Dear Pakistan, you remain the only country outside of sub-Saharan Africa to be ranked in the bottom 10 countries in the world for overall progress towards the measureable Education for All (EFA) goals. Yes, this was revealed in the findings of UNESCO's 12th Education for All Global Monitoring report.
The report also says that despite an economic growth rate of 4.1%, expenditure on education was 2.5%. This rate has been said to be one of the "lowest in the world". Furthermore, Pakistan, you have the second highest number of out-of-school children in the world.
If this were not enough, the gap between the richest and the poorest is widening. In 2014 in Balochistan province, only 33% of grade 5 students could read a story in Urdu, Sindhi or Pashto, whereas, in the wealthier province of Punjab, 63% could do so. In Balochistan, only 24% of fifth-graders could do a division exercise, compared with 50% in Punjab.
Discrimination against women
"I was 18 when I got married. I wanted to become a doctor," says Sara. Her parents had other ideas. " Saying 'no' to my marriage was not an option, but shattering my dreams was an option everyone else had," she adds. She was promised by her husband and in-laws that she would be allowed to study further but then she fell pregnant. "I had to make a choice between studying and taking care of my health and the health of my child. As a result, I decided to wait until the baby was born." Being a 22-year-old and a mother of two today, Sara shared that she stopped dreaming about becoming a doctor after she had her first born. "I may not have completed my studies because my parents forced me into marriage, but I will certainly let my daughter study as much as she wants to," she pledges.
"According to the report, positive attitudes towards female education have fallen from 77% in 2001 to just 48% in 2012."
According to the report, it is girls (57% of the 5 million out-of-school children) that face the biggest struggle to get the education they need in Pakistan. It further says that positive attitudes towards female education have fallen from 77% in 2001 to just 48% in 2012 and barriers such as child marriage or a lack of female toilets prevent many from going to school.
For Kate Redman, Communications and Advocacy Specialist (EFA Global Monitoring Report, UNESCO), girls face cultural barriers to education that will not be overcome unless gender equality is addressed in all avenues of life. Redman was of the view that girls' role in households, as well as their positions in the world of work and politics, need to be brought up to date so that parents prioritise their daughters' education. "Child marriage, for instance, often followed by early pregnancies, are a clear obstacle to girls both accessing and staying in school until the end," she asserts. According to her, many countries have taken pro-active steps to address these issues. "Morocco constructed huge amounts of schools in remote areas in order to take away the barrier of distance to girls going to school. India built lots of latrines in order to help make the school environment more conducive to girls' needs."
The terrorism factor
Pakistan has sadly been a victim of terrorism for a very long time. And it has had an impact on education as well.
After the school attack on 16 December 2014 which left about 150 people dead, parents have been concerned about the safety of their children at schools. Although the government and security forces have taken steps to make schools safer, terrorism still remains a concern for Pakistanis.
"An educated population of Pakistanis can steer the country out of its problems... It will teach people - even those who live in tribal provinces -- new ways of thinking."
"There is no doubt that conflict of any form is a hindrance to progress in the education sector. Children need to feel safe going to school just as parents need to feel confident sending them there," says Redman. She also said that the report shows that a greater proportion of out-of-school children live in conflict-affected zones than in the year 2000. "Schools should never, ever, be used as military bases and should be protected from attack at all costs."
The way forward
No doubt, education is a fundamental human right and its access to all is necessary. An educated population of Pakistanis can, in the future, steer the country out of its problems. Education holds the key to ending problems ranging from terrorism to child marriage to discrimination against women to poverty and corruption. It will teach people - even those who live in tribal provinces -- new ways of thinking.
"If Pakistan does not address its out of school numbers, it will have little chance of achieving the new development goals being set this September to be achieved by 2030," says Redman.