s Pakistan prepares for general elections, it is imperative that the education agenda takes centre stage in the political discourse. For too long, education has been treated as a subject of marginal consequence. This neglect has resulted in an overwhelming population of young people who are illiterate and unskilled and, therefore, lack favourable prospects in the global market.
Education is a fundamental right and a key to promoting economic growth, fostering social cohesion and developing sustainable civilised societies. With more than seven decades of lag to catch up with, it is therefore high time that all political parties in Pakistan recognise the critical importance of education and make it a top priority in their election agendas.
In 2022, Pakistan marked its 75th anniversary. This year, the nation commemorated the 50th anniversary of the 1973 constitution. However, none of the governments have prioritised ensuring accessible and high-quality public education for all.
During Ayub Khan’s regime, education was neglected in favour of economic growth. While some economic growth was achieved, it came at the cost of an underdeveloped education sector. Yahya Khan’s rule did not witness any substantial reforms or public investment in education either. The Zia-era curriculum resulted in a decline in the quality of general education. Gen Musharraf’s rule did see an increase in education financing, but it was mostly limited to higher education and compromised the expansion of the school education sector.
Civilian governments share equal responsibility in this regard. They have allocated a meagre average of 2.5 percent of the public expenditure to education despite various commitments to increase it to 4-6 percent of the GDP. The continuous neglect has resulted in a significant failure to address the educational requirements of millions of Pakistani children.
First and foremost, the manifestoes must acknowledge education as a matter of national security. A well-educated population is less susceptible to extremist ideologies and better equipped to make informed decisions. Good education is also a key to reducing income inequalities and boosting economic growth.
All political actors across Pakistan must clearly define immediate measures to bring the colossal number of 25 million out-of-school children into the realm of formal education. The political parties must pledge to introduce a comprehensive framework for an inclusive and globally compatible education system within the first hundred days of coming into power. Such a framework must offer concrete steps to make education accessible to girls; transgender persons; children with disabilities; and ethnic and religious minorities. The framework must also outline the measures that will be taken to enhance children’s access to secondary level schools. This is currently the biggest leak in terms of school dropouts in Pakistan.
Political parties must not only commit to an inclusive approach but also provide a clear roadmap for enhancing and streamlining education financing. Moreover, they should pledge to safeguard educational policies from disruptions caused by political instability or changes in government.
The issue of dropouts is closely linked to the lack of subpar quality of education being imparted in the classrooms that is a product of untrained teachers, single-classroom-multi-grade approach and an absence of adequate facilities at schools.
The political elite must have a plan for teacher training and comprehensive curriculum and pedagogical reforms to meet the requirements of the 21st Century global economy. At the same time, attention is required for the delivery of remedial learning to mitigate the learning losses incurred as a result of the pandemics and the 2022 floods. The single-classroom multi-grade approach should also be shunned in favour of the one-classroom one-teacher approach so that all the students can receive the attention and support necessary to learn and progress in their academic journeys.
Weak governance has traditionally hampered the sustaining of meaningful progress in education sector. Robust mechanisms must be put in place for monitoring and evaluating the education system’s performance.
Finally, since the root cause of most issues currently plaguing Pakistan’s education system is an acute lack of resources, the political parties must provide a roadmap for bridging this resource gap.
Putting Pakistan on the path to educational excellence is the responsibility of all political parties. It is imperative that our political landscape undergoes a transformative shift in its approach to policymaking, particularly concerning sectors such as education. The process of crafting political manifestos should be inclusive and transparent, with active participation and consensus among all political parties.
Political parties must not only commit to this inclusive approach but also provide a clear roadmap for enhancing and streamlining education financing. Moreover, they should pledge to safeguard educational policies from disruptions caused by political instability or changes in government. Such a commitment to policy continuity will ensure that the nation’s progress in education remains steadfast and uninterrupted, transcending the boundaries of partisan politics.
The forthcoming elections present a golden opportunity for all political parties to unite in their commitment to prioritise education. By doing so, they will not only fulfil a moral duty to the nation’s youth but also uphold the constitutional promise enshrined in Article 25-A that pledges free and compulsory education for every Pakistani child.
The caretaker government is equally responsible for upholding this commitment during the transitional phase, ensuring that Pakistan’s education indicators continue to improve. Let us remember that investing in education is an investment in the future safety, security and development of Pakistan. It is high time we made this our top priority.
The writer is the executive director of the Society for Access to Quality Education (SAQE), the national coordinator for Pakistan Coalition for Education and a Malala Fund Education champion. She can be reached at zehrapcepak.org.