Fourteen years ago, education ministers from 164 countries, representatives of the civil society organizations and of leading international organizations including UN agencies and World Bank met in Dakar Senegal and set six goals for Education For All making a collective commitment to rapidly expand education for children, youth and adults by the year 2015.

Every year an independent team produces a Global Monitoring Report that aims to inform and influence governments, international organizations and civil societies to sustain commitments to achieve the EFA Goals. The Report is published by UNESCO. Each report focuses on a specific theme. The theme for the year 2008 report was: “Education For All by 2015.  Will We Make It”.

In the Foreword to that Report, the UNESCO Director General, wrote: “the time is of the essence for the 72 million children out of school, for the one in five adults without basic literacy skills and for the many pupils who leave school without acquiring essential skills and knowledge”.  He concluded with the remark that “We Cannot Afford To Fail”.

With two years left to achieve EFA goals where does the world stand today and how close are various countries to the realization of these goals?

The six goals are: Expanding and improving comprehensive early childhood care and education, especially for the most vulnerable and disadvantaged children; Ensuring that by 2015 all children, particularly girls, children in difficult circumstances have access to, and complete, free and compulsory primary education of good quality; Ensuring that the learning needs of all young people and adults are met through equitable access to appropriate learning and life-skills programmes; Achieving a 50 per cent improvement in levels of adult literacy by 2015; Eliminating gender disparities in primary and secondary education by 2005, and achieving gender equality in education by 2015; Improving all aspects of the quality of education and ensuring excellence of all so that recognized and measurable learning outcomes are achieved by all.

The highlights of the GMR 2013-2014 are as follows: Despite improvements, in 2011, around half of young children had access to pre-primary education; Universal primary education likely to be missed by a wide margin. The number of children out of school was 57 million in 2011, half of whom lived in conflict-affected countries. The richest boys will achieve universal primary completion in 2012, but the poorest girls will not catch up until 2086; In 2011, 69 million adolescents were out of school, with little improvement in this number since 2004; In 2011, there were 774 million illiterate adults, a decline of just 1% since 2000. Almost two-thirds of illiterate adults are women; Gender disparities remain in many countries. Even though gender parity was supposed to be achieved by 2005, in 2011 only 60% of countries had achieved this goal at the primary level and 38% at the secondary level.

Besides elaborate statistical tables, the Report has 7 chapters and a Development Index. According to this Index, 45 countries in Europe and North America had achieved all the goals or were close to. While 36 countries in the Middle East, Latin America and the Caribbean were at a mid-distance to the goals.

Pakistan falls in the category which is described as “Very Far from the Targets”. Talking specifically of Adult Literacy, the Report records the Pakistan rate as 55% in the year 2011 (Pakistan’s, current claim is around 58%). It will, according to GMR, reach 60% only by the year 2015. It was committed to achieve 86% literacy rate. Almost 60 million Pakistanis today are utterly illiterate. China which more or less had the same literacy rate as Pakistan in the early 50s, has achieved 95% literacy.

Some of the other interesting findings and observations may also be mentioned:

On current trends, the Report projects that it will take until 2072 for all the poorest young women in developing countries to be literate. However, with the right policies in place, fast progress is possible; The cost of 250 million children around the world not learning the basics translates into a loss of an estimated $129 billion. In total, 37 countries are losing at least half the amount they spend on primary education because children are not learning. By contrast, the Report shows that ensuring an equal, quality education for all can increase a country’s gross domestic product per capita by 23 % over 40 years. If Pakistan were to halve inequality in access to education to the level of Viet Nam, it would enhance its economic growth by 1.7 percentage points.

The Report further highlights the need to address violence in schools, a major barrier to quality in education; It underscores the importance of the curriculum and assessment strategies to promote inclusion and improve learning.

The theme of the Report 2013-2014 is Teaching and Learning: Achieving Quality For All.

Rightly in the Foreword to the Report, the present Director General made the telling observations that “an Education system is as good as its teachers… And access is not the only crisis—poor quality is holding back learning even for those who make it to school…One third of primary school children are not learning the basics”.

The Report provides commendable guidelines to unlock teachers’ potential to solve the learning crisis are:  its four-part strategy is (a) attract the best teachers. (b) improve teacher education. (c) get teachers where they are most needed. (d) and provide incentives to retain best teachers.

In the Punjab province, brave efforts have been made to increase enrollment at the primary level and to introduce reforms in school education. Problems of poor teaching and high dropout rates however, persist. Public private partnership has yielded good results. The quality of teaching, however, remains unsatisfactory. Conditions in the other provinces especially in Sindh and Balochistan are poor. Part of the deficiency has been met by private schools.

As for adult literacy, governments at the centre and the provinces lack the political will. Even Punjab which has a full-fledged literacy department has a woefully inadequate literacy programme. This deficiency was pointed out from the floor at the Islamabad GMR launching meeting. The Federal Minister for Education Mr. Baleegh-ur-Rehman admitted the lack of requisite programmes and informed that a Prime Minister’s initiative for the rapid spread of literacy is on the anvil and a country-wide scheme would be started in the near future. One hopes that the announcement doesn’t remain a mere rhetoric and there would soon be an adequate effort to achieve EFA targets.

Some of the speeches delivered at the launching ceremony provided much food for thought. The one delivered by Dr Kim, Director UNESCO Regional Office at Bangkok, was in particular most valuable. Dr Kozue Kay Nagata UNESCO Director in Pakistan and Dr Baela Raza Jamil the able moderator of the meeting, deserve congratulations for a successful launch of the Global Report.

n    The writer is an ex-federal secretary and ambassador, and a freelance political and international relations analyst.