Educate a Girl-Educate a Nation

(Sajjad Hussain Malik, )

A universal, comprehensive, equal and inclusive education for all is one of the most important Sustainable Development Goal. There is an undeniable consensus, globally and nationally, to ensure equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all. Education is the fundamental human right and is inseparable from the sustainable growth and development of a nation. There is a collective effort worldwide to ensure, by the year 2030, globally all girls’ and boys’ complete free, equitable and quality primary and secondary education, which will eventually lead to relevant and effective learning outcomes. In order for any country to achieve this goal, all the relevant stakeholders need to collectively contribute to foster forward the education of girls.Educating a young girl amounts to educating a family.Only through education and enlightenment will a nation be able to advance the quality of life, empower women, combat extremism, poverty, climate change and the inequalities in the world.Pakistan has its own peculiar set of challenges and unfortunately it is one of the worst in the world in terms of providing effective& quality education. According to the constitution of Pakistan, the Article 25-A guarantees theright and access to education for all. Despite the constitutional provisions, nearly 25 million children nationwide are still out of school and 55 % of them are girls.

For Pakistan, there are layers of structural challenges that limit girl’s ability and opportunity to exercise their right to free and compulsory education. Most widely talked about are the socio-cultural attitudes of parents in communities where girlsare discriminated, and their education is not considered as valued addition to this entrenched patriarchal society. This led to de-prioritizing girls’ education when intersect with state of poverty. Indeed, overall architecture of education displays a gender bias in multiple ways, fed by widespread stereotypes, social norms and practices which perpetuate discrimination against girls.

Another challenge is related to financing education. Government’s insufficient educational budgeting,lack of transparency and accountability is also one of the major causes behind low level of education and literacy. UNESCO recommends that a minimum of 20% of the national budget (and/or 6% of GDP) should be spent on education. On average, in low income countries only 17% of public revenue (or 3.7% of GDP) is spent on education. It is a major challenge in Pakistan, as public spending on education is less than 2.5% of GDP, which is much lower than the 7% of GDP as committed in National Education Policy. Ontop of this, gender disparities are also observable in planning and budgeting. The failure to mobilise enough resources is leading to a loss of confidence in public education which increases the pressure for privatization. Private education is costly and unaffordable leading to creation of huge inequalities in the society.

To cope with the variant dimension of challenges, there are several national and international organisations that recommend and help the government to formulate effective policies for education. Among those those, one of the leading organization is Human Development Foundation (HDF) working on poverty of knowledge by promoting equitable quality education for all, ensuring allChildren, especially girls, realize their full potential. HDF emphasises on gender equality and community participation while taking local norms and culture into account. Parent-Teacher Associations (PTAs) encourage community participation and keeps parents involved in their children’s schooling process.
In the past few years, Oxfamtogether with the,HDF and other civil society organisations, has started to take collective action to support girl’s education both at policy and practice level. This collective approach is based on alliance building, campaigning and generating evidence aimed atundertaking collective actions for improved and equitable resource distribution.

HDF has not only helped Oxfam and partners to achieve more citizens (particularly young people’s) engagement during the recent years but has also visibly improved the status of the education for girls aswell. That engagement was helped to strengthen the required voice, accountability and propel change among the parents and stakeholders to send the young girls back to schools and institution to provide more resources to support girl’s education. Similarly, influencing on Gender Responsive Budgeting and planning within education is achieved through creating political will by establishing two education caucus in Punjab and Sindh. Policy papers are produced to fuel political will on girl’s education and to accelerate debates on policy floors.

Based on the experience and engagements of HDF-Oxfam there is without a doubt a sufficient amount of evidence that there are many alternatives to manage education crisis especially in countries like Pakistan that fall into low level of human development. Among many few crucial alternatives are better education financing through improving domestic resource mobilization, improved education planning and budgeting,especially gender sensitiveallocation to budgets and pro-poor progressive tax regime instead of regressive taxation.

Innovative projects and engagement at all levels will increase the access to education for girls through approaches that leverage the strengths of students, parents, community members aimedto influence government officials to fulfil the duty of providing quality education. Apart from these initiatives, there is also a strong need for upgrading school facilities and increasing school enrolments. One step may be to provide scholarships to those who could not afford. International Organisations like Oxfam has experimented this model and already reflected an increase in not only number of enrolments but also a decrease in dropouts as well. Due to the scholarship and its accompanying benefits, the attitudes and behaviours of their parents changed to place a more positive value on education. Since every step and decision in the matters of family unit is linked with the economics, the education must also be linked with skill development program as well. This will not only improve the economic opportunities, but will also empower the women with the ability to manage and contribute in the house hold expenses. This may also lead to strong voice at the household level of a woman to empower and advocate her daughters to continue their education, fostering a sustainable and prosperous household. If these women are linked with the financial institutions and local market actors to facilitate their income generating activities then with the sale of their skills, products and services, they may contribute a lot in the overall economic wellbeing of the country.

With an ever-increasing multifaceted challenge for girls education in Pakistan at the domestic level, the partnership of government with the international organisation coupled with strong linkages with the local government, is the key to the solution. Empowered girls become advocates for education and hopefully the leaders of tomorrow. Becoming aware of their rights, they can shape the future course of our collective lives. The education deliverables that include availability, accessibility, acceptability and adaptability can only be achieved if the local, district, national and international stakeholders collaborate with the strong presence of accountability at all levels. With strong optimism and humble efforts, the partnership at national and international levels therewillbe a steady growth forward to shift the mind-set of the society and reduce the gender imbalance both at the community and institutional level.

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