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SDGs and Pakistan

Postcolonial Pakistan and the Promise of Quality and Inclusive Education for All: The Aga Khan Schools and the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)(Part 1)

Introduction

Over the next couple of months, I will be writing a series of blog posts on the challenges facing Pakistan in relation to development and education, and the prospects and limits of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) as a way of understanding and addressing these challenges.

In this first blog, I introduce Pakistan as a postcolonial nation-state; this is important for understanding and contextualising ongoing challenges to development and education in the country. I then discuss the SDGs’ agenda and its relevance to the discourse of development and especially to education in Pakistan.

The subsequent blog will focus on the role of the Aga Khan Development Network (AKDN) and more specifically the Aga Khan Education Service, Pakistan (AKESP) in contributing to development and education in some of the remote, isolated, and marginalised regions of Pakistan such as the two districts of Chitral – Upper Chitral and Lower Chitral – in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province of Pakistan.

I write these blogs drawing on my Ph.D. research project entitled Educational Leadership and the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in Postcolonial Pakistan. This project explores opportunities and challenges for educational leaders in delivering on the promise of quality and inclusive education in the Aga Khan Schools in Chitral, Pakistan.

Postcolonial Pakistan: challenges for development at the start of the 21st century

Pakistan became a separate Islamic nation-state as a result of the partition of the Indian Subcontinent at the end of the British colonial rule in India in 1947. It is a country of more than 214 million people.  There are four provinces – Punjab, Sindh, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, and Balochistan – and two self-governing territories under Pakistan’s control -Azad Jammu and Kashmir, and Gilgit-Baltistan in present Pakistan (see map below). The population consists of diverse ethnic groups, mainly Punjabis, Pashtuns, Sindhis, Saraikis, Muhajirs, Baloch along with many other smaller groups. Majority of the population, around 96.03%, is Muslim and the rest comprises of Hindus, Christians, Ahmadis, Baha’is, Sikhs, Parsis, Kalash, Buddhists, and Jains.

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As a postcolonial state, Pakistan has confronted numerous challenges since its inception. Poverty, overpopulation, corruption, poor governance, political instability, illiteracy, terrorism, tensions with India, and within-state religious and sectarian tensions, and a string of natural disasters (earthquakes and floods) are the core challenges for the country.

The initial challenge of dealing with the cross-border mass migration was caused due to the hasty formation of separate Muslim and Hindu states Pakistan and India, that left many thousands of people living on the ‘wrong’ side of the border. This challenge was rooted in Britain’s colonial policy of divide and rule in handling the subcontinent’s Hindu and Muslim subjects. When people struggled to get into the nation of their religious majority, violence broke out and thousands of people suffered from brutal killings and looting on both sides of the border. Between fourteen to sixteen million people were forced to leave amidst killings of around one million and some commentators have argued provocatively, that this was the first large-scale incidence of ethnic cleansing in the world (see Reid and Burky). The proportion of the Muslim population in the newly established country increased from 75% to 95% as a result of mass migration. Since partition, Pakistan and India have fought wars in 1948, 1965, 1971, and 1999 and tensions continue to exist on the borders.

The state assumed that Islam as a common religion would provide a shared identity to the diverse ethnic groups leading to national cohesion and harmony. However, despite this effort, various ethnic, linguistic and sectarian tensions continued to plague the country. The ethnic and linguistic differences led to the split of the country and the emergence of Bangladesh as a separate country in 1971.

Situated in a hostile neighborhood, the perceived threats emanating from a hostile India and an unfriendly Afghanistan, have fuelled military spending in Pakistan. This has diverted huge resources to defense at the cost of the development of the people. Such a defense-centric policy has strengthened the military institution at the cost of other political and bureaucratic institutions by giving the defense forces a central place in access to resources, decision-making as well as privileges. The military has directly ruled the country for 35 years through frequent coups at different points in time. None of the elected Prime Ministers, except once, has been able to complete the tenure of office, and political governments remain keen to enlist the military’s goodwill. The prevailing corruption in politics and the bureaucracy, and the politicians’ attempts to bolster their own power by inviting the military to take over the reign of power are major factors in preventing democracy from flourishing in the country.

Population growth is a major challenge for development. There are serious concerns about the validity of the official figures pertaining to the current population and the actual population is said to be much higher. World Population Review 2020 reports a population of more than 222 million, a doubling from 1990 to 2019. As a result Pakistan’s ranking moved from 8th to 5th largest in the world. The unprecedented population growth contributes to slow economic growth, unemployment, and consequently to poverty in the country. With the current rate of growth, the population of the country is expected to reach 403 million by 2050.

