Technical and Vocational Education Commission. Many initiatives remain just experiments of very small scale.
Reviewing the contribution of the private sector in meeting education for all goals in Pakistan, the report also checks the recent optimism in government and donor circles. In the past few years, a few studies have claimed that private sector is increasingly addressing the educational needs of poor children in Pakistan because they provide education for as low as Rs100 per month. However, as the report rightly notes, private schools serve the relatively more resourceful groups within the poor than the most vulnerable. More importantly, the quality of education within these low-fee charging private schools remains highly questionable. The only solution for ensuring good quality education for all rests in the expansion of the public education system, with a far stronger focus on addressing wealth, gender and regional inequalities.
The crux of the matter, as the report rightly notes, is that investing in education is no luxury it is critical to checking increased incidences of poverty, hunger and child morality and increasing prospects for economic growth. The successive Pakistani governments have failed to make education sector reforms their priority despite paying lip service to it. The present government, which is now ten-month old, has as yet shown no commitment to the education sector reforms. When there is not even a visible attempt to design an education sector strategy, chances of possible reforms initiated in near future seem low. The 2009 UNESCO report should act as a timely reminder to the current government and the donor agencies to seriously review their existing strategies towards meeting education for all goals in Pakistan—the current ones, as the report has made clear, are not delivering.
The writer is a research fellow at the Oxford University. Email: mb294@ hotmail.com