As Norway gears up to host the Oslo Summit on Education for Development, two important Pakistani personalities are set to make an appearance; the Prime Minister, Nawaz Sharif, and the Nobel Peace Prize winner and youth activist, Malala Yousufzai. At the summit, Malala is expected to urge world leaders to live up to their international commitments towards education; guaranteeing twelve years of universal fee-free primary and secondary education. The effort requires an estimated sum of $340 billion per year; and Malala is expected to call on world leaders to make up for the shortfall, which stands at $39 billion — equivalent to just eight days of global military spending. While the Prime Minister will attend the summit and may even contribute to the dialogue, implementing the measures required by it is a separate matter. Military spending has bloomed while the education policy remains crippled by slivers of the budget that are allocated to it.

As the Prime Minister is about to leave, reports on the operation and efficacy of another highly touted educational enterprise – the so called Kerry-Luger-Bresnen agreement – have also emerged. Since 2009, despite the provision of billions of dollars worth of aid to government departments, NGOs and schools, education has seen mixed growth. Local and foreign scholarship plans bloom yet establishing quality schools still remains a challenge; showing that pure money – even $7.5 billion – is not enough on its own. The usual suspects claim the disruption; bureaucratic red tape, petty embezzlement, administrative lethargy and institutional clash have caused immeasurable delay. Despite the bill being approved in 2009, the first school under it was not built till 2014, yet the Metro projects steam forward a lightning speed. The difference in performance is not down to funds or ability; it is because education is a lost narrative. Apart from token claims of an ‘educational emergency’ the government has done nothing meaningful to gear the government machinery towards this project; it has built no narrative and has created no pressure on the relevant authorities.

This fact is even more embarrassing that Malala, a globally renowned education activist is a Pakistani. Apart from a customary congratulation at her winning the Nobel, Nawaz Sharif has not contacted her. Here lies the golden opportunity to finally build that narrative, to put the money we have to good use. Nawaz must give Malala’s ideas space to function, and in turn fuel education reform.