Education is an immensely powerful instrument of socio-economic and political change connected to global, technological and democratic developments. Since the inception of Pakistan, it has been evident that the task of nation building cannot be achieved without an educated and skilled workforce. Various efforts have been made since 1947 to not only highlight the importance of education but also to formulate a plan to achieve goals of mass literacy. Starting from the national education conference in 1947, Pakistan has since then introduced seven national education policies, eight five year plans, and many other educational schemes, all in an effort to improve access and increase literacy rates.
In 2000 Pakistan made an international commitment to increasing enrollment rates by signing the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and then the Dakar Framework of Action for Education For All (EFA). While Pakistan was unable to meet the goal of “universal primary education” by 2015, it certainly saw some improvements in the education sector. For one, in 2010 Pakistan finally introduced Article 25-A to the Constitution whereby the State took the responsibility to “provide free and compulsory education to all children of the age 5-16 years”. We also saw significant improvements in enrollment rates of children between the ages of 6-16 –ASER 2015 shows that the Capital Territory is only 2 % short of 100 % enrollment and AJK only 4%.
The increase in enrollments however came at a cost. In our race to get children into schools, we overlooked one very important factor – are the children learning? They are unfortunately not.45 % of 5th grade children can’t read a story in their regional languages, 51 % can’t read sentences in English, and 50 % can’t do 2- digit divisions (ASER, 2015).
Without quality – one of the most important dimensions of education – the returns on investments to education are low, not just for individuals and families but also the country on the whole. Injecting money in a sector that fails to have the desired results is a heavy burden for the country and its citizens to carry.
Increasing the quantity of children in school is unlikely to fix the more pressing problem of educational quality. The majority of the primary and secondary schooling system in Pakistan (particularly in the public sector), does not equip children with the levels of learning that would enable them to become competitive in international or even local labor markets. Children educated in the public school sector find themselves unable to compete with students from the private schools, particularly students from the urban elite private schools. This gives rise to increasing educational inequalities due to the underlying economic disparities, and raises the pressing question of whether our public policy should be aimed at reducing the achievement gap between the haves and have-nots of the society, or should it try to mainstream the huge numbers of out of school children in the existing educational system.
The new Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) addresses this issue to an extent by introducing Goal 4 which explicitly states that countries must “ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all”. Working towards this goal will ensure that all girls and boys in Pakistan complete free primary andsecondary schooling by 2030 and those that have been left behind have access to affordable vocational training, equipping them with the necessary skills to progress economically. Furthermore, a sincere commitment to this goal will also assist in eliminating gender and wealth disparities, allowing for universal access to quality higher education as well.