There is nothing more important than education – well, after the three basic-needs areas of security, food/shelter and health have been taken care of. One can argue that since these sectors are intertwined and depend on each other, they can only be improved if looked at holistically and as a whole. Since education is so important, stated in the Koran, and known to every parent, it is difficult to understand that some countries, including Pakistan, don’t give it more attention than they do. Pakistan’s new Education Policy Document is a step in the right direction within old ways. I talk about more alternative and broader actions, too, in addition to that.

Today, most countries do invest in education, indeed the high and middle income countries, which often spend 5-7 percent of their GDP on the sector, considering it fundamental for economic growth and satisfied citizens. Pakistan will get there, too, some day. Education is important for the economy, but we should never forget that education has a value in itself and that it is both a human and social right. I am of the opinion that to look at basic education this way is the right thing to do. Let children get an upbringing at home and at school where they feel happy and confident, get encouraged and are appreciated, and learn to work with others. Values, social, political and moral education, learning to be and to live, is always at the foundation; except for literacy, most skills and professional education can come a bit.

Although I don’t always agree with the policies of the World Bank, just this time, I would like to support its recommendation that even (lower) secondary education should be general, not specialised or vocational. However, I believe that at upper secondary level, skills and vocational training can certainly be promoted, and respect for manual work must be promoted, but the skills can be learnt outside schools. Lack of such training is one of Pakistan’s and most developing countries’ shortcomings. Also in the developed West, there has over recent decades been too much focus on academic subjects at the expense of values and moral education, and TVET (technical and vocational education and training).

Another mistake in the West and in Pakistan even more, is that tests, exams and grades are given so much attention; students must reproduce textbook facts, often coming in the way of real learning, stressing out the students and making the majority miserable since they cannot score high in an overcrowded and far too demanding, academic curriculum. I have said in earlier articles that we should consider throwing out three-quarters of the content children and youth have to learn today. We should make a school that can help children stay as happy throughout the school-years as when they were enrolled in Grade 1. Besides, they can have shorter school days, even go alternate days, and thus give room to other out-of-school children. Children should be happy, confident and curious when they graduate from school as youngsters. They should be interested in searching more knowledge and learning in informal and formal situations later. This I believe is the way to think about education in ‘Naya Pakistan’.

Now, this is just a bit about my thinking about the foundation of education. It goes well with the main task now, notably getting all those 22 million out-of-school children enrolled in some kind of basic education, and also give a second chance to the youth and young adults who never went to school, and they are even more in number than the children who were never enrolled or dropped out before the short primary school cycle was completed.

But how can we realistically approach the problem? Yes, we can do what I have done in several articles, state the problem, and leave it to the politicians. But I believe we all have a duty to discuss and give suggestions, especially since it is an emergency situation.

Let me repeat a few of my ideas, hoping that many listen. I have said, smaller curriculum with the basics in the 3Rs and emphasis on values and moral education; I have suggested that we can have a campaign-type of education over the next several years, where the politicians, leaders, teachers, secondary-school graduates, parents and more, are all focusing on education for some five years. Pakistan could be an entirely, or at least 90 percent literate country by 2025! I have suggested that we need to look at how we do this from an emergency education perspective, that is, we must set aside a number of formal requirements as for content; school buildings don’t have to be permanent, they can be buildings and houses used for education on part-time basis and are otherwise used for other purposes such as cafes, shops and offices. We must be liberal an imaginative as for teachers’ formal competences. Everyone can be a teacher, at least if one has some education oneself; many youth would be fantastic teachers with all their enthusiasm.

I have suggested that modern media be used and that distance educational components must indeed be included; that would certainly be natural in our time, especially since much of the massive emergency efforts would be a campaign involving everyone in the country. That also means that many other organizations in art and culture must be invited to play active roles, such as music and theatre groups, community and civil society organisations, and so on. Learning is serious work, but it does also have its lighter sides, and it must be fun too. We know that if we get someone to laugh or moved by a message, it is more likely that they will remember the message than if it is just sharing of formal knowledge. A beautiful popular song, with a message, can stay in our mind throughout life, and so can certainly a theatre play, a novel and a poem.

I have in an early article suggested that Sabaq Foundation has advice to offer as for distance education, and other organizations, too. Let me today add that the world’s second oldest distance education university, after the British Open University, notably Allama Iqbal Open University, could play a major role in literacy and basic education provision, and in giving advice about how to organise such courses, and certainly in crash courses for teachers and leaders, assuming that the majority will not have full teacher training – but they will have enthusiasm, especially if they are just secondary school graduates, and university graduates in any field. They may realize that to be a teacher is one of the greatest jobs one can have; it is not something one does only if there is no employment in the specific field one has been trained for; and one doesn’t have to live in the city, but can be in a remote town, networked through modern media.

Can also this and much more be done in education now? Yes, it can – if we want to. If we want every Pakistani to be literate and have basic education and skills, in a few years, say by 2015, there is no time to waste. Then the economy will grow faster. Then people will feel more confident and more optimistic. People will be keen on learning more and they will know how to gain further knowledge and skills. At the foundation, there will be the values that we need in a society and land with people on the move upward together.

Pakistan can’t afford it, some will say. That may be true in a book keeper’s sense, but then I will say austerity measures of the old type, those restrictive and rigid IMF and other outdated advises, will only delay development and growth. The only way to take off into the new time, now in the eleventh hour, is to do the opposite of what the ‘wise men’ from the financial institutions say. The way ahead is not to talk about austerity, devaluation, living within ones means, and so on. The way ahead is not to spend just 2-3 percent of GDP on education; the way ahead is to double or triple it in the near future. There is money within the country; the donors must do what they are meant to do; development aid and emergency is not a handout, it is a right in the international community we are part of as long as the money and the programmes – in this case, the big ‘Naya Pakistan Education Campaign’ – are well implemented and maintained. And that it will be when there is enthusiasm and political will behind it all. The good people of the land can indeed do this; and it must be done!

Dear reader, it is my intention to change gear next week and write about something else than education. I am not sure I’ll be able to keep the promise. But if you follow up the education efforts – all of you – then, I don’t need to do it for the time being. You must do more, too, because I have only drawn attention to the problem and solutions, touched the surface, or maybe rather, I have tried to write about the basics of the problem and solutions. I have stated repeatedly that education is the key to solving most development and growth problems; that education has a value in itself, and that without it, the future is bleak stagnation. But God wants us all to be happy and live in prosperity and care for one another. We must do what is needed; there is no time or resource to waste.


The writer is a senior Norwegian social scientist with experience from university, diplomacy and development aid.