It can be argued that some of Pakistan’s problems have their roots in the colonial past and that these create legacies in policies and practices in the present time. As a postcolonial state, Pakistan inherited the existing colonial structures and systems in fields including civil service, bureaucracy, military, judiciary, and education. The colonial structure and systems continue to exist and influence until the present time at the expense of a truly participatory, self-conceived, and self-directed development model for the country. As a result, the country presents a picture of a complex postcolonial nation-state, posing severe challenges for development and education.

The SDGs, education, and development in Pakistan

In light of the key challenges confronting the country, the SDGs are relevant to the discourse of development and especially to education in Pakistan. The SDGs consist of 17 goals and 169 targets, constituting a global framework for sustainable development through addressing extreme poverty, inequalities, and protecting the environment. The promise for

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education is articulated in the form of SDG 4 that seeks to ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all. Pakistan demonstrated its commitment to the agenda in October 2015 by becoming the first country in the world to adopt the SDGs as its national development agenda and having endorsed by the parliament. In this context, the SDGs shape the development discourse in Pakistan in relation to the challenges confronting the country.

The Constitution of Pakistan guarantees education as a fundamental right of all citizens. The Article 25A of the Constitution states that: “The State shall provide free and compulsory education to all children of the age of five to sixteen years in such manner as may be determined by law.” The public sector caters to the educational needs of 57% of the students as compared to 43% in the private sector. However, the performance of public sector education has been poor. Pakistan has been persistently performing poorly on all major education indicators; access to education, enrolment, literacy and numeracy, retention and completion, financial and human resource, learning environment, and governance of the school.

The adult literacy rate is 62.3% comprising 72.5% males and 51.8% females, with substantial disparities on criteria such as geography, the rural-urban divide, socio-economic status, and disability. The total number of school-aged children (5 – 16 years) is 51.53 million, and of these 28.68 million are attending school, while  22.84 million children do not attend school. This makes Pakistan the world’s second-highest in terms of out-of-school children, 44% of the cohort population being in this category.

Apart from access to education, the quality of education children receive is worrisome. Many of the children attending school suffer from a ‘learning crisis’ or ‘ learning poverty’ which means students in schools are not learning basic literacy and numeracy. This problem is more severe in Pakistan when compared to other low-or middle-income countries. For instance, 75% of children attending schools in Pakistan cannot read and understand a simple text by age 10, as compared to the overall average of 58% for South Asia.

Addressing the problem of access and quality is critical to progress towards the broader agenda of an inclusive, quality for all agenda as envisioned in SDG 4. It is encouraging to note that the current National Education Framework attempts to contextualise the agenda for education at the national, provincial, and district level for effective implementation. This framework sets out four strategic priorities for immediate action

  1. addressing the issue of out-of-school-children;
  2. bringing uniformity in education standards;
  3. improving the quality of education; and
  4. enhancing access to and relevance of skills training.

Many schools, particularly in the rural context, suffer from lack of basic infrastructure and resources. Public investment in education is minimal and has remained around 2% of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) against a notional commitment of 4 % and the recommendation of 4 to 6% of GDP or 15 to 20% of the total public expenditure in the Incheon Declaration. A large portion of the allocated budget for education (92%) is spent on salaries, and even the remaining funds dedicated to development such as school facilities, training, monitoring and supervision, and curriculum development, is not spent efficiently due to poor decision-making, failure to empower educational leaders working in school and district education offices as well as poor management and governance. Historically, educational governance and management have been poor in the country. Due to the low performance of public sector education, parents preferred private sector schools. However, during the past few years, there have been some improvements in the public education sector in terms of upgrading facilities, ensuring teachers’ presence through the biometric system, and induction of teachers based on merit. These improvements have meant increased enrolments in the public education sector and a decrease in the private education sector (see ASER-Pakistan report). The increased number of students in public schools indicates the confidence of parents in the school public sector education.  

