Atle Hetland A new school year is beginning, but for millions of Pakistani girls and boys, education remains a distant dream. Flood victims, IDPs, refugees and others affected by multiple emergencies are not likely to go to school - at a time when education should be considered more important. Before the elections in Pakistan in 2008, all political parties promised to work for Education for All (EFA) in accordance with international and local efforts in the new millennium to reach the goals by 2015. Alas, little has been done to change the situation. The required expansion of the education budget has not been made. As a matter of fact, in certain fields there have been budget cuts, such as in this years higher education budget. True, the higher education budgets had grown more than those for other sub-sectors for the last six or seven years, and education planners usually advise that primary education is the most important sub-sector, and it should grow more than the other sectors. In Pakistan, when the total federal government education budget is only about two percent of GDP, all sub-sectors should have increased their budgets, to reach to the five percent of GDP, as is recommended by UNESCO, the United Nations Education Agency. Why does this not happen? Why are there still millions of children out of school or attending substandard primary schools? Even Kenya, a poorer country than Pakistan, has had free Universal Primary Education (UPE) since a multi-party government came into power in 2003. This year, there are major emergency education tasks to give some kind of help to school-age children hit by the terrible floods. In addition, there are still a large number of IDPs, refugees, and many other extremely vulnerable and poverty-stricken boys and girls, often affected by multiple emergencies, such as general poverty, plus losing income due to floods, plus illnesses. Families in these situations often have no choice but taking their children out of school, and in many cases the girls go first, but also older boys who can earn money and otherwise help the families in their daily struggle. In Pakistan, where there are some 35 to 40 million children going to school, there are at the same time millions, possibly up to 10 million out-of-school children, or they are registered in schools not worth the name. How can we let this happen? And with we I mean all of us, Pakistanis, individuals of all nationalities living in Pakistan, and especially, local, foreign and international institutions and donor organisations. If we really want to have education for all, why can we not manage to have it? Is it really so complicated and costly to have a few hours of daily schooling for all children? Let me underline, that when adults, youth and children are hit by natural catastrophes or conflicts, like the current devastating floods, internal displacement, and the earthquake in 2005, education should play a more prominent role, not be left 'until we can afford it. Education is an essential tool in the protection and healing of psychosocial scars and trauma. Women and girls must be targeted, but also men and boys, for example if their families have lost their women, who are usually the familys social workers. Adolescent boys need education and sports as a spare time activity to protect them against antisocial activities and let them enjoy positive relationships with others. More funds should be allocated to education immediately after crises. Many developing countries have high military budgets and low education budgets; Pakistan is such a country. Some improvements can be made through reallocation of funds within the education sector, and improved internal efficiency, but without overall increase, the education sector will perform poorly. The unit cost of a Pakistani university graduate is a fraction of what it is in the West. Likewise, what is spent per primary school pupil in Pakistan and other developing countries is peanuts, as compared to the expenditure in industrialised countries. This leads to poor quality. If Pakistan wants to get on to the development highway, taking up the competition with India, China, and so on, investment in education, at all levels, must increase. If we dont, we are bound to remain 'backbenchers in the competitive regional and global world. India aims at spending five percent of GDP on education. Even that is low compared to many countries in the West, but in our region it would be a great leap forward. We need to invest in education for the children and youth to become literate and have basic knowledge, and develop better skills and competences in work-related fields. But the purpose of education is also to create 'confident and optimistic young people, who know that each person is unique and valuable, even if he or she only has primary school education, and is still poor. Education is a human right and it should inculcate respect for human rights and basic moral values, such as respect and tolerance. Those who didnt go to school in childhood must be given a second chance to become literate and obtain other basics knowledge and skills later in life. Dont we want a literate, skilled and committed population? Dont we want people who can participate with knowledge and understanding in the political and social processes? And above all, dont we want a happy and self-confident population? When I think about the importance of education and try to understand what its most important function is, I always come back to its role in 'creating happy and confident people who see their daily lives and the future in a positive light, and they see that their contributions count. If Kenya can have free UPE, why cannot Pakistan, which is after all wealthier? I have lived in Kenya for many years and I know that it is not an ideal model country, but there are a few things we can learn from that country in education. For example, the way parents believe in education as an important vehicle for change, as one of the few ways for their children to escape poverty and climb the socioeconomic ladder, and Kenyas implementation of free UPE almost a decade ago. And the work or Forum for Women Educationalists (FAWE) in girls education is an impressive model for all developing countries. In Pakistan, where many parents do not see the purpose of education, or they dont trust the system, because it doesnt automatically lead to jobs, they should compare notes with Kenya. They should try to get a more relevant education content suitable for Pakistan, and most important, just ascertain that their children do go to school. Girls and women must be given special priority since they are lagging so far behind in education and literacy. Personally, I would like the government to provide education for all, and make it compulsory, and put some more regulations on the private schools and madrassahs, so that all schools pull in one direction and contribute to nation building. I often find that the content in many private schools is not relevant enough to Pakistan, for example, using English as medium of instruction while the country has Urdu as national language and a number of other languages that also need to be respected. I still believe in government education as the best and most relevant, provided the schools have textbooks, well-educated teachers, maintained schoolhouses, and so on. Then the government schools become ideal in building the nation for all people for tomorrow. The writer is a Norwegian senior Norwegian social scientist and specialist in refugee and emergency education currently based in Islamabad. Email: