Pakistan Muslim League- Nawaz (PMLN) on page 35 of its election manifesto 2013 promises that a “National Education Emergency will be declared to eradicate illiteracy on war footing basis.”
An educationist and Federal Minister for Planning and Development, Ahsan Iqbal, reiterated in an interview with Truth Tracker that the PML-N government is determined to declare a National Education Emergency and to launch a “war” on illiteracy.
“Education has always been top priority of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz,” Iqbal said. He said that a comprehensive strategy is being chalked out for this purpose. “The previous Punjab government of Shahbaz Sharif took many initiatives in this regard. “Distribution of free laptops and solar lamps, support of teachers’ training and Daanish schools are prime examples to show the seriousness of our leadership in this matter,” he said.
He said a long-term plan ‘Vision 2025’ for Pakistan’s education system would be formulated to make Pakistan’s education system among the world’s best. “A uniform system of education would be gradually introduced and the 2 percent of education budget would be increased up to 4 percent of GDP by the year 2018,” Iqbal said.
Iqbal told Truth Tracker that computer labs would be established in all public high schools, Danish schools would be established in all provinces, the Higher Education Commission would be given greater autonomy, and that vocational and technical education would be promoted. Under the Education Emergency, he said that the administration aimed for one hundred percent enrollment of boys and girls by 2020 in accordance with the requirements of Article 25-A in the Constitution of Pakistan, which makes ‘right to free and compulsory education’ a fundamental right.
Illiteracy is a major social problem in Pakistan. This is a significant contributing factor to many other social and economic problems. The literacy rate in Pakistan is one of the lowest even among the developing countries. An international report on education, the Education for All Global Monitoring Report published by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization in 2012, revealed stark data about education in Pakistan. In an in-depth review of the report, The Express Tribune highlighted data showing that Pakistan has the second-highest number of 5.1 million out of school children in the world. Two-thirds of the out of school children in the country, over three million of them, are girls. The data also showed that Pakistan had spent comparatively less on education.
Article 25-A of the constitution of Pakistan guarantees free and compulsory education for all children between the ages of 5 and 16. Successive regimes in Pakistan made tall claims of promoting literacy, especially among women, but so far no considerable measures have been taken in this regard. After the approval of Eighteenth Amendment in the constitution of Pakistan in 2010, the right to education has been extended to the provinces. Unfortunately, none of the provinces have yet been able to ensure the provision of the basic right of education to all children.
The PML-N government took charge of the Government on June 5, 2013. In these more than two months, there has been no on record evidence of talks of taking any practical step to eradicate illiteracy, and no word on the issue has been uttered by any leader of the elected government, therefore this promise stands broken.
When Truth Tracker inquired about the steps already taken by the PML-N to eradicate illiteracy that the ruling party promised during election campaigns, Iqbal said “Do not be impatient; we are sincere and serious in this matter. As compared to other provinces, more money was spent on education in Punjab in last five years of Shahbaz’s government as Chief Minister. In present tenure the plan for the improved education system has been chalked out. We plan to spend Rs 700 billion on the education sector in next five years. Give us a little time and we will not let down the masses.”
Talking to Truth Tracker by phone, former Education Minister Punjab Mian Imran Masud termed PML-N’s National Education Emergency promise mere ‘drama’ and said it was a tactic to fool the hapless people of Pakistan before elections. “They (the Sharif brothers) have no vision for education. They actually do not know the meaning of an education emergency. How could Shahbaz Sharif claim to spread education in the Punjab when pictures and stories published in a newspapers show children attending school in cemeteries,” he asked.
(Photo Courtesy, Deseret News)
In a telephone interview with Truth Tracker, renowned educationist and analyst, Dr Hasan Askari Rizvi said “I think eradication of illiteracy is more important than load-shedding. A demographic disaster is in the making as the number of illiterate and unskilled youth is swelling day by day, and if they remain out of school unsupervised, they can easily be misguided by anti-state elements like the Taliban. Furthermore, the frustrated and ignorant youth will be a burden on the national stake because they will find no work [or] job opportunities and this burden will keep on increasing if no practical steps are taken in this regard,” he said. Askari urged PML-N to tackle the issue as an emergency before it is too late.
Another educationist and Program Director at Idara-e-Taleem-o-Aagahi (ITA) (Centre of Education and Consciousness), Dr Baela Raza Jamil, said that Shahbaz Sharif took some practical measures during his last tenure and that he would continue with them. She added that a National Education Emergency had already been declared in the year 2011, however, it needed to be implemented in letter and spirit with structural and innovative changes in the education sector. She concluded saying that there was reason to be optimistic that PML-N could be innovative and aggressive about “addressing the education issues with imagination and urgency, bringing across-the-board structural changes.”
Since then, no major step has been taken for declaring a National Education Emergency, thus, the promise stands broken.