Pakistan: all girls and boys in school for 12 years – a critical pathway to progress

Baela Raza Jamil is the Trustee/Advisor for the Idara-e-Taleem-o-Aagahi (ITA)

14940561549_4f83f8fc04_zThe demand for girls education has been rising in Pakistan but remains unmet due to poor access especially at post primary levels. The current net enrolment ratio for girls is 54% at primary level, declining to 21 % at middle and 13 % at secondary level according to the 2013-14 Pakistan Social and Living Standards Measurement Survey. Governments in all provinces are exploring innovations to meet this growing unmet demand for expanding post primary education provision, especially for girls.

For girls and vulnerable groups who are still not learning in Pakistan, the announcement that the Government of Punjab will be establishing 50,000 basic education centres for approximately 2 million learners is good news indeed. However, Minister of State for Federal Education, Professional Training, Interior and Narcotics Control, Muhammad Baligh ur Rehman, clarified that, whilst a survey has been completed, the resources for the change are still a question mark.

Girls’ enrolment is particularly sensitive to distance to school as the Gender Summary of the 2015 GMR showed us. This is especially true in contexts where parents are concerned for girls’ security to and from school, or where traditional gendered seclusion practices are in place, such as Pakistan. Building schools in underserved communities, therefore, is a welcome move in a country where gender gaps are so persistent. In neighbouring Afghanistan, enrolment dropped 19 percentage points for every additional mile a girl had to travel to school.

The availability of post-primary schools, as is also part of the plan, can influence the effectiveness of other strategies to improve gender parity at primary and secondary levels. A study in Pakistan found a strong positive relationship between the availability of post-primary schooling and girls’ retention in primary school.

Where and for whom should we build more schools?

In Pakistan, as elsewhere in many parts of the world, we have two vivid realities for girls and women: one where they have access to learning as an entitlement, and, one where they do not. The World Inequality Database on Education (WIDE), based on data from the 2012-13 Demographic and Health Survey, shows that in Punjab boys and girls have equal chances to complete primary school on average. But among the poorest, only 22% of girls complete primary school compared with 29% of boys. In Balochistan the gap is three times as large.

The situation is further exacerbated at the lower secondary education level. Just 4% of the poorest girls in Punjab finished lower secondary school compared with 17% of the poorest boys – and 82% of the richest boys and girls.

wideThe database, which has profiled Pakistan through various sources including the ASER Pakistan survey, also shows that where a child lives is of enormous importance for any discussion about building schools: children are twice as likely to have never been to school in rural areas (37%) as in urban (19%).

Primary completion rate

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Lower secondary completion rate

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Programs have to be aggressively and imaginatively launched in all education red zones

Today, more than ever, the right to learn as a personal, national and global good is proven to have powerful linkages to multiple rights to survival, growth, security and human well-being. In a country where MDGs 2 and 3 were not achieved, the SDGs are likely to meet the same fate if the ‘business as usual’ approach is not replaced. Pakistan has to adopt a bold transformative and collaboratively pooled cross-sectoral strategy in order to address this challenge. And this requires the departments and ministries of health, nutrition, infrastructure, economic growth, environment, safe cities and education to jointly design and finance programs.

In Pakistan’s ‘education red-zones’, girls remain persistently disenfranchised from access to learning and education, from opportunities for living with dignity, integrity and decency, be it in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas, Khyber Pakhtoonkhwa, Balochistan, Sindh or Punjab. The apartheid on account of those who learn and those who do not must end for all girls and boys in Pakistan.

Armed with a new endorsement of the right to 12 years of education in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, the provincial Punjab government should find the resources to build 50,000 basic education centres. Yet, despite repeated promises to spend at least 4% of GDP on education, allocations remain persistently low at just 2% GDP.

According to the GEM Report, in order to meet post-2015 education goals by 2030, Pakistan would need to increase per pupil expenditure by 10 times its current expenditure at the pre-primary level, by 6 times at the primary level, and by 4 times at the lower secondary level.

Ambitions for change must be heartily welcomed in a country where stagnation is the norm. However, promises of change will mean nothing if they are not followed up with necessary funding to make them happen. Let us hope a new way of working has been installed now we find ourselves ‘post-2015’.



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