The multi-dimensional growth of a nation is dependent on the presence of qualified and dynamic human resources. The greater the proportion of qualified human resources, the greater the contribution of this population in making a country develop holistically. It is the presence of quality education that propels individuals and, in turn, nations to attain economic goals, and maintain sustainable growth with equity by providing the fruits of development for all. The provision of quality education then is a foundation for a vibrant democracy in which an informed citizenry can exercise its franchise to support an equitable growth of the nation. It supports growth in productivity, enhancing incomes and employment opportunities, raising efficiency thereby improving the quality of life.

Unfortunately, many Third World and developing countries are still unable to provide satisfactory educational opportunities to all the people in a qualitative manner. A number of developing countries have a dismal record on the delivery of basic services like education, health and sanitation, despite the fact that governments, as well as many donor agencies, have channeled significant resources into these services (World Development Report, 2004). The experience of many developing countries, including Pakistan, has shown us that millions of children have not been able to master a basic level of literacy or even grasped an adequate knowledge of numbers even after four to five years of schooling.

With millions of children out of school and education spending far below minimum benchmarks, a new UN report released recently says Pakistan is 50+ years behind in its primary and 60+ years behind in its secondary education targets. Pakistan, though, is not alone in missing its education targets with much of the world set to overshoot its deadline by more than half a century, the United Nations Global Education Monitoring Report 2016 said. It added that the 40 per cent of the world’s students are being taught in a language that is not their mother tongue.

World leaders agreed that by 2030 all girls and boys should be able to complete free quality primary and secondary education, but chronic under-funding is holding back progress, the report said. According to the report, Pakistan is struggling with its large out-of-school population including 5.6 million children out of primary schools – the most absolute number of children out of school anywhere in the world, though Liberia tops the ranking for the worst access to primary schools with 62 per cent proportion of children missing out on primary school. A further 5.5 million children are out of secondary schools (48 per cent of lower secondary school age children). Pakistan also has a staggering 10.4 million adolescents out of upper secondary school. There is also a wide gulf between school completion rate and education attainment between the rich and poor; urban and rural based and between boys and girls. Poor rural males have literacy rate of 64 per cent, but their female counterparts pale in comparison with 14 per cent.

The ASER 2014 survey, on which parts of the UN report are based, found that in rural Pakistan, the proportion of students in grade 6 who could read a grade 2 level story in local languages including Urdu, Sindhi or Pashto was 65 per cent while among all children aged 10 (the theoretical grade 6 age) the share was much lower at 31 per cent. Many 10-year-olds had never been to school, had already left (often because of not benefiting from the experience) or were in a lower grade and had not yet developed reading skills. While 89 per cent of grade 10 students could read very simple text, only 64 per cent of sampled 14-year-olds could do so, a difference of 25 percentage points.

ICT, which has quickly become essential for daily life and work in most countries, is still to catch on in Pakistan, partly due to lower literacy levels. A survey of 32 mostly middle income countries found that, on average in 2014 44 per cent of households used the internet at least occasionally (or had a smartphone) but in Pakistan it stood at eight per cent. One factor for this has been fewer resources allocated to education, with Pakistan committing only 11.3 per cent of total government expenditure to the sector as opposed to the recommended minimum benchmark of 15 per cent. Conflict was another aspect affecting education in the country. Between 2009 and 2012, the report said 1,000 or more education-related attacks took place in Pakistan. The report also pointed towards issues with curriculum, which have at times in Pakistan sparked violent conflict.

It noted that in 2000, textbooks introduced in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas was marginal towards a particular sect which bred contempt and ultimately a full blown conflict with violent confrontations between the two major sects in 2004-05 with subsequent curfews shutting down schools there for almost a year.

The time has come to examine the reasons behind the weak performance of students in order to improve the standard of education in rural areas. An acute shortage of staff; the lack of fulfilment of the Right to Education norms; the involvement of teachers in non-teaching work; a lack of good management and the employment of less efficient teachers were all factors that have created obstacles in the path of quality education. Additionally, the remuneration paid to teacher was very low, even below the wages daily laborers were getting in some states, thus effectively demoralizing teachers, resulting in their low performance.

To increase the quality of education at a child’s foundation stage, the curriculum framework, testing and teaching methods need to be improved. Towards this end, the use of innovative methods and adopting new models of education could be explored and tested by researchers according to the needs of the students in rural areas. Experimentation is the need of the hour with new methods for knowledge delivery. On the other, the quality of education should be maintained in the teaching–learning process. A successful, qualitatively sound education policy is urgently required to become the bedrock of national development in different spheres of political, economic, technical, scientific, social life. It is supply-side factors, such as the provision of infrastructure, implementation of a new policy and suitable environment which would automatically improve the quality of education at the grassroots levels. However, quantitative spending on education, training for teachers and providing infrastructure, though necessary, would not be fruitful unless the benefits accrued were properly assessed. Without the stress on quality, just addition of quantity may produce peculiar human beings.

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