In 1947, Quaid-i-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah said: “Education is a matter of life or death for Pakistan. The world is progressing so rapidly that without the requisite advance in education, not only shall we be left behind others but we may be wiped out altogether.” And yet, if the global knowledge economy were a school and Pakistan its student, Pakistan would currently get a failing grade.

The global average primary school enrolment is a shockingly low 87 percent and yet Pakistan’s is even lower at 56 percent. The economic opportunity cost of not educating Pakistan’s children is the same as suffering a 2010 flood every single year. The nation’s health and its stability are affected too. This is an education emergency.

Seventeen million school age children are out of school. That’s equivalent to the entire population of Karachi. For every 10 kids out of school around the world, one is Pakistani.

Progress has been made. Under the 18th Amendment, for the first time, education is no longer a privilege, but a fundamental right for all children. Article 25-A says: “The State shall provide free and compulsory education to all children of the age of 5 to 16 years.” But this progress has not been fast enough. Still barely one child in four makes it into secondary education. Children are a country’s future and Pakistan is failing its future. No country can follow the path to a happy future if it cannot read the road signs. Nothing short of an education transformation is required.

The UK is already working with Pakistan to assist in this necessary transformation in Pakistan’s education. The UK has more to offer Pakistan on education than any other country. UK and Pakistan are linked by more than just our history and language. More Pakistanis still take English exams than any other nationality outside a formal government education sector. UKAid and the British Council are engaged in vocational education in Pakistan, and UKAid is investing nearly the equivalent of Rs 100 billion over four years into primary education.

UKAid will help four million extra Pakistani children into primary school by 2015 - about as many as are in primary school in England. We are aiming to train 90,000 teachers, fund six million textbook sets, and rebuild schools in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa destroyed by militants or floods.

Imagine lifting primary school enrolment across Pakistan to the world average of 87 percent within five years. It is entirely possible. Imagine the social and political partnerships that would have accomplished this - between media, civil society, the private sector and politicians. With parents mobilised to demand, and political leaders galvanised to deliver, better education for children.

Imagine then how good the nation would feel about its achievement and how much it would want to complete the easier rest of the journey to 100 percent. All it needs is leadership.

The Pakistan and the UK are connected, joined at the hip. We cannot flourish if you do not flourish. You cannot flourish if your population is uneducated. The Quaid-i-Azam recognised the importance of education in 1947. Sixty-five years on, the UK is working in partnership across the country to tackle the current education emergency and to help to secure a prosperous future for Pakistan.

n    The writer is British High Commissioner to Pakistan.