Islamabad - Minister of State for Federal Education and Professional Training, Engineer Baligh-ur-Rehman yesterday said owing to the government’s efforts and support by the development partners and community members, the number of out-of-school children in the country has significantly decreased by two million during the last two years.

Addressing as a chief guest in a conference on ‘Peace Through Education’ organised by HRD Network (HRDN), International Rescue Committee (IRC) and other partners, the education minister said two years earlier, the number of out-of-school children was about 25.9 million that had now come down to around 24 million, according to the official statistics issued by June last year.

The event was attended by a large number of education experts, professionals, academics and policymakers. The minister said the number of out-of-school children of primary level has also dropped from earlier 6.67 million to six million.

“This shows the government’s commitment and resolve,” he remarked and added that in rare case, the provinces have allocated up to 25 percent of their budget for education. He said as low tax to GDP ratio of the country disallows ample fiscal space for education but even then it had almost doubled its spending on education. He said the government’s direction is positive but it requires more funds to achieve the desired targets.

Engineer Baligh-ur-Rehman said as the government is short of resources to support the schools in certain areas, around 18,000 community based education centers are operating in its collaboration.

He appreciated the community based education centres (CBECs) run by HRDN in Mohmand Agency, which the minister said had proved that the education can go all along.

He observed that the country’s foremost problem was access to education that demanded the establishment of more schools and also involve community and NGOs to establish the facilities in far-flung areas.

About the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals, he said a dedicated cell has been established in the ministry to pursue the set targets by 2030. He told the audience that the schools in Islamabad are being remodeled by equipping them with libraries, laboratories.

In his welcome address, Executive Director HRDN, Suhail Awan said with the support of its partners, the HRDN launched CBEC in Mohmand Agency in 2009 for the displaced and returned children of the conflict area. He said the CBEC has an enrolment of 3,200 children with 63 percent of them girls.

However, the sustainability and mainstreaming of such projects even beyond their time period was challenging task and called for capacity building of FATA education department to take it over.

He said the CBEC helped a lot to promote peace and in conflict resolution in the area and thanked the Dutch ministry of foreign affairs for funding the project. He revealed that courtesy to this programme, it was for the first time that Pakistan’s national flag was hoisted and national anthem was played in the area of Mohmand Agency, FATA.

The conference also featured a documentary that depicted the seven-year journey of the HRDN in Mohmand and successes of the project. Local community members lauded the establishment of schools believing it would help change the fate of their children.

Director UNESCO Vibeke Jensen said the target of getting all girls in schools cannot be achieved without the involvement of the community. As agreed globally, the children must be imparted quality and relevant education that could also promote cultural diversity and inclusiveness.

Head of Education Team of DFID Barbara Payne OBE said the United Kingdom has made biggest ever investment of around 800 million pounds in Pakistan’s education sector. She viewed that education sector could be improved by involving the community at district and family level. 

She also stressed to educate the children the good stories of the country by telling them majority of the schools in the country have not been affected by any conflict.

In her presentation on ‘Community Based Models of Education; Possibilities of Peace Building’, Adviser Education Aga Khan Foundation Jamila Razzaq talked about the case studies on CBECs in Mohmand Agency and Diamer district.

She viewed that to ensure success of the CBEC, it was important to respect the local culture and ensure quality of education to the satisfaction of local community. Stressing for involvement of NGOs, she also called for incentivizing the girl education, besides encouraging the community participation.

Country Representative of United States Institute of Peace Sehar Tariq opined that teaching critical thinking to children could lead to a tolerant society.

Besides for engaging the parents and transforming the examination system, she also called for introducing the initiatives those could sustain even after left by donor.