September 8, 2019
Ms. Sajida is a very worried teacher of grade 10, as is her colleague Ms. Najma teaching grade 8 at a government girls high school in Bahawalpur district. Ten girls did not return to school after the summer vacations. The teachers waited for a week, thinking delayed attendance is often the post vacation pattern, and then, both went to the homes of their students who were their shining stars in learning. What they discovered was very depressing. Three of them got married over the summer whilst another 3 were engaged to be married in a couple of months soon after Muharram; their parents had held them back to prepare for their wedding chores. Two had moved suddenly due to poverty related migration whilst the last two were in mourning due to tragic deaths of their fathers. The families had decided that the girls must be withdrawn from schooling to help as earning or supporting hands, as their protector was no more to shield the risk of girls going to school located at a distance. All 10 girls had been struck by tragedies that made them give up their studies at advanced stages of lower secondary and upper secondary schooling The system’s investment of 8 or 10 years was lost due to vulnerability and unexamined customs. This trend of girls’ withdrawals from schools is also visible at the primary level. Pakistan suffers not just loosing girls disproportionately especially in rural areas (62%) through drop outs, but also faces the challenge of girls either not enrolling at all, or unable to persist beyond grade 5, due to shortage of post primary facilities. The promises of #NoOneLeftBehind, #NoChildLeftBehind associated with SDG 4, and #NoGirlLeftBehind with the Platform for Girls Education in Commonwealth countries, promoting 12 years of schooling for every girl and boy remains extremely challenging for Pakistan.
The International Literacy Day 2019 is once again a reminder for Pakistan of tall promises and short actions in every policy, sector plan, targets and political manifesto. The new government acknowledges boldly the challenge of low literacy, 22.8 million out of school children (5-16 years); girls lagging behind boys, persistent low allocations to education, compromised and shifting targets. But will we ever move beyond the rhetoric of commitment to education and literacy in Pakistan? There are weak signs towards acceleration of targets in access, equity or quality; education gets buried under multiple other competing priorities of law and order, energy, clean water, zero polio etc. It is thus no surprise that after 112 months of article 25 A being added to the Constitution of Pakistan in 2010 (April) there is still no action for its implementation across the country. Of the five acts passed thus far from 2012 to 2017, two remain very poorly drafted (Balochistan and KP), only one has rules notified (Sindh Free and Compulsory Education Act Rules 2017); and, sadly even the latter is not being rolled out. Why?
According to the National Education Policy (NEP) Framework (2018), the out of school children challenge when disaggregated by the levels of education shows an alarmingly high number of OOSC at primary level (grades1-5) 5 million, the middle (Grades 6-8) 6.5 million, and upper secondary level ( Grades 9-10) 11 million, correlating graphically with fewer middle (49,000) and high (31,500) schools across Pakistan compared to primary (150,571) schools. These gaps need bridging urgently according to the Government of Pakistan.
The recent reports by GEM/UIS UNESCO (2019) reveal that globally 61 million or 16% of adolescents of lower secondary school age (12–14 years) are out of school, rising to 36% in low-income countries. Almost 138 million or 36% of youth of upper secondary school age (15–17 years) are out of school, increasing to 60% for low-income countries vs. 6 % for high income countries. In sub-Saharan Africa the share of global out-of-school population of primary school age grew from 41% in 2000 to 54% in 2017. In Pakistan too, there are grave concerns in some districts and provinces that without early and urgent actions, for both education and population, there will be similar trends facing the country. How serious are we in Pakistan to halt these trends and reverse the commitment matched by accelerated actions?
The government, on the one hand is keen to mainstream innovative solutions such as the “Insaaf Afternoon School Program” in 22 districts of Punjab with girls being provided transport vouchers and boys are being supported through bicycles, or JICA’s collaborative non-formal outreach for out of school children through accelerated NFE and Literacy programs across all provinces. For our 10 girls who never returned to school in Bahawalpur post summer vacations in 2019, a second chance program is being tested by Idara-e-Taleem-o-Aagahi (ITA) in 3 South Punjab districts targeting 22,000 out of school girls (9-19 years old). Advancing Action for Adolescent Girls (A3G) or the Siyani Sahelian (SS) flagship is an inclusive program for OOS girls; combining academics with life skills, menstrual hygiene, including digital rights as well as opportunities for TVET and enterprise; the results are full of hope and thus need to be aggressively scaled up costing Rs. 18,000 per adolescent girl child! (http://www.itacec.org/a3g/)
Unable to deal with complex issues and slow progress, the government (Ministry of Planning Development & Reforms /PD&R) unilaterally dropped reporting on SDG 4 (education) in July 2019, from the Voluntary National Review (VNR) submitted by Pakistan in July 2019 . This was the first VNR by Pakistan at the High Level Political Forum (HLPF) convened annually by the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) at the UN, on progress of selected SDGs by the member states. This year the VNR reporting was for the following SDGs; SDG 4 on Education, SDG 8 on Decent Work and Economic Growth, SDG 10 Reduced Inequalities SDG 13 Climate Action; SDG 16 Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions; and SDG 17 on Partnerships. Is the strategy to remain silent a good one on challenges? Sure not! We need evidence based accelerated actions for literacy, education and skills so that NoChild/NoGirl is Left Behind as constitutionally committed (25A), as promised in the NEP Framework 2018, the Education Sector Plans (2019-2023) and the political manifestos and SDGs 2030!
Pakistan has a good score card on procuring public private partnerships with well aligned laws, policies and promising innovations in education (Sindh); it is time to scale up on what works, politically and bureaucratically. This is not a time for push back on fundamental rights, on SDG 4 and all SDGs in Pakistan. Our 10 girls who dropped out this summer from one high school, and millions more require urgent progressive measures by the government and its partners to offset low human development metrics; surely .5% annual growth on literacy is too low for Pakistan; we cannot have a repeat of ‘off track’ in SDGs as it was for MDGs! We can do much better!
Baela Raza Jamil
CEO ITA, Director ASER Pakistan,
Commissioner Education Commission; Member Platform for Girls Education
Founder Children’s Literature Festival (CLF)