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December 12, 2019

‘Girls Learn, Women Earn’: Fast-track WB programme launched

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December 12, 2019

ISLAMABAD: A national 100-day action programme to support the girls’ education and women’s economic empowerment was launched at the Quaid-i-Azam University here on Wednesday.

The World Bank country director Illango Patchamuthu said girls and women were central to Pakistan’s long-term aspirations to become a prosperous country when it turns 100. "We, the World Bank, are committed to supporting all stakeholders to prioritise actions for girls to excel in education and women to thrive in the workplace along with the Government of Pakistan," he said. Patchamuthu specially praised the Education Minister Shafqat and Singer Shehzad Roy for their positive contribution and interest in the education sector.

The Education Minister, Shafqat Mahmood, led discussions on the need to address learning poverty.“We have to not only ensure that the maximum number of children goes to school but we will also need to provide them with quality education in schools to enable them to become productive citizens,” he said. The minister said the government was focusing on efforts on revamping of the curriculum to meet the current and future requirements, the building of the teachers’ capacity through training, and introduction of innovative ways of learning.

Singer Shehzad Roy shared insights from his NGO, Zindagi Trust, on building critical thinking, better environments for schoolchildren in Pakistan, and the need for reforms. He said reforming the government schools was the solution to Pakistan's education crisis. Criticising the government curriculum, he said it must be authored by private individuals. He underlined that the present state of affairs in terms of educational standards is solely due to the government institutions.

Roy said since 2011 when he started his work, there was a federal government law against corporal punishment to students and advocated legislating similar laws in the provinces. He said importance must also be given to teachers' evaluation. Both the federal and the provincial governments need to do a lot more for improving the education system.

World Bank Global Director for Education Jaime Saavedra called for urgent measures to address ‘this moral and economic crisis’. “Not being able to read by age 10 means that a child is learning poor. What is required is a learning revolution that involves everyone: parents, teachers, school principals, policymakers, and partners to rally around one goal: getting rid of learning poverty,” he said.

The ‘Girls Learn, Women Earn’ conference concluded with a round table discussion on the women’s participation in the labour force, led by special assistant to the prime minister and Chairperson of the Benazir Income Support Programme Dr Sania Nishtar. It focused on enabling women as a crucial aspect of inclusive growth, and on ways to providing more women with the education, skills, opportunities, and environments to become contributing members of the economy. Dr Sania said social protection was an important aspect of women’s economic empowerment. She said mobility, legal support and welfare were just some of the ways to support the Girls Learn, Women Earn initiative.World Bank global director for social development Louise Cord said women in the workforce held the key to a vibrant economy. “Pakistan’s goal is to increase women’s participation in the workforce from 26 per cent to 45 per cent, and the World Bank is ready to support the government achieve this,” he said. He called for concerted efforts to empower women and girls in the country by expanding their skills, access to information, mobility, along with access to finance and assets. Parliamentary secretary for law and justice Maleeka Bokhari said laws enabling safe and flexible work environments should be part of supporting the women’s economic empowerment.

Jointly supported by the federal education and human rights ministries and the World Bank Group, the ‘Girls Learn, Women Earn’ (GLWE) initiative called for awareness, advocacy and action on a national scale to address learning poverty and increase women’s economic empowerment. During the launching ceremony, a policy-making conference was held focusing on the challenges and opportunities for an end to learning poverty and higher women’s economic empowerment in the country. The Federal Education Minister Shafqat Mahmood, World Bank country head Illango Patchamuthu, Special Assistant to the Prime Minister Sania Nishtar and singer Shahzad Roy highlighted the importance of the issue.

The ‘Girls Learn, Women Earn’ (GLWE) initiative invites any institution to sign up to be a GLWE champion from December 31, provided they meet the registration criteria set by an independent panel of advisers. The GLWE campaign began on December 1, 2019, and will continue until March 10, 2020. The organisers said 55 per cent of Pakistan’s 22.5 million out-of-school children are girls, while only 26 per cent of women are active in the country’s labour force. They quoted a recent World Bank report as revealing that learning poverty in Pakistan was at 75 per cent, which was substantially higher than the South Asian average of 58 per cent.

The report added that three in every four children in Pakistan couldn’t read and understand a simple story by the age of 10 years. It said there were two underlying factors to the issue. “First, 27.3 per cent of all children remain out of school, which particularly affected girls, who are more likely to never be enrolled and to drop out faster in early adolescence. Second, 47.5% of children cannot read and comprehend a simple paragraph by age 10, even though they make it to school. This means that literacy instruction in schools is not adapted to the needs of children, particularly those from illiterate families,” the report said.