The Education 2030 Agenda: Why We Can’t Leave Girls Behind By Izzah Meyer – Manager Policy, Research and Action

by: Qamar Abbas

May 27, 2016

While education has been declared a fundamental human right, and is undoubtedly life changing for boys, girls, men and women alike, it is especially beneficial for girls. Investing in female education is by far one of the best investments that families, communities and countries can make. With returns ranging from lower mortality rates and healthier families, to greater incomes and improved standards of living, education has both economic and social benefits. It improves an individual’s prospects (higher earning, better employment prospects), life chances (better health, longer lives), and also contributes to the social wellbeing of a society on the whole (lower crime rate, higher tax revenues and so on).

Despite being integral to development, Pakistan still has 25 million children (5-16) out of school, of which a taggering 13.7 million (55%) are girls! Net enrollment rate at primary level is a scanty 64% and only gets worse with a mere 23% girls enrolled at secondary level. Discrimination, conservatism, lack of access to schools, missing sanitary facilities, untrained teachers and low learning levels all contribute directly to these abysmal statistics. The 2015 Annual Status of Education Report (ASER) data shows that 40% of government primary schools don’t have drinking water, 48% don’t have usable toilets and 37% don’t have boundary walls. Furthermore, 49% government schools are reported to be multi-grade classrooms i.e. one building hosts classes 2, 3, and 4.

These problems result in low levels of learning – ASER (2015) reports 58% of girls between the ages of 5-16 cannot read sentences in Urdu, Pashto or Sindhi and 59% can’t do basic subtraction – which in turn results in low enrollments and high dropout rates. Families and parents opt to keep their daughters at home, where their contribution – in the form of help around the house or other menial employment (field work, domestic help and so on) – seems far more beneficial.

Although we have certainly seen some improvements in girls’ education, the progress has not been at a desirable rate. With the recent announcement of the Sustainable Development Goals, and Pakistan’s renewed international commitment to achieving Goal 4 and its 10 targets, it has become essential to ensure that not only are all children in schools, but are learning effectively as well. Target 4.1 for instance urges that by the year 2030 we must “ensure all girls and boys complete free, equitable and quality primary and secondary education leading to relevant and effective learning outcomes”. Failure to fulfill the 10 targets is likely to result in an education crisis of astronomical proportions which will affect all aspects of future development.

With a total of 49% female population (Pakistan Bureau of Statistics, 2015) if Pakistan is to live to its full potential – and there is a lot of potential – we have to ensure that girls are given a minimum of 12 years of critical education.

To ensure all girls are in school, for starters, we need to educate the masses with regards to their basic rights! Article 25-A of the Pakistan’s Constitution clearly states that the State shall provide free and compulsory education to all children of the ages of 5-16. A surprisingly large number of people are still unaware of this fundamental right. If there is no awareness amongst citizens, there can be no demand for rights, and if there is no demand for rights, there can be no accountability whatsoever. The masses remain on the losing end.

Secondly, it is high time that the government fulfills its promise of allocating 7% of GDP to the education sector as committed in the 2009 National Education Policy. However, while we wait for that pledge to materialize, it would be beneficial for the government to explore alternative and innovative methods of funding education. There are various opportunities such as CSR taxes, debt swaps, Public Private Partnerships (PPPs) and so on that can be used to bridge the financial gaps.

Furthermore, effective allocation of the existing budget can also be a useful solution. For instance, rather than build new schools, funds should be used to ensure existing schools have all the essentials – clean drinking water, bathroom facilities, boundary walls etc. – and are retaining students. The government can provide transportation to female students who don’t have schools within walking distance – which also happens to be a cheaper alternative to
constructing new schools.

Blended learning techniques – which combine digital learning with traditional learning – can be used to address issues of quality in schools. Technology adoption in education can easily bridge the gap between teacher capability and student needs and overcome problems like teacher absenteeism, undertrained staff and so on. We live in the 21 st century and it is high time we start using technology to our advantage! Some government departments (e.g. the Ministry of Planning, Development, and Reforms in Pakistan) are already promoting the use of Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) and digital learning to address the issue of quality in education and others must follow suit.

Multiple studies show that countries with better gender equality and less gender disparity in primary and secondary education are more likely to have higher economic growth (Global Partnership for Education, 2016, Blanden & Machin 2010), and there is strong correlation between economic growth and indicators of human development such as life expectancy, infant mortality, literacy etc. It is then a wonder why, despite so much evidence, we still fail to give girls’ education the importance it truly deserves. If we are to fuel economic growth, break the intergenerational cycles of poverty and illiteracy,and create an environment where individuals are free to live their lives with dignity – free of poverty, hunger, discrimination then we must LET GIRLS LEARN!