A new United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) report projects a sad picture of the state of education in Pakistan. According to the report, one in four Pakistani children will not be completing primary school by the deadline of 2030.
It says that the country will only be half-way to the target of 12 years of education for all, with 50 per cent of youths still not completing upper secondary education at the current rates. In this context it may be noted that almost a third of the way to the 2030 deadline for the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) has passed. In relation to this timeline, the new UNESCO projections prepared for the UN High-level Political Forum in New York show that the world will fail its education commitments without a rapid acceleration of progress.
The UNESCO report emphasizes that in 2030, when all children should be in school, one in six aged 6-17 will still be excluded. Many children are still dropping out: by 2030, 40pc will still not be completing secondary education at current rates. It may be recalled here that the new global education goal, SDG-4, calls on countries to ensure that children are not only going to school but also learning, yet the proportion of trained teachers in sub-Saharan Africa has been falling since 2000. The same is true of most Asian countries, including Pakistan.
At the current trends, learning rates are expected to stagnate in middle-income countries and Latin America, and drop by almost a third in Francophone African countries by 2030. Without rapid acceleration, globally, 20pc of young people and 30pc of adults will still be unable to read by the deadline. The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development emphasises leaving no-one behind yet only 4pc of the poorest 20pc complete upper secondary school in the poorest countries, compared to 36pc of the richest. The gap is even wider in lower-middle-income countries, and getting worse with the passage of time.
One constraint is lack of funds. Finance is also insufficient for accelerating progress: the Global Education Monitoring Report calculated in 2015 that there was a $39 billion annual finance gap to reach the goal and yet aid to education has stagnated since 2010.In addition, currently less than half of countries are providing the data needed to monitor progress towards the goal. Experts say that if countries do not face up to their commitments, there is no point in setting targets. According to them, better finance and coordination are needed to fix the data gap before we get any closer to the deadline.
One problem is that various countries have interpreted the meaning of the targets in the global education goal very differently. This seems correct given that countries start off from different starting points. But they must not deviate too much from the promises they made back in 2015. If countries match their plans with their commitments now, they can get back on track by 2030. The report shows that many countries have prioritised equity and inclusion since 2015 to meet the goal, with school vouchers issued to indigenous students, tuition fees abolished for the poorest and conditional cash transfers given to refugee children. Learning has been prioritised too, with a third of countries introducing learning assessments to look at trends over time, and one in four countries using learning results to reform their curricula. The weakest synergies between countries’ plans and their education commitments are seen in the lack of cross-sectoral collaboration found only in links between education and the labour market.
Most developing countries like Pakistan have not yet been able to establish strong links between their education system and the demands of the labour market. Intermediate level skills are in high demand in all sectors of the economy but they remain in short supply. Vocational and technical training schools teach courses which are outdated and unresponsive to the needs of the new, emerging industries thrown up by the fourth industrial revolution. Where new IT courses have been introduced, they lack the finesse and quality necessary to enter and survive in a highly competitive world.
To fill the gap, there is need for close collaboration between the public and private sectors to develop the relevant courses of study to teach the new generation the kind of skillset needed to penetrate the global market. This aspect is of special importance for Pakistan facing the challenge of providing job opportunities to the ever swelling army of educated youth.