The myth of universal primary education
Sept 24: ALL roads point to the need for quality education to save Pakistan from
extremism and unsustainable growth. The paradox of high growth rates and low
social sector indicators continues to plague the country.
articulation of $925 per capita income almost sounds indecent when juxtaposed
against a literacy rate of 54 per cent and poverty rate of 24 per
More than half the children of five to nine years are not enrolled
in school. Many of them drop out before gaining any enduring learning
experiences at the primary level.
To meet the challenges of Education for
All (EFA) goals and the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), and to address the
shortfalls of the formal education system, non-formal education is being touted
as a pragmatic option. The federal ministry of education through the National
Education Foundation and the Punjab government have allocated huge resources for
launching over 30,000 NFE centres in the next three years.
education is "any organised educational activity outside the established formal
system; the audience includes children and youth". The key characteristic of NFE
is diversity in educational/learning content, the target group, timings and
Some critical questions that need to be asked
are: should there be a potential linkage between NFE and formal education as a
policy option? Is there merit in persisting with UPE alone through formal and
non-formal delivery modes knowing that it is not sufficient for the 21st century
on its own? Does the pursuit of UPE alone not undermine learning and the
constitutional rights of children?
What are the target groups who could
be potentially supported through the non-formal bridge programmes? There are
three categories who emerge:
· NES: those who Never Enrolled in Schools
• Dropouts: those who entered school but left without completing
a particular level of education at any stage of that education cycle. The
dropouts estimated at the primary level are 31.3 per cent (NEC, 2005) and those
who make it to grade 10 are only 23 per cent of the target population of 37.5
• Under Primary or Under Middle or Under Matric are the students
who manage to enter school/education programmes, persist up to the last stage of
that particular level, but withdraw or fail prior to the completion of the
particular cycle at grades five, eight or 10.
Category I can be
immediately supported for readiness programmes in non-formal centres and then
mainstreamed into formal or equivalent schools. Category II who dropped out of
schools and are of school-going age can also be helped through catch-up
programmes. Category III of under primary, middle and secondary can be helped
through focused accelerated programmes.
What is clear is that the
non-formal approach is seen as a bridging, transitional programme for building
social capital and ensuring mainstreaming with the formal systems of education
and training. It is no substitute for formal education.
Yet we have a
fallacious obsession with Universal Primary Education (UPE) which is officially
seen as a critical milestone for basic education.
evidence, the myth of UPE promoted furiously by the World Bank continues to hold
sway. It needs to be purged as a policy dogma by national and international
stakeholders. Statistics from the Labour Force Survey (LFS) 2004-05 in Pakistan
indicate that the number of children of 10 to 14 years entering the labour force
has increased dramatically. Many of these new entrants are primary graduates,
whose only option with low education and skills is child labour, thus
Seen against this backdrop, the stark denial of
opportunities for transition beyond primary is a reminder to policymakers that
the need to redefine basic education in Pakistan is long and urgently overdue.
The concept of basic education, in terms of content and the number of years of
schooling, varies across countries. In some, the primary level is considered
basic education, while in others eight years of schooling is considered to be
mandatory. Pakistan has moved towards a sector wide approach in its education
policy since 2001 but it is still stuck in the UPE 'official'
Analysis and evidence over the years has proved that the
flawed universal primary education (UPE) approach is not cost-effective and even
after completion of the primary level children are still vulnerable to
exploitation. This undermines investment in primary schooling, with high
internal inefficiencies that we can ill afford.
Under the sheer social
and quantitative challenge, formal and non-formal service delivery modes cannot
afford to remain isolated. Non-formal programmes tend to operate in isolation.
Some programmes have successfully experimented with linkages between the two
streams for effective and early mainstreaming. The government is open to use of
public sector schools in the afternoons for non-formal centres making monitoring
and transition to the formal easy.
At the policy level, the guiding
agenda should shift from UPE to UEE or Universal Elementary Education, defining
basic education as at least eight years of schooling until 2015, and then
progressing to 10 or 12 years by 2025. It is important that all programmes of
school improvement or NFE bridging 'catch-up' programmes are encompassed under
the umbrella of Quality Basic Education (QBE).
Non-formal education or
QBE should be seen primarily as a bridging programme towards the mainstream for
children between the ages of five to 14/15 years from the primary to secondary
levels. Where possible, NFE interventions should be located in formal schools
(public and private) to support improvement in formal education as
In order to ensure that students enrolled in QBE programmes are
mainstreamed successfully and perform well in regular/formal schools, the
curriculum for NFE must be aligned to the national curriculum without
compromises on condensed versions. This must be supported by a regular
assessment using national/provincial standards to acquaint students with
assessment formats and expectations.
All compensatory programmes eligible
for formal schools and the poor such as free textbooks, uniforms,
stipends/social safety nets, free meals should also be eligible for children and
households in QBE programmes.
It is, therefore, essential that all NFE
options must explore linkages with the national and provincial technical and
vocational initiatives appropriate to local contexts.
Many myths need to
be debunked in the face of hard evidence. Milestones such as UPE have negligible
influences on households' decisions to move out of poverty or illiteracy. The
reason for an apparently low demand for education in Pakistan must be found in
the supply deficit, where poor quality primary education is not perceived as
The country needs to move closer to Article 37 (b) of
the Constitution that requires the state to provide compulsory secondary
education to its citizens. This is essential if it wants to create peace within
and ensure the fulfillment of fundamental rights.
By Baela Jamil (Dawn)
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|Updated: 14 Oct, 2014|