Ed­u­ca­tion for all?

Enterprise - - Contents - By Syed Mo­ham­mad Ali

Ed­u­ca­tion sit­u­a­tion re­mains far from en­cour­ag­ing across much of the de­vel­op­ing world, par­tic­u­larly so in our coun­try. Unesco has re­leased its 11th EFA mon­i­tor­ing re­port this past week. This re­port’s anal­y­sis in­di­cates that the sit­u­a­tion is par­tic­u­larly alarm­ing in 21 coun­tries, where less than half of the chil­dren are learn­ing re­quired ba­sic ed­u­ca­tion skills. Be­sides, 17 sub-Sa­ha­ran African coun­tries, In­dia and Pak­istan are listed amongst th­ese 21 coun­tries.

More­over, Unesco em­pha­sises how even a ba­sic level of ed­u­ca­tion helps im­prove pro­duc­tiv­ity. It com­pares data from Pak­istan and Viet­nam to il­lus­trate the im­por­tance of en­sur­ing equal ac­cess to ed­u­ca­tion. In 2005, the av­er­age amount of time spent at school by adults in both coun­tries was sim­i­lar (4.5 years in Pak­istan and 4.9 years in Viet­nam). How­ever, the num­ber of years spent in school by dif­fer­ent types of peo­ple varies greatly in Pak­istan com­pared with Viet­nam. This dif­fer­ence in ed­u­ca­tion in­equal­ity is cited as a ma­jor fac­tor for stark dif­fer­ences in per capita growth in the two coun­tries be­tween 2005 and 2010. Viet­nam’s per capita in­come was 40 per cent less than that of Pak­istan dur­ing the 1990s, but it be­came 20 per cent higher by 2010.

While there are sev­eral other fac­tors which have also con­trib­uted to the above de­scribed vari­ance in per capita in­come lev­els, ed­u­ca­tion’s im­pact on im­prov­ing the lives of or­di­nary peo­ple is hard to ig­nore. Work­ing Pak­istani women with good lit­er­acy skills are, for ex­am­ple, es­ti­mated to be earn­ing 95 per cent more than women with weak lit­er­acy skills. Ba­sic ed­u­ca­tion also al­lows women to be­come more em­pow­ered and ex­ert greater in­flu­ence on de­ter­min­ing how many chil­dren to have.

Yet, de­spite the ev­i­dent need for eq­ui­table ed­u­ca­tion to help em­power vul­ner­a­ble peo­ple, ed­u­ca­tional ac­cess and out­comes are of­ten hin­dered by ge­o­graph­i­cal dis­ad­van­tage, poverty and gen­der bi­ases. In Balochis­tan, only 45 per cent of chil­dren in grade five are able to solve a two- digit sub­trac­tion prob­lem, com­pared with 73 per cent in Pun­jab. Merely one- fourth of girls from poor house­holds in Balochis­tan achieve ba­sic nu­mer­acy skills. How­ever, boys from rich house­holds in the prov­ince are do­ing much bet­ter on stan­dard­ised tests than chil­dren from poorer house­holds.

Teacher ab­sen­teeism re­mains a ma­jor prob­lem as does the qual­ity of teacher train­ing. In Pak­istan, trainee teach­ers only spend 10 per cent of their train­ing time in class­rooms.

Unesco es­ti­mates that if the gov­ern­ment were to in­crease its tax rev­enue to 14 per cent of GDP (up from 10 per cent) by 2015 and al­lo­cate one- fifth of this amount to ed­u­ca­tion, it could sig­nif­i­cantly im­prove the ed­u­ca­tion sit­u­a­tion. While the need for our gov­ern­ment to raise more funds to in­vest in ed­u­ca­tion is a good sug­ges­tion, Unesco should also take note of the ad­verse im­pacts of mar­ket-based poli­cies to­wards ed­u­ca­tion be­ing prop­a­gated by en­ti­ties like the World Bank across the de­vel­op­ing world. Such poli­cies, which have placed in­creas­ing em­pha­sis on low-cost pri­vate ed­u­ca­tion, re­main un­able to ful­fill the goals of pro­vid­ing uni­ver­sal ed­u­ca­tion or bridg­ing ed­u­ca­tional in­equal­ity gaps.

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