As the world marks Global Action Week on Education (2-8 May), opportunities for breaking inter-generational poverty through accelerated education efforts are huge, says Dan Rohrmann of Unicef.
Flood recovery programmes are underway in a large swathe of Pakistan. Many parts of Pakistan are implementing recovery programmes in the wake of the devastating floods of 2010. Millions of children and their families were affected by the floods, but the humanitarian relief and early recovery programmes have opened opportunities to reach previously un-reached children and re-visit strategies for key issues affecting children, such as with polio eradication, nutrition, sanitation, and education services. For example, many children from poor families were exposed to schooling for the first time ever in their lives when they enrolled in a temporary learning centre during displacement. Families had access to latrines, clean water and hygiene education, and millions of children and women were immunised. With new awareness of children’s rights to health, education, and protection, parents are ready to make changes that can break the inter-generational cycle of poverty that is so difficult to tackle.
The Convention on the Rights of the Child and many of the global education goals, including the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), aim at ensuring the right to quality education which, unfortunately millions of children and women around the world are deprived of. Globally, some 67 million children remain out of school.
In Pakistan, some 7 million children are out of primary school; of which close to 60 per cent are girls. The cumulative effect over years is that more than 50 million Pakistanis over 10-years-of-age are illiterate. While more than two-thirds of boys can read, less than half of girls are literate. The consequences of this education deficit are enormous, both from a child rights perspective and from a productive labour force point of view.
According to the 2010 Unesco EFA Global Monitoring Report, gender, wealth and a household’s location strongly influence the likelihood of a child being out of school. In Pakistan, 49 per cent of the poorest children aged 7 to 16 were out of school in 2007, compared with 5 per cent of children from the wealthiest households. Poor girls living in rural areas are sixteen times less likely to be in school than boys from the wealthiest household living in urban areas.
Girls with even a primary level education vastly improve their own lives, but also are more likely when they become mothers to bring change to their families, including more surviving, healthy children, better communities and value added to local economies. Providing girls and women with a quality education is a highly effective tool to address poverty and improve health, nutrition and sanitation. If children, especially girls, are to get the education that is their right, it is essential that education be compulsory, free and of good quality.
With a population of 180 million people, almost half of which is less than 18 years of age, Pakistani youth are the demographic dividend who will determine the country’s future progress. They must be an educated cohort in order for that demographic dividend to be realised. When children miss out on their right to education, it is not only they who suffer the consequences through loss of opportunities in life, but the entire social, cultural and economic peaceful development of the country loses, too. Applying the equity-based approach to education, where budgets and programmes target the most vulnerable and disadvantaged children to ensure they have quality education, Pakistan can greatly accelerate its progress towards achieving the Millennium Development Goals by 2015.
Unicef and its ‘UN Delivering as One Programme’ partners and others are working closely with the federal and provincial governments to increase access to, and completion of, first pre-primary education and then child friendly primary schooling, especially for girls. Early childhood education yields huge returns on physical and cognitive development and retention in primary school. The creation of child-friendly learning environments, which include certified teachers, clean water and sanitation, and access for the disabled, is Unicef’s main approach for ensuring that children stay in school, learn to the maximum of their potential and complete their schooling.
Getting parents, especially poor parents of girls, to put their children in school - and keep them in school- demands concerted action, sustained support and political leadership. For Pakistan to harness its full potential, the missing link in its progress is education for all.
— By Dan Rohrmann, representative of Unicef in Pakistan