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National education policy need of the hour for Pakistan

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Ammar Sheikh

Pakistan is facing many challenges and fighting on many fronts, including terrorism, poverty, lack of proper health-care facilities, power shortage and law and order situation, but the most neglected problem of the country has been to eradicate illiteracy from the country.
Every government in Pakistan had made tall claims to reform the education system in the country, but a nation-wide and uniform education policy had not been devised and implemented by any. The previous government of the Pakistan Peoples’ Party (PPP) announced that a new education policy had been created to ensure universal primary education by 2010, but, unfortunately, this too   could not be achieved.
A 2013 report jointly prepared by Unesco, Unicef, Academy of Educational Planning and Management (Aepam) and Ministry of Education and Training states that in 2011-12 Pakistan only allocated Rs 390 billion – a mere 2 percent of the GDP on education. It further said that by international standards, it was a low proportion. Furthermore, because of the limited absorptive capacity of the education sector only 90 per cent of the Rs 390 billion was utilised.
Education has always been a low-priority issue for the governments in Pakistan, which can be clearly seen by the low proportion of GDP given to it by the government. What is more alarming is that even such a low share of the GDP has not been used, whereas most public schools in the country lack basic facilities such as a roof and clean drinking water.
The data presented in the report also shows that Pakistan has the second highest number of out-of-school children in the world and is among the nine countries with the largest number of primary-age out-of-school children. These figures are depressing as they show that Pakistan, being a nuclear power with a burgeoning youth population and a signatory of the UN Millennium Declaration, has been unable to create a consensus national policy on education. The report also highlights the wide variation of access to education across provinces, sex and urban-rural population. The highest net primary enrolment rate is in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa 81%, where 92% of boys aged between 5 to 9 years and 68% of girls between 5 to 9 years attend primary school. This is followed by Gilgit-Baltistan 76%, Punjab 70% and Islamabad Capital Territory 70%. About two-thirds of children attend school in Sindh 63% and FATA 62%, while only 51% children in Balochistan are enrolled in primary schools. By the current rate of progress, Pakistan is lagging behind on its commitment to providing primary education to all  and even create a workable national policy to eradicate illiteracy.
Another issue, although an overall positive step, is the devolution of power to the provinces that also include education, by the 18th Amendment to the Constitution. After the amendment passed the Federal Ministry of Education dissolved and all decision-making powers were given to the provinces, which temporarily slowed the already slow progress  of educating the masses. Lack of political will and timely action on part of the governments in Pakistan has worsened the situation. Even the report acknowledges the urgency needed and states: “Pakistan is likely to lag behind in attaining universal primary education by 2015 if comprehensive efforts are not undertaken urgently.”
The real problem are the multiple education systems –ranging from English medium, Urdu medium, Madrasah, public and private education systems – in the country because of which an effective and long-term education system cannot be achieved. Even if the government is able to formulate a working strategy for education reforms it will be a futile exercise because of the multiple education systems in the country. What Pakistan lacks the most is not funds or human resource, it is the will and  vision by the leadership of the country.

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