Kicking off a campaign aimed at making March “the month that Pakistan talks about only two things: education and cricket”, a government commission has painted a damning picture of the country’s education system, whose poor progress towards global learning goals has been documented in the Education for All Global Monitoring Report.
As the Pakistani newspaper Dawn and BBC News reported yesterday, the Pakistan Education Task Force says the country “is in the midst of an educational emergency with disastrous human and economic consequences.”
“The failure to provide education is, without doubt, our most urgent self-inflicted disaster,” according to the task force’s report, Education Emergency Pakistan 2011, which says that each year, education failures have an impact as devastating as that of last year’s floods.
The report quotes the 2010 Global Monitoring Report’s finding that “30% of Pakistanis live in extreme educational poverty – having received less than two years of education.”
The Pakistan Education Task Force is co-chaired by Shahnaz Wazir Ali, special assistant to the prime minister, and Sir Michael Barber, head of McKinsey & Company’s Global Education Practice.
In a powerful paper on education reform in Pakistan, Sir Michael quotes Mohammed Ali Jinnah, Pakistan’s founder, who said in 1947, “Education is a matter of life and death for Pakistan. The world is progressing so rapidly that without the requisite advance in education, not only shall we be left behind others but we may be wiped out altogether.”
Pakistan made education a legal right for every child in April 2010, and in November 2010 declared that 2011 would be “Pakistan’s Year of Education.” The task force’s report acknowledges that Pakistan has adopted 10 separate education policies since Jinnah made his statement on education, but says all have failed for lack of political will.
The challenge now is to find that political will – the will to turn more words into concrete changes for the 7.3 million Pakistani children who are out of school – the world’s second-largest population of out-of-school children (after Nigeria).
Part of the challenge is also to find the money needed to expand learning opportunities – but Pakistan doesn’t have to look far. As the 2011 Education for All Global Monitoring Report noted, Pakistan spends seven times more on the military than on primary education. One fifth of Pakistan’s military budget would be enough to pay for every child to complete primary school.