Europe went through a major expansion and reorganisation of secondary and higher education in the 1960s and 1970s. It is about time that Pakistan follows suit albeit half a century belatedly. In my home country, Norway, for example, more than half of the yearly cohort of students continues to university, compared to a few percent in Pakistan. Norway with a small population of five million has more students and staff in higher education than Pakistan whose population is on its way towards two hundred million. Besides, in Norway there is 10-year compulsory education, followed by three years of upper secondary education, which is close to universal but not compulsory. We should add, too, that students with special education needs are catered for and that there is no illiteracy in the country. When comparing the two countries, it is important to note that Norway has had universal primary school for hundreds of years, originally with emphasis on religion and moral education, and from the last century, with increasing emphasis on arithmetic, history, geography, biology and secular subjects in general. This means that in Norway basic education and literacy have been in place for long, unlike in Pakistan, where the formal education system remains poor. Today, more than a third attend private schools, mainly children from better off families, a few percent attend madrassahs, notably the very poor, and the rest, attend government schools. A large proportion, especially girls, is not enrolled at all or they drop out before they have gained basic skills and knowledge. The Pakistan government does not provide universal and compulsory primary education, not even for the short five years of education that the country has. Only government schools follow a standard curriculum. The private schools do as they please, which means that they can teach in English and follow foreign curricula and take foreign exams, usually regulated by the British Cambridge exam. The candidates often take part of their higher education abroad. Most of the leaders are recruited from such people, who are half-foreign intellectually and attitudinally. What a terrible situation Pakistan needs a basic, compulsory core curriculum for all primary and secondary schools. At least three-quarters of the time should be spent on this curriculum, but there would still be enough time for private schools, and government schools, to emphasise areas of special interest, including alternative pedagogy, religious studies, foreign languages, special cultural bias, etc. But all pupils would sit for one, national exam, and then they could add their biases on top of it. Through such an approach we would be able to get Pakistanis who dont only look Pakistani, but who also think Pakistani. One important aspect of education is the social learning, which includes mixing children from different backgrounds as for class, religion, ethnicity, etc. And, more and more, boys and girls should learn together to gain respect and understanding for each other. Besides, boys always behave better when there are girls around, and they (i.e. boys) will become better pupils if they are in the same school and class with girls. And it is a fact that girls outperform boys in education, so we have to do something to help the boys, it seems, not only in Pakistan but worldwide. Pakistan has in the past given far less attention to education than it should have done - failing the interest of the country and its people. We have talked about Education for All (EFA) by 2015, as is the Millennium Development Goal for all countries. It is almost 10 years since I worked for UNESCO in Pakistan, at a time when there was little interest for allocating more funds for education in the country, and the World Bank, the major international financing institution, had also not gotten it clear that education is a fundamental requirement for development, and a human right too. True, quite a bit was done to increase the budgets for higher education, with the establishment of the Higher Education Commission (earlier the University Grants Committee). Some 50 percent of budget increases came in higher education. That was good, yet, it was wrong not also to increase the budgets to primary and secondary education, and to vocational and technical training and education, not to speak of special education, where only some 5 to 10 percent of the needy children get any help whatsoever. I may be wrong, but I have the impression now that there is a thrust in Pakistan to do something more serious to get EFA and further investment in education. Many poorer countries than Pakistan spend more on education. It is a matter of political priority. And we also need to find out why there is also strong resistance to education, not mainly amongst religious leaders and men in backward areas who dont think poor boys and girls need education, but from the elite, the feudal lords and many pillars of society who prefer status quo. The private sector and industry seem to think that they dont need better educated and healthy workers. Caste and class will lose power and control when there is good education, health services and living conditions for all. Pakistan will then become a better country, not only for the poor, but also for the rich. The upper segments of society, shall we say one quarter, take most of the pie, keep it and eat it alone - while others are close to starvation, getting frustrated and may become extremists, and in any case, their talent goes wasted. This is against everyones fair thinking. It is against Gods will because every human being has the same value. Then the important questions: Who can change all this? Who can make us tap into education as the vehicle for change? I have said that it is a political question. If there is a will, there is a way. However, if the politicians dont realise the need, it is also up to the education institutions themselves to advocate convincingly. This means in particular Pakistans universities, colleges and research institutions. They are the ones who can see most clearly the importance of education, research and innovation for development. We say, we live in a knowledge-based, competitive world. We must take the consequence of that. It is not a weakness to say we have slumbered in the past. It is strength to be able to identify mistakes and take correctional action. France is doing it today in higher education; it is changing many of the old concepts and investing more in the sub-sector. Some countries, like UK, seem to go the other way. So, this time, let us not look at UK but at France. And let us look at the initiatives taken by the Higher Education Commission. Little comes out of discussing whether it should be decentralised or not, better to talk about HECs ideas and actions. In the recent couple of months, HEC with the University of Gujrat and other institutions have taken important initiatives. First, to place social science research and education high on the agenda, for the first time ever in Pakistans history, and we all know, if we take time to think about it, that without thorough analysis and understanding of our society, development will be slow. National priorities should be agreed upon to develop the sector. Second, today, on May 26, 2011, HEC organises a national conference in Islamabad on 'Setting Standards for the 21st Century Pakistan. Obviously, that conference - and many operational meetings and budget allocations - will lead to Pakistan getting on to the education highway, using the great countrys talented young men and women for economic, social and economic development. University studies and research are paramount. The private sector must cooperate with these institutions, not only with NGOs. There is no lack of talent at home. Cooperation should also be expanded with foreign institutions, yes, including with Norway, which has small and excellent research environments, and it has Scandinavias largest private sector consultancy consortium situated within the Norwegian University of Science and Technology and the University of Oslo, Scandinavias largest. SINTEF, Foundation for Scientific and Industrial Research, can form a model for concrete innovation and action. In addition, little Norways many small research environments in the social sciences can also form ideal examples for how to evolve creative communities that can compete with the largest and wealthiest. None of us need to get the Nobel Prize. We just need to help our people to get more knowledge, skills and competence for our country. Truly, investment in education and research is paramount. n The writer is a senior Norwegian social scientist based in Islamabad.