Education is a fundamental human right and holds the potential to become one of the most powerful ingredients for development in the years ahead, facilitating as a connection from poverty to prosperity, from exclusion to participation, from division to understanding.
Improved and quality education is associated with many positive developments, including fewer child marriages, lower death rates among children under the age of five and mothers during childbirth, more effective disease preventive measures, higher level wages, and better economic growth. The challenges we are facing worldwide, grow more alarming than ever, more and better quality education will be the key to challenging them all.
Now as the world is aware to gather around a set of goals to improve lives and protect the planet, we must work together to achieve these targets. It is mandatory that Pakistan may also consider implementing SDG-4 to ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities where no one is left behind. It further lays the basis for a truly transformational approach to education, one that is holistic, ambitious, and aspirational. In Pakistan, the provision of quality education is the constitutional obligation of the state in accordance with the Article 25-A. The Government has partially succeeded in providing access to quality education to the school-age children of both public and private sector schools.
But the goal of providing quality education is to transmit not only the basics, but also the skills and values to make our societies more equitable, resilient, and inclusive. To achieve the maximum impact, educational initiatives must leave no one behind that includes not the poor or disadvantaged, and not girls, who have all too often paid a high price for trying to get an education. Recent data by UNESCO shows that 124 million children and adolescents are out-of-school worldwide. In South and West Asia, 80% of out-of-school girls are unlikely to start schooling, compared to just 16% for boys. The factual degree of any policy’s success is the extent to which it benefits the most marginalized.
Nevertheless, free and compulsory education is essential, yet will be insufficient to ensure that all school-age children can actually attend school. Other solutions may include involvement of private sector organizations, conditional cash transfers, scholarships for girls, construction of schools in remote areas, blended learning programs, improved facilities for disabled learners, and incentives for teachers to work in difficult conditions. New practices with such initiatives should be shared more widely to develop more informed policies.
Keeping the enrollment track of children in the school is not sufficient, efforts must be made to ensure the quality of the education they receive. Since last decade, flow in enrollment, together with the expansion of learning assessments, has exposed the scale of the quality crisis in education. At least 250 million children, around the globe, have been left incapable to read, write, or count adequately after four years in schools. Furthermore, equitable quality education can lead to peace, social justice, and sustainable development but the challenge is to aim for more than measurable short-term outcomes. This is an opportunity to put in place a framework for sustainable development that is aspirational and courageous. Quality of education advocates a broad notion of quality education, which covers all elements of the education process, including broad-based curricula, adequate teaching and learning materials, and reasonable class sizes. Every student has the right to be taught by a qualified and well-supported teacher, and to learn in safe schools with adequate infrastructure, facilities, and resources.
Contemporary education systems are under pressure, but the argument that there is a compromise between access and quality does not show a sound basis. Inclusion breeds excellence in all sectors of life. Teachers and schools need to be given the means to fulfill their mission of giving students the skills and knowledge they need to gain decent employment and contribute to society. Learning is a continuous process and does not stop till school level, to compete in a highly interconnected, increasingly knowledge-based, and technologically driven global economy, people must continue to learn and adapt throughout their lives. Emphasizing this simple learning the fundamentals in school is not enough; students also need to gain the capacity to analyze, think critically and creatively, and solve problems.
Executing such an ambitious vision of education will require new and broader partnerships. This could be done only with political ownership of a state and the setting of priorities. Effective functioning of SDGs needs to be prioritized and in this regard, education has to receive higher billing, nationally and globally. Moreover, the ongoing decline in international aid to education must be reversed, and new financial sources such as emerging economy donors, the private sector, foundations, and philanthropists must be mobilized. Education is a universal common good, and it is everyone’s right to concern. It is a global obligation to give a massive push for addressing the dilemma of children and young people in conflict-affected states too. Philanthropic aid for education remains worthless in relation to need. Education must be an integral part of any emergency response, and all peace-building efforts.
There is an inevitable need for a country like Pakistan to strive for a school education system that leaves no one behind and ensures inclusive and equitable quality education. In order to foster quality education, there is a need to activate the school councils more effectively and efficiently for stronger community involvement like advanced nations. Additional support from the community school networks (CSNs) and the capacity building of line departments is also required with respect to improving the quality of school education and accessibility for all the children without discrimination.