By Nicole Comforto, EFA Global Monitoring Report
The candidates in Pakistan’s election last week frequently cited quality education as one of their top priorities and committed to increase government spending on education, for good reason. Pakistan has the world’s second-highest number of children who are not in school and the education system faces a wide range of challenges, including wide inequalities and poor funding, infrastructure and teacher training.
Education is such a major concern for Pakistan that in 2011 the government declared an “Education Emergency” and a task force produced a report highlighting the urgent need for educational reform. In a recent poll conducted by Al Jazeera, voters listed education as their most important election issue.
Pakistan’s newly elected government – taking over after the country’s first transition from one democratically elected government to another – faces a number of major challenges in the education sector. Here are just a few of the most pressing issues that require urgent reform:
Learning: There are currently 5.1 million children out of school in Pakistan, over 3 million of whom are girls. In addition, many of those in school are not learning the basics due to lack of infrastructure and teacher training. Teacher absenteeism is also a major problem. In total, 49.5 million adults are illiterate, the third-largest number globally.
Inequality: Pakistan has some of the widest education inequalities in the world. As Malala’s shooting last year highlighted, in many districts communities do not expect or allow girls to attend school. The poorest girls in Pakistan are the most disadvantaged: over half have never been to school.
Funding: Pakistan’s spending on education is very low – in 2010, the country allocated only 2.3% of its GDP to education. In comparison, the government spends more on subsidies for Pakistan International Airlines, Pakistan Steel and Pepco (its energy company) than on education. As we noted in an earlier post on this blog, it would take only one-fifth of Pakistan’s military budget to pay for every child to complete primary school.
Pakistan is well endowed with natural resources that could help to get its children into school. Reko Diq in Chaghi district of Balochistan has one of the world’s richest deposits of gold and copper, estimated at an astounding US$3 trillion. But the region is among the poorest in the world in terms of access to school: as many as two in three of the poorest girls in the province have never been to school. The newly elected government needs to use innovative financing mechanisms to tap these resources, and should spend a fair share of the resulting revenues on improving education access and quality, and reducing education inequalities.
The new government must target education reform at the groups who need it most: girls and the poor, especially in rural areas. Some of the other problems frequently mentioned during the election campaign also have a crucial bearing on education, including violence and infrastructure. Safe schools with electricity and running water are essential to create an environment where children can learn.