PESHAWAR: The United Nations General Assembly proclaimed 24 January as International Day of Education celebration of the role of education for peace and development as without inclusive and equitable quality education and lifelong opportunities for all, countries will not succeed in achieving gender equality and breaking the cycle of poverty that is leaving millions of children, youth and adults behind.
There are 50.8 million children in Pakistan between the ages of 5 and 16, of which 22.8 million are out of school. 13 million or 53% of these out-of-school children in Pakistan are girls. While girls’ access to quality education is dismal across the country, the situation at the grass-root level is all the more precarious. There are fewer schools for girls at all levels compared to boys. For instance, as per Department of Education Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Annual School Census Report 2017 – 18, there are 12586 boys primary schools compared to only 8594 for girls. Similarly, there are 1475 middle schools and 1422 high schools for boys in the province compared to only 1198 middle schools and 805 high schools for girls. There are 5,538 secondary schools in the province out of which only 39% are of girls.
Civil Society organizations demanded that “Khyber Pakhtunkhwa free compulsory Primary and Secondary Education Act 2017” was adopted two years ago but the rules of the business for this legislation are yet not notified. In light of global evidence, the benefits of secondary education for girls are not only extended to the individual, it has proven to uplift families, communities and nations altogether. Aside from the fact that education is an inherent human right, investing in girls’ secondary education specially makes economic sense for a country like Pakistan that continues to struggle with socio-political challenges on top of a dwindling economy. The current dismal state of the education sector in Pakistan demands an urgent diversion of greater financial resources.
“As per international standards at least 6 percent of the GDP needs to be allocated towards education. However, even today Pakistan is merely allocating 2.7 percent of its GDP for education,” which should be gradually increases to meet the needs of the education.
The representatives of the civil society organizations however welcomed KP government’s recent move to divert 70 percent of the education development budget towards girls’ education. This step, it was believed, will play an important role in bringing more girls towards schools at all levels in the province. The civil society representatives urged other provinces to follow KP’s example to prioritize girls’ access to education.
Qamar Naseem, Program Coordinator Blue Veins and Education Champion from KP said, “Investing in education is the most cost effective way to drive economic development, improve skills and opportunities for young women and men, and unlock progress on all 17 Sustainable Development Goals. Financing education is indeed the best investment we can make.”
He added, “Millions of girls are out of school today. They are pushing back against poverty, violence and child marriage to go to school. The SDGs were a promise that we would fight with these girls. So far, we have failed. We have big goals, but we will not reach any of them unless we educate girls. If we want to grow economies, improve the air we breathe, promote peace and advance public health, we must invest in girls.”
Sana Ahmad, provincial Coordinator Ujala Network, said, “Women might have the chance of a healthier and happier life should be reason enough for promoting girls’ education. However, there are also important benefits for society as a whole. An educated woman has the skills, information and self-confidence that she needs to be a better parent, worker and citizen.”
Shawana Shah, a girls rights activist associated with the Hawa Lur, said, “Investing in education has a high return, and the benefits flow well beyond the individual. Improved education outcomes, particularly for girls and women, reduce poverty and boost economic prosperity, strengthen health and promote peace and security.”
Civil society organizations issued a joint call requesting Prime Minister Imran Khan and Federal Minister for Education and Professional Training Shafqat Mahmood, Chief Minister Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Mehmood Khan and Minister Elementary and Secondary Education Akbar Ayub to enhance the ambit of Article 25-A to ensure at least 12 years of free, compulsory and quality education for every Pakistani child.