President Asif Ali Zardari on Wednesday called for focused-attention to develop primary education facilities in the country, saying it was not merely a matter of education but also of national survival, development and security in the long run.
“The degree of focus on education today will determine the survivability and quality of life of the people tomorrow,” he said during his meeting with a delegation of the Pakistan Education Task Force (PETF) at the Aiwan-e-Sadr here.
The PETF is a recent initiative being implemented with the assistance of the UK with the objective to achieve the Millennium Development Goals of universal access and gender parity in the education sector.
The president said the government attached great importance to the development of the education sector and was focussing on not only bringing about a qualitative change in the education sector but also extending the network of educational institutions and eliminating ghost institutions in the far-flung areas.
He said the assistance of the international community was greatly needed in direct investments in the people of Pakistan, especially in the education sector. He said the government was aware of the fact that budgetary constraint was a major debilitating factor for the launching of various initiatives and providing incentives to the parents to persuade them to send their children to schools and that was why it was resorting to the international community to assist the government in the education sector especially.
He said lack of proper education facilities with poverty was not only hindering the national progress but also enabled the militants to mislead the impoverished youth by offering them free shelter and food in institutions that preached hatred and extremism.
However, the president said, merely more allocations and resources would not address the problems and issues in the education sector. “While it is important to increase allocations for education, it was no less important to ensure that the additional resources and increased allocations were also translated into enhancing the learning skills of the children,” he said.
The malaise that plagued the education sector was less that enough children did not go to schools and more that the children already going to schools were not learning well, the president said. He said quality education was a steel armour that equipped a student to fight the battle of life while spurious education was like a wooden armour and of no help in the battle of life. “We must provide our children and youth with the steel armour,” the president remarked.
He said quality education depended largely on quality teachers and quality curriculum, which in turn called for a shift in investment towards developing the human resources in the education sector, particularly in the primary schoolteachers.
Calling for giving more incentives to the primary schoolteachers, the president advised the government to examine the feasibility of pressing into service the incentive programme of the Benazir Income Support Programme and the associated Smart Card for this purpose. Giving incentives through the BISP would help create a new corp of quality primary schoolteachers to ensure that the children already going to school also learnt well.
Shahnaz Wazir Ali, co-chair of the PETF and the SAPM, briefed the president on achievements of the task force so far and said the PETF started its work by simplifying the national education policy to a 7-point agenda that consists of setting clear standards for learning, school performance and district performance; developing and implementing simple and transparent processes for monitoring purposes; informing citizens; providing state support and funding to non-government institutions, focussing on provision of quality text books and professional development for teachers, building the capacity and providing basic facilities for every school.
She said the government was visualizing 86% literacy by 2015 as compared to 57% of the present literacy rate with an objective of achieving universal primary education by 2015. She said that the focus of PETF was on improving the quality of education, equitable access, improving management and better education financing.
The members of the delegation included among others Special Assistance to Prime Minister Ms. Shahnaz Wazir Ali, SAPM, UK High Commissioner Adam Thomson, Ms. Mehnaz Aziz, Dr. Fareeha Zafar, Country Director World Bank Rachid Benmessaoud, Deputy Head of Programmes DFID David Taylor, Senior Human Development Advisor Dr. Philip Powell Davies, Director Unesco Islamabad Dr. Warren Mellor, Education Advisor GTS Atussa Ziai and acting Director USAID Islamabad Ms. Katie Donohoe.