A call from Gordon Brown

On Thursday Jan. 5th, Mr. Gordon Brown, Global Envoy of the UN Secretary General spoke to the Prime Minister of Pakistan, Mr. Nawaz Sharif on the telephone about literacy and education in Pakistan and pledged $450 million for this purpose out of which 150 million would be earmarked for providing school-security arrangements.
While this support and call for action is welcome, one cannot help wondering why the Prime Minister has remained unconcerned about the commitments solemnly made to UN and the international community way back in the year 2000 to achieve six Education For All Goals at the World Education Forum in the year 2000. These goals are to be realized by the end of 2015 and include not only free and universal (100%) primary education for boys and girls but also 86% literacy. On both these counts Pakistan is lagging behind the rest of the world. None of the 6 goals will be achieved in this benighted country according to the 2014 Global Monitoring Report. This despite the UN Decade for Literacy 2003-2013 to which Pakistan was obligated under a unanimous UN General Assembly Resolution.
Finding that the Pakistan government had grossly fallen short of the required efforts to make progress towards EFA targets, Unesco prepared a special programme called Literacy Initiative For Empowerment (L.I.F.E) for defaulting countries and chose Pakistan as one of the first countries to be supported to move forward and in this connection, provided funds and technical assistance. Most of these funds were frittered away in poorly implemented piecemeal projects. Pakistan is also one of the 9 most populated countries with large numbers of illiterate adults. These E-9 countries meet periodically to review EFA targets. Most of these countries are close to achieving these targets. Pakistan, however, continues to lag behind.
This neglect on the part of Pakistan and a number of other countries to work for the attainment of EFA targets prompted Unesco to hold a high level International Round Table on Literacy in Paris in 2012. It will be in order to refer to the Communiqué issued after the round table. Ministers of Unesco member countries and heads of delegations felt that “there was an imperative need for focused attention and concerted action to make a difference to the lives of people who are not able to read and write…… even if enrolled in schools, there is growing evidence that large number of children are not acquiring basic reading (and writing) skills…we resolve to take urgently required action….design and implement effective and efficient literacy programmes… ee encourage UNESCO to provide assistance in support of national efforts through existing and new initiatives… we, therefore, adopt this Paris Communiqué on Scaling up Literacy to intensify our efforts to expeditiously reach the 2015 target for EFA goal 4 as set out in the Dakar Framework of Action.”
Although Pakistan was represented at a high level at the Paris Roundtable, if you ask any of the central or provincial education ministers about this pledge to initiate urgent action for EFA goals, I am sure none of them will be found even aware of the existence of this commitment given at the Paris meeting.
Coming back to Gordon Brown’s call to Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, one needs to refer to his visit to Pakistan last March when he addressed a meeting in Islamabad which was chaired by the PM. In a spirited speech, Brown exhorted Pakistan to step up efforts to make up for lost time and ensure rapid progress towards EFA goals. He declared on behalf of the UN Secretary General that the UN would provide all required funds for the enrolment and education of out-of-school children. The Prime Minister’s response however, was more rhetorical than substantial. Regarding the reflection of political will in the financial allocation for education, all that he could say was hopefully by the last year of his tenure, the budget for education would be raised to 4% of GDP from the current measly provision of only 2%. As is known, 4% is the minimum prescribed by Unesco for this purpose. Many countries even in South Asia allocate much more than that for education.
Now a look at the state of basic education in Pakistan. Alif Ailaan says that presently there are 25 million boys and girls of age-bracket 5 to 16, out of school. This figure has been disputed by educationists but even if half of this figure is close to accuracy, one wonders how many decades would be required to enroll and retain them in schools. As for the learning achievement, the latest ASER Report paints a depressing picture where a large percentage of class V have been found deficient in reading class II books and doing basic calculations.
Believe it or not, close to 60 million Pakistanis today are utterly illiterate. The EFA National Plan of Action requires the opening of at least 50,000 literacy centres every year. Hardly 5000 centres are actually on the ground. Even Punjab which boasts of the largest literacy programme is woefully short of the required number. Conditions in the other 3 provinces are awful, nay disgraceful. Sindh beats all others in claiming ambitions plans but actually doing little on the ground. It is notorious for occupation of thousands of its school buildings by waderas and property grabbers. The National Commission For Human Development is struggling to fill the gap to a small extent but is hamstrung for lack of resources.
Has the Prime Minister or any of the Chief Ministers ever held a meeting to review the progress regarding the achievement of EFA goals? Last year, the central minister of education in an international meeting at Islamabad announced that “an education emergency” would be shortly declared. After more than a year, there is no sign of any such move.
A new Article was added to the Constitution in the 18th Amendment. This Article has made the Right to Education justiciable. It is now incumbent on the government to provide free education to every child of age 5 to 16. Special enabling laws have been promulgated in some of the provinces. Little, however, is being done to undertake the task.
Talking of adult education centres it may come as a big surprise to the readers that in one the most advanced countries in the world namely Germany (which is half the size of Pakistan) as many as ten million adults every year exercise their right to learn through adult education centres known as Volkshochschulen.
Most of the countries in the world today are moving fast to evolve into knowledge societies undertaking lifelong learning and planning for sustainable development.
Pakistan educationally, politically and economically is at the lowest rung of the international ladder. Here illiteracy, ignorance and superstition take their toll and spawn poverty, extremism and violence.
Without right education of the masses, there will be no real progress with the result that democracy and stability will remain distant dreams.  

The writer is an ex-federal secretary and ambassador, and political and international relations analyst

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