Twenty five years after the first world conference on Education For All, held at Jomtien in 1990 and fifteen years after the meeting of the World Education Forum in Dakar Senegal in the year 2000, the World Forum met again on May 19-21 at Incheon, in South Korea. Pakistan which was a signatory to the Jomtien agreement to accelerate the movement for primary education and adult literacy performed poorly, lagging behind most of the countries of the world. It again committed itself at Dakar to a new Framework for Action to achieve 6 “Education For All” goals by the year 2015 and attain a literacy rate of 86% as well as 100% enrollment in primary education of all school age children in the country.  

According to the Global Monitoring Report for the year 2015, Pakistan has failed to achieve even a single of the 6 goals.

The Incheon World Conference on Education reviewed the progress made to achieve the targets set at Dakar and came up with a new declaration for the next 15 years. Called the Incheon Declaration, the new commitments build on the EFA and Millennium Development goals. The goals will be named (SDGs) Sustainable Development Goals and are expected to be formally adopted by the UN General Assembly beginning in September, this year.

The World Education Forum at Incheon was organised by UNESCO and co-convened by UNDP, UNESCO, HCR, UN Women and the World Bank Group.

It will be of interest for the readers to know some of the major points of the Declaration, as follows:

* We, Ministers, heads and members of delegations, heads of agencies and officials of multilateral and bilateral organisations, and representatives of civil society, the teaching profession, youth and the private sector…reaffirm the vision of the worldwide movement for Education for All initiated in Jomtien in 1990 and reiterated in Dakar in 2000.

* We also reaffirm the vision and political will reflected in numerous international and regional human rights treaties that stipulate the right to education and its interrelation with other human rights. We acknowledge the efforts made; however, we recognise with great concern that we are far from having reached education for all.

* We recognise the important contribution of the Global Education First Initiative as well as the role of governments and regional, intergovernmental and non-governmental organisations in galvanising political commitment for education.

* Our vision is to transform lives through education, recognising the important role of education as a main driver of development and in achieving the other proposed SDGs….We reaffirm that education is a public good, a fundamental human right and a basis for guaranteeing the realisation of other rights. It is essential for peace, tolerance, human fulfilment and sustainable development. We recognise education as key to achieving full employment and poverty eradication. We will focus our efforts on access, equity and inclusion, quality and learning outcomes, within a lifelong learning approach.

* we will ensure the provision of 12 years of free, publicly funded, equitable quality primary and secondary education…..We also commit to providing meaningful education and training opportunities for the large population of out-of-school children and adolescents.

* Inclusion and equity in and through education is the cornerstone of a transformative education agenda, and we therefore commit to addressing all forms of exclusion and marginalisation, disparities and inequalities in access, participation and learning outcomes. 

* We recognise the importance of gender equality in achieving the right to education for all.

* We commit to quality education and to improving learning outcomes, which requires strengthening inputs, processes and evaluation of outcomes and mechanisms to measure progress.

* We commit to promoting quality lifelong learning opportunities for all…We further commit to ensuring that all youth and adults, especially girls and women, achieve relevant and recognized functional literacy and numeracy proficiency levels and acquire life skills, and that they are provided with adult learning, education and training opportunities.

* We reaffirm that the fundamental responsibility for successfully implementing this agenda lies with governments.

* We are determined to increase public spending on education in accordance with country context, and urge adherence to the international and regional benchmarks of allocating efficiently at least 4 - 6% of Gross Domestic Product and/or at least 15 - 20% of total public expenditure to education.

* We call on the WEF 2015 co-convenors, and in particular UNESCO, as well as on all partners, to individually and collectively support countries in implementing the 2030 education agenda.

* We resolve to develop comprehensive national monitoring and evaluation systems in order to generate sound evidence for policy formulation and the management of education systems as well as to ensure accountability.

I doubt if Finance Minister Mr. Dar is aware of the contents of the Incheon Declaration and the new goals (SDGs) to be adopted by the UN General Assembly at its September session. How many of our central and provincial education ministers and the secretaries  realise the responsibility of fulfilling the pledges made at Incheon. Is the Foreign Office and the Central Ministry of Education preparing for the debate in the UN General Assembly to finalise the formulation of Sustainable Development Goals? How many editors of our newspapers and learned TV channels anchors know about the Incheon Declaration? With hardly any appreciable dissemination of the Declaration in the media and otherwise in Pakistan ,it is important that the UNESCO Office in Islamabad prepares a programme to hold conferences and symposia about the Incheon Declaration and the new goals, goading  the governments to quit neglect of their committed responsibilities to achieve 100% enrolment of children of school-going age and make special efforts to make literate at least 50% of the 60 million illiterates in this country. This is also necessary because of the 2012 Paris Communiqué which exhorts UNESCO’s country-offices to take steps to persuade the governments of their countries to accelerate the achievement of Education For All Goals.

In 1949 literacy rates of China, India and Pakistan were more or less the same. China is today 99% literate while India’s literacy rate is around 72%. Pakistan claims to have attained 58% literacy. Many dispute even this figure.  How tragic and unfortunate to see the country sitting smugly at the lowest rungs of the international literacy ladder!