Conclusion

Given these challenges for Pakistani education, the SDGs provide an opportunity for collective action and reflection on the local needs and priorities in the global context. Pakistan has shown enthusiasm to adopt the SDGs at its own development goals based on national and international commitments. However, the state’s policies historically fall short in the implementation phase. Pakistan has not been able to meet its commitments in any of the previous national education policies. Likewise, international commitments have not been met. For instance, Pakistan failed to achieve the goal for the Education For All (EFA) and lies at the bottom in the region (South Asia) on the EFA Development Index. The targets not achieved in EFA are now part of the SDGs’ agenda. In the implementation phase, progress has been very slow even though it has been five years since the SDGs were adopted. The 2020 Sustainable Development Report, shows that Pakistan stands at 134th out of 166 countries in the SDG Index Score with 56.2 scores against the regional score of 67.2 for East and South Asia. This progress is based on data collected before the outbreak of the pandemic. When the impact of the COVID-19 is accounted for, the situation maybe even worse than shown in the report. For achieving the SDGs agenda the government must focus on the implementation of the plan at the national, provincial, and district levels.    

My next blog (Part 2) will focus on the Aga Khan Development Network (AKDN) – its history, development approach, and contribution to development and education in Pakistan and particularly to some of the remote and underserved regions such as Chitral in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province of Pakistan.

By Mir Zaman Shah

PhD scholar School of Education, RMIT University Melbourne Australia

22 replies on “Postcolonial Pakistan and the Promise of Quality and Inclusive Education for All: The Aga Khan Schools and the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)(Part 1)”

The blog offers a comprehensive introduction to the education system of Pakistan in reference to SDGs. As outlined, the current state of education can be traced to the challenges faced by the postcolonial Pakistani state after partition. The deplorable condition of the education system despite its commitment to SDGs is unfortunate and requires urgent attention.

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a brief, however, comprehensive report on the challenges of Pakistan. The challenges have rightly been mentioned. the strategic importance of Pakistan’s location and the cost on military due to threats have clearly been portrayed. Adaptation of policies and and bitter history of implementation are the key features behind educational crises, which the scholar has mentioned

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Great work, the blog would indeed have big contribution toward our education system, look forward to see more progress. Good luck!!

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From this blog, it can be concluded that most of the issues of Pakistan have their origins in the colonial past and that in the modern-day, these established legacies are quite interwoven in laws and procedures. As a post-colonial state, in areas including civil service, bureaucracy, army, courts, and schooling, Pakistan inherited the current colonial structures and systems. At the expense of a truly participatory, self-conceived, and self-directed model of development for the region, the imperial structure and institutions survive and thrive and dominate until the present moment. As a result, the country presents a picture of a complex postcolonial nation-state, posing severe challenges for development and education.
If education and health sectors are considered as key ‘policy investments’ for future generation, then it is obvious that in the longer-run it will bring equality and equity amongst the local population. However, existing wider policy gaps in primary to higher secondary education can be curtailed by introducing a robust and once for all ‘Education Policy’ in Balochistan province, which further requires de-politicizations of Education Department. Once the culture of de-politicisations is introduced, then Government of Balochistan can launch the ‘Agha Khan Rural Support-Education Model’ as pilot-project in all districts of Balochistan and this may bring a significant change in attitudes towards education in rural areas and offer a glimmer of hope for the future generation.

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The blog provides rich and update information on Pakistan’s postcolonial era with United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals (UN SDGs) with great efforts of Aga Khan Education Service Pakistan (AKES, P) in some under develop regions.
My observation and viewpoint show that the existing status of Education of Pakistan demands more strategic, consistent, and technology-oriented approach for educational development in Pakistan. In other words, we need to use Technology as a tool to ensure quality education to produce skillful and smart professional human resources in Pakistan with more strong support of UN SDGs.
After reading contents of the blog facts, figures, and events I feel that most problems of Pakistan are due to lack of quality and professional education. My experience shows that today’s job market around the globe demands more skillful and professional human resources especially technologically skills workforce.

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Good bai mirzaman. Well briefed and well described the post-colonial state nations.
Afghan migrations are the main source.
As for as SDGs concern now the present govt taking keen interest to promote public sector schools to compare other private institutions, and monitoring already been started.
Which will be helpful for achievement of SDG goals.
Any how good work brar. Appreciated 👏👏👏

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A very well written blog – I tend to agree that the current education system in Pakistan is a continuation of the traditional colonial education system which does not fulfil the needs of Pakistan in the 21st century and it does not even match Pakistan’s ideology. Due to the unavailability of developmentally appropriate practices and a culturally responsive education system, the process of learnings in Pakistan is not up to the mark therefore our education system is unable to compete with the education system of the developed world.
Education system in Pakistan is class based. Public schools and low-cost private schools cater for children of the middle and lower-middle classes, and high-cost elite private schools cater for children of the upper class whereas religious schools cater for children from the poorest families of the country. Public, private and religious education sectors all follow different curricula and textbooks. The education systems with different curricula cause many problems for the society. I look forward to read your future blogs – many thanks

