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No freedom without education.

Byline: Qamar Naseem

SHORTLY after independence, Mr. Jinnah equated education with Pakistan's ability to survive in a speech. The founder of Pakistan said, 'Education is a matter of life and death for Pakistan.

The world is progressing so rapidly that without requisite advance in education, not only shall we lag behind others but may be wiped out altogether.'

And yet here we are, 74 years later, hosting the world's largest illiterate and unskilled population. Despite managing to survive the past seven decades, illiteracy continues to plague our nation.

As cited in a recently published white-paper, Public Investment in Education: COVID-19 and Other Emergencies in the Past, '...the persistent state of education emergency in Pakistan has a significant fall-out on the country's ability to develop at a faster pace during relatively good times and makes Pakistan's economy highly vulnerable to economic shocks during times of emergency such as the current pandemic.'

However, lamenting the current state of education serves no purpose.

The most marginalized segment amongst children should be identified and provided support in order to have free and quality education enshrined in Article 25-A of the Constitution of Pakistan.

Among the most vulnerable are the girls.

A recent study 'Factors Influencing Girl-Child Participation in Secondary School Education' suggests that Pakistani girls face a plethora of complex socio-cultural and supply-side challenges to access education.

There continue to exist communities that do not value education of their daughters compared to sons.

This mindset either propels parents to withhold their daughters from attending school at all or limits their daughters' education to the primary level only.

These demand-side issues further magnify in the face of supply-side deficiencies such as an acute lack of girls' schools. At every educational level across the country, boys' schools outnumber girls' schools.

Similarly, a significant number of functional schools in Pakistan remain without basic facilities such as clean drinking water, toilets, menstrual hygiene management, boundary walls and electricity.

These demand-and supply-side issues lead to a large number of Pakistani girls dropping out schools.

A recent study, 'Bringing All the Girls to School: A Case for More Investment,' pointed out that for every 100 girls enrolled at the secondary level in Pakistan, 223 girls are out-of-school!

To ensure that there are an adequate number of fully equipped schools for girls, there is a need to enhance the current public investment.

The government must also invest towards behavior change campaigns to encourage girls' enrolment.

However, the current state of public investment in education is not satisfactory. While Pakistan is obligated to invest 4% of its GDP for education, the average allocation has been static at 2.5% for twenty years!

The government has been unable to give education priority. Now, with the pandemic on-going, it is up to the government to give precedence to Pakistan's survival through education.

-The author is the Programme Coordinator at Blue Veins, a social activist and a Malala Fund Education Champion.

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Author:Qamar Naseem
Publication:Pakistan Observer (Islamabad, Pakistan)
Geographic Code:9PAKI
Date:Sep 2, 2021
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