While Pakistan is lagging behind in the race for achieving MDGs and six EFA goals by the end of 2015, the world is marching ahead with preparations of the agenda for Education Beyond 2015.

The President of the UN General Assembly and the Secretary General are heading initiatives to finalize the Post-2015 goals and targets by September 2015.

In this connection, regional meetings in all the continents are being held to come up with recommendations. Earlier this month, 20 education ministers and senior education specialists from public and private sectors as well as NGOs from Asia and Pacific countries met in Bangkok and developed an Asia-Pacific Statement on Education Beyond 2015. The Bangkok Statement contains recommendations which will be considered later at the World Education Forum to be held in South Korea next year.

The first World Education Forum was held in the year 1990 at Jomtien in Thailand where 10 year education targets were fixed for all participant countries including Pakistan. Pakistan fell far short of the committed targets.

According to the preamble of the Bangkok Statement, the over-arching goal is to “ensure equitable and inclusive quality education and lifelong learning by 2015”. The statement recognizes that the Dakar agenda remains “unfinished” and calls for an expanded vision of EFA for meeting emerging challenges including demographic changes, migration, climate change, environmental degradation and technological divides.

Six Asia Pacific Regional Priority Action Areas were outlined as: One, Lifelong learning for all: Equitable and inclusive access to quality learning for people of all ages and at all levels of learning, from early childhood care and education to tertiary education in formal and non-formal settings. A goal of 12 years of free and compulsory education for all by 2030 is strongly recommended. Two, equity and equality: a commitment to addressing all forms of marginalization as well as disparities and inequalities, including gender inequality. Three, skills and competencies for life and work: education should provide youth and adults with the skills they need to pursue decent work and other opportunities amidst challenging times brought on by socioeconomic and demographic transformations. There should also be an emphasis on learning methods that encourage young people to be creative, innovative and to think critically. Four, quality and teachers: to ensure that all learners are taught by professionally-trained, motivated and well-supported teachers. Five, Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) for education: ICTs must be fully utilized to achieve the post-2015 education agenda to improve access to education particularly in remote areas, as well as to support teaching and learning and strengthen education management. Six, governance and financing: a commitment to establishing legal and policy frameworks that promote accountability and transparency in education and actively involve all stakeholders. Public investment in education should reach the internationally recognized benchmarks of 6% of GDP or 20% of total public expenditure devoted to education. Resources should be distributed equitably across education sub-sectors and geographic locations, with specific attention paid to marginalized groups.

The Bangkok Statement concludes by requesting that UNESCO, along with UNICEF and with the support of other international partners, continue to spearhead the development of the global education agenda going into the United Nations Summit in September 2015 and beyond.

The Bangkok Statement is indeed a compendium of the most appropriate and forward-looking ideas and prepositions.

The problem in Pakistan is that basic education, even literacy, which is essential for all citizens to be able to become functional in society, is yet to be accorded priority. While there is a surfeit of rhetoric, hardly a day passes when a minister or a senior functionary does not underscore the importance of education. Quranic sayings are quoted to embellish speeches and statements. Facts, however, belie these tall promises. Our allocation for education remains one of the lowest in the world. The world average literacy rate is 84%. Ours is less than 60%. The quality of public school education is deplorable. 30 to 45% of enrolled children drop out in the first 3 years.

Imitating India, we have introduced a new Article in the Constitution making it obligatory on the State to provide free education to all children of ages 5 to 16. The enabling legislation to enforce this so-called Right to Education has yet to be promulgated in KPK, Punjab and Balochistan. Sindh, by way of a ritual requirement, has passed the required law but has yet to implement it. Thousands of school buildings in this province are still occupied by waderas and other influential people.

Sometime back, all political parties in a meeting organized by Pildat in cooperation with UNESCO, committed themselves to strive to achieve EFA goals. Little, however, has been done to honour this pledge.

The voiceless 60 million illiterate Pakistanis have no representation in the elected houses of the country.

It is also sad that UNESCO in Pakistan which is the lead UN agency for the promotion of literacy, has of late made no serious efforts to help ensure that government realizes the obligation to meet its commitment to achieve 86% literacy and universal primary education by the year 2015. No National EFA/Literacy Review Roundtables have been held.

The UN Secretary General’s Special Envoy on Education, Mr. Gordon Brown visited Islamabad earlier this year not only to remind Pakistan to speed up its efforts to achieve MDGs and EFA goals, but also committed the UN to provide all necessary funds for this purpose. Little has been done to follow up Gordon Brown’s advice and assurances. It is most unfortunate that after the 18th Amendment, there is only a nominal ministry for education and no national effort to monitor and goad provincial endeavors. As head of PACADE-the National NGO for Literacy and Continuing Education, I have sought to alert UN Agencies in Pakistan to seriously pursue the UN Secretary General’s Education First initiative. The response leaves much to be desired. It is time Islamabad heeds the directive of the head of the organization. It is commendable that Iqbal Ahsan has come up with Vision 2025. Hopefully, he will spare some time to focus on the needs for accelerating the achievement of literacy and other EFA goals.

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