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I found this paper really informative as it presisely highlits the diverse educational challenges in the country and future goals; SDGs . Though there are many factors affecting quality education, i think poor qulity of teacher education has been the most devastating one. I would be more interested in the next blog regarding role of AKESP with a particular focuss in the district of Upper and Lower Chitral. Keep it up.

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Excellent and well-articulated blog that focuses on the socio-cultural and educational structure of Pakistan and posing the main challenges that are further exacerbated by the stern and strict colonial policies. You have excellently used the postcolonial literature in contemporary Pakistan. Indeed our country has its unique own value because of its unique socio-political position in South Asia. As a postcolonial state, Pakistan differs from other countries because it did not exist at the time when the Britisher made their colonies in subcontinent, but colonial policies were stretched and borrowed in into our state. Therefore, postcolonial literature can prove to be a valuable tool to discuss and debate on the challenges confronting to SDG’s with a prime focus on education in contemporary Pakistan. I hope to see many more from you and would happy to write an other article that argue on why Pakistan has not been able to meet its commitments in any of the previous national education policies and the reason of occupying the bottom position in terms of educational equality?

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Excellent and well-articulated blog that focuses on the socio-cultural and educational structure of Pakistan and posing the key challenges that are further exacerbated by the stern and strict colonial policies. You have excellently used the postcolonial literature in contemporary Pakistan. Indeed, our country has its unique own value because of its unique socio-political position in South Asia. As a postcolonial state, Pakistan differs from other countries because it did not exist at the time when the Britisher made their colonies in subcontinent, but colonial policies were stretched and borrowed in into our state. Therefore, postcolonial literature can prove to be a valuable tool to discuss and debate on the challenges confronting to SDG’s focusing primely on education in contemporary Pakistan. I hope to see many more from you and would be happy to write another article that argue on why Pakistan has not been able to meet its commitments in any of the previous national education policies and the reason of occupying the bottom position in terms of educational equality?

Like

Excellent and well-articulated blog that focuses on the socio-cultural and educational structure of Pakistan and posing the key challenges that are further exacerbated by the stern and strict colonial policies. You have excellently used the postcolonial literature in contemporary Pakistan. Indeed, our country has its unique own value because of its unique socio-political position in South Asia. As a postcolonial state, Pakistan differs from other countries because it did not exist at the time when the Britisher made their colonies in subcontinent, but colonial policies were stretched and borrowed in into our state. Therefore, postcolonial literature can prove to be a valuable tool to discuss and debate on the challenges confronting to SDG’s with a prime focus on education in contemporary Pakistan. I hope to see many more from you and would be happy if you write another article that argues on why Pakistan could not meet its commitments in any of the previous national education policies and the reason of occupying the bottom position in terms of educational equality?

Like

Excellent and well-articulated blog that focuses on the socio-cultural and educational structure of Pakistan and posing the main challenges that are further exacerbated by the stern and strict colonial policies. You have excellently used the postcolonial literature in contemporary Pakistan. Indeed our country has its unique own value because of its unique socio-political position in South Asia. As a postcolonial state, Pakistan differs from other countries because it did not exist at the time when the Britisher made their colonies in subcontinent, but colonial policies were stretched and borrowed in into our state. Therefore, postcolonial literature can prove to be a valuable tool to discuss and debate on the challenges confronting to SDG’s with a prime focus on education in contemporary Pakistan. I hope to see many more from you and would be happy if you write an other article that argues on why Pakistan has not been able to meet its commitments in any of the previous national education policies and the reason of occupying the bottom position in terms of educational equality?

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The article is very comprehensive with respect to development and key challenges in education system in Pakistan. This article highlights the broad reasons due to which Pakistan is not achieving the targets of education with respect to literacy and quality education. According to the scholar the key issues are there in policy level like budget allocation at national level etc. I have work experience in teaching and administration to work with public sector as well as private sector in rural and urban areas of Pakistan. I believe that the main reason of education crises in Pakistan at implementation stage is due to lack of accountability in our education instituitions particularly in public sector.
In the given article I learnt two