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The crisis of learning and VNR by Baela Raza Jamil: The Express Tribune
Posted By Baela Raza Jamil

Zara is nine years old. She remains confused about learning after a tough four years in school without really understanding how to learn. Zara is and one of the 617 million children in school and struggling to learn, globally, according to Unesco.

The crisis of learning and schooling highlights the challenges of quality, equity, access and inclusion in Pakistan and low middle income countries globally. The call for Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) 2030 — 17 goals and 169 targets — was a collective one. Endorsed in 2015 by 193 nations, Pakistan has embarked on a committed pathway for ownership of the SDGs through a National Assembly resolution (2016) which resonates with Article 25A — the right to education for all 5-16 year olds as a state obligation.

The enthusiasm for SDGs in Pakistan is well recognised by the UN family with National and Provincial SDG Units established in the Ministry and Board of Planning, Development and Reform and the Ministry of Finance ensuring alignment of budgets to SDGs 2030 commitments.

Agenda 2030 is also embedded in national and provincial policies, sector plans, monitoring mechanisms, and nationally and locally-owned multiple stakeholders including the civil society.

The global partners working under the UN umbrella convene technical meetings to review the progress that the world community had agreed to. The High Level Political Forum (HLPF) meeting is one of the annual meetings that takes place prior to the UNGA, since 2016, that reports on the progress of selected or all SDGs.

The fourth HLPF is being held in July and member countries will review the 4th, 8th, 10th, 13th, 16th and 17th SDGs. For the first time, the Government of Pakistan opted to participate and submitted a Voluntary National Review (VNR) to share its progress on selected and other SDGs.

The preparation of the VNR is government-led through a consultative approach to reflect ownership at national, provincial and local levels with the presence of civil society and private sector, as part of the process adopted by the Ministry of PD&R.

Since the HLPF was informed about this by the government, the CSOs have been engaged with PD&R SDG Units for actively providing high quality inputs. These were provided by the Inclusive Education partners working as an alliance since Global Disability Summit in 2018.

Idara-e-Taleem-o-Aagahi (ITA) — known for the ASER on learning — provided inputs along with an offer to support a collective effort to finalise the VNR 2019, especially for SDG 4 along with other key SDGs under review.

The government began the process for finalising the VNR early in November 2018 and was seemingly in a rush to finish the report by December 2018, but managed to complete it by June 2019.

What has shocked the civil society working on education and inclusion is that the anchor SDG 4 on Education is completely missing in substance from the VNR 2019.

What does this ‘missing SDG 4’ convey to the global community especially when the PM, in his maiden speech, gave high priority to quality inclusive education? How can the ongoing technical consultations across all levels for education policies, the new Education Sector Plans (ESPs) — well aligned with SDG 4 and Article 25A — be left out of the VNR 2019? The decision to exclude SDG 4 from the VNR 2019 not only undermines the collective efforts underway to upgrade resources for education as a catalytic category I sector, but also gives an erroneous message to the world. Surely, this is not what the government intends to convey to the world about its commitment to SDGs 2030.

It undermines not just SDG 4 but also SDG 17 that is being worked upon with other SDGs. Certainly not an intelligent move to cast aside the case of Zara seeking 12 years of education as promised under Article 25A and SDG 4.

Published in The Express Tribune, July 21st, 2019.


Disclaimer: The views expressed here are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the views of ASER Pakistan.
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