As the deadline to enrol all children of school-going age is approaching in 2015, it has become increasingly clear that Pakistan will miss both the targets of Education for All (EPA) and Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

According to a report, “The state of Pakistan’s children 2012”, launched by the Society for the Protection of the Rights of Child (SPARC), almost 25 million children and adolescents are out of school in Pakistan; out of which seven million (aged between three to five) have yet to receive primary schooling. Pakistan is ranked at 113 out of 120 countries on the Education Development Index. It has the lowest youth literacy rate with 70 percent and only 61percent of girls are literate as compared to 79 percent boys in the age group of 15-24 years.

Education for All (EPA) is a global movement by the UN, which was launched in 1990 at the World Education Conference in Thailand to achieve universal primary education. Over 155 countries and more than 150 representatives of various organisations had pledged to make concrete efforts to put children in school by the turn of the decade in 2000. The project failed and the international community made a fresh effort at the World Education Forum in Dakar in 2000, in the presence of more than 1100 world representatives to achieve the ideal of education for all by 2015.

The EPA initiative and the education related Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) are complementary, as MDG 2 is about universal primary education and MDG 3 talks about gender equality and empowerment of women that is not possible without education.

After years-long of efforts by Pakistani authorities and international donors, the situation remains dismal. The important issue of increasing allocation for education is far from the reality, despite commitment by the political parties before the 2013 elections. The EPA Global Monitoring Report launched in October 2012 says that Pakistan has some of the worst global education indicators, as it has the world’s second highest number of children out of school, reaching 5.1 million in 2010. This is equivalent to one in 12 of the world’s out of school children.

Two-thirds of Pakistan’s out of school children are girls, amounting to over three million. From 1999 to 2010, the primary net enrolment ratio rose from 58 percent to 74 percent, but the ratio for girls is still 14 percentage points behind the ratio for boys, leaving only eight girls to every 10 boys in primary school.

The country's 49.5 million adults are illiterate, two-thirds are women. This is the third largest globally and there are indications that the number of illiterate adults will increase to 51 million by 2015. Pakistan’s spending on education is very low and has decreased from 2.6 percent of gross national product (GNP) in 1999 to 2.3 percent GNP in 2010.

In 2010, the country allocated only 10 percent of government spending on education. Pakistan is unique country, which spends around seven times more on the military than on primary education.

Pakistan Coalition for Education (PCE), an independent group working on increasing literacy in the country, in its report "Looking Beyond the EFA Goals and the DMGs" maintains: “Pakistan was far behind the regional countries.” Bangladesh, which initially had to battle with a range of issues in education, has now come a long way. It has been able to raise the net enrolment rate from 87 percent in 2005 to 94 percent in 2009. India too appears to take education seriously and its literacy rate has risen to 74 percent in 2011 from 65 percent in 2001.

According to PCE, Pakistan sadly has yet to make a dogged commitment to improve the literacy rate that was about 10 percent at the time of independence and as of 2010-11, it stood at 58 percent that is far below the target of expanding it up to 86 percent by 2015. The country has so far only been able to achieve an increase of 66 percent in net enrolment rate, against the target of 100 percent. Projections made by the Pakistan Bureau of Statistics (PBS) indicate that the country will only be able to raise it up to 63 percent by 2015-16.

According to the EPA Global Monitoring Report, the long-term effect of neglecting children’s education is that there is a huge skills deficit among young Pakistanis now facing the world of work. Over one in three young people in Pakistan have not completed primary school and, as a result, do not have the basic skills they need for work. Equivalent to a total of 12 million, 15 to 24 year olds lack basic skills, which is the second highest number in developing countries.

According to the head of PCE, national and domestic resources, expertise and assistance alone cannot turn the situation around. She maintains: "We need to engage with the ongoing global efforts to set the post-2015 education agenda, to be able to voice our concerns and influence the debate. We should make a strong case for education in Pakistan so that the future strategy is sensitive to our needs and context and corresponds well to our issues, priorities and concerns."

The writer is journalist and academic.