Pakistan is relatively a young nation with 69% of its total population falling below 29 years of age and almost 53% below 19 years. Therefore, ameliorating the situation in Pakistan for better future of our youngsters is of vital importance. Unfortunately, at present, Pakistan lags far behind other developing countries in terms of education, health social safety nets particularly for youth. To make our youth an asset rather than a liability, we have to work relentlessly for providing better educational and other facilities to our children.
It is saddening to note that the neglect of child rights is omnipresent in Pakistan. Poor economic development, poverty and inefficient allocation of resources in sectors like education and health, have failed the nation of Pakistan in all spheres of life. The federating units have long been demanding autonomy particularly regarding the abolition of Concurrent List in the Constitution of Pakistan 1973. During the PPP-regime, the parliament introduced the 18th amendment to the Constitution whereby the Concurrent List was abolished and a number of subjects like education, health, etc. — erstwhile exclusive domain of the central government — were transferred to the provinces.
Historically, Pakistan has been spending lesser on socioeconomic development and more on defence. Consequently, areas like health, education, law and order, etc., remain badly neglected. The low ranking of Pakistan in terms of Human Development Index and failure in achieving the millennium development goals (MDGs) bear testimony to this utter disregard of the children’s needs.
MDGs Goal 2 called for ensuring 100% enrolment at primary level, and providing missing facilities to all schools. A closer look on the Pakistan Educational Atlas 2010 reveals that the enrolment of children in various levels of schools — primary, elementary, high and higher secondary — remained very dismal and that the dropout trends at every level of schooling were alarming. This ratio is higher in girls than in boys. The situation further worsens in far-off and backward areas of the country. Article 25-A of the Constitution states:
“The state shall provide free and compulsory education to all children of the age of five to sixteen years in such manner as may be determined by law”.
According to recent reports more than 25 million children in Pakistan are still out of school. This speaks volumes about the enormity of the problem and the requisite efforts to solve this. Nevertheless, after the 18th Amendment, the Government of Punjab has taken a number of steps aimed at improving state of education in Pakistan and also to strengthen the existing setup in order to ensure maximum enrolment of children at primary level. The establishment of Danish Schools, Punjab Educational Foundation, Punjab Educational Endowment Fund and Technical Educational and Vocational Training Authority are some laudable steps in this direction.
Punjab Education Sector Reform Programme is meant to increase access to education by allocating more financial resources at provincial and district levels. Punjab Education Endowment Fund aims to provide equal education opportunities to the students from backward areas, particularly from southern districts of Punjab, to their urban counterparts. Another important area to concentrate on is to bring those children in the education fold who are left marginalized. In this regard Literacy and Non-Formal Education Department has successfully endeavoured to create education opportunities for dropouts, miss-outs and never-gone-to-school children aged 5 to 14 years. So far 94000 such non-formal schools have been opened, bringing 1.2 million children to school.
Despite taking a number of steps to ensure maximum primary enrolment challenges are still open and much more work on war footings is required to be done. The key challenge is to provide missing facilities in public schools. According to reports of Ministry of Education more than 56000 schools are without basic facilities like boundary walls, drinking water, electricity, furniture and even buildings. The allocations of less resources, poor governance and instances of corruption have all compounded the problem and the provision of missing facilities has so far remained a dream. This grim situation is present in the largest province of Pakistan which is ahead of other provinces in terms of Human Development Indicators (HDI), so one can imagine the plight of education in other federating units of Pakistan.
The development Pakistan made in its early years inspired many other countries, like South Korea and Malaysia, to make great headways in all fields. They followed the policies adopted by Pakistan and were successful in making a turnaround. These countries have left Pakistan far behind in the race of development in all sectors especially education. There are no two opinions in that Pakistan has the potential to achieve not only Millennium Development Goals but also the target of universal free education. At present, the literacy rate stands around 58% which is not satisfactory when compared with other countries of the region. However, a significant progress can be made towards improving this percentage by implementing the above discussed recommendations but to materialize all this strong and genuine political will is required which is a must to stand proud amongst the comity of nations.
Written by: M. Shahmir Masood
The writer is an A-level student
at Aitchison College Lahore.