UN Envoy promises $1 billion in education assistance over four years, demands govt action

An edited version of this article was first published in The Express Tribune on Mar 30, 2014.

Islamabad – The international community will support Pakistan with around $1 billion in financial assistance over the next four years to help with domestic efforts to deliver universal education in the country, United Nations special envoy on global education Gordon Brown announced on Saturday.

Brown, who is on a brief visit to Pakistan, said he met with top Pakistani federal and provincial government officials including Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif on Saturday to discuss improvements in the accessibility and quality of education in Pakistan, which has the world’s second-most highest number of out-of-school children at the primary school level.

“We want to set a 21-month goal that by December 2015 we have as many students in school in Pakistan as possible,” said Brown, who was flanked by Federal Minister of State for Education, Trainings and Higher Education Baleeghur Rehman and Governor Punjab Muhammad Sarwar during a press conference at the Jinnah Convention Centre.

“We will help you as the international community to meet your objective to get every girl and boy in school,” the former British prime minister said.

The education funds, some of which Brown said have already been pledged and some are being pledged, will be provided by different countries and organisations including the European Union, United Kingdom, the United Stated Agency for International Development, Scandinavian countries and gulf states.

The funding, which is expected to materialize during the tenure of the current federal government, could be spent on areas such as school buildings, teacher trainings and improving the quality of education through curriculum reform, Brown said.

In return, Brown said the world expects Pakistan to continue its efforts for education-for-all and at least double the education budget.

He said the international community also wants to make sure there are no child marriages in Pakistan, that child labour is outlawed and that Pakistani girls who want to get education do not face any discrimination. He proposed “child-free marriage zones” to be set up in Pakistan on a pilot project basis.

The UN envoy, who also met with provincial education officials during his visit, said he talked with Pakistani authorities about developing “concrete measures to actually get students in school instead of just promising them education.”

He said he saw a greater thrust for education in Pakistani federal and provincial governments and civil society at the moment.

“I see a consensus right across society that investment in education is far greater priority in Pakistan than it was a few years ago,” he said.

Girls form around four million of the total seven million out-of-school children in Pakistan. But Brown said he was equally impressed to see a determination from Pakistani girls themselves to fight for their right to education.

Some of that spirit was on display during a public gathering attended by Brown at the convention centre before the press conference, where female students spoke passionately about Pakistani women heroes and education.

At the gathering, minister Rehman said Pakistan will probably miss the Millennium Development Goal for universal primary education by December 2015. But he said that all political parties have realized that the state of education in the country must be improved.

He said the federal and provincial governments increased their education budgets for 2013-14 and the ministry is working to develop a uniform national curriculum.

Governor Sarwar said education should be a right for Pakistani children and not be a privilege.  Brown said the right to free and compulsory education is already enshrined in Pakistan’s constitution but work must be done on its implementation.

Pakistani children should hold their adults, their governments and the international community accountable to make them deliver better education, said Alice Albright, the Chief Executive Officer of the Global Partnership for Education (GPE).

Albright said Pakistan is now one of the 59 member countries of the GPE, which is a multilateral partnership that works to support improvement in basic education, especially for girls and children from marginalised communities.

Brown said official commitments and social determination can also together prevent security issues from derailing girls’ education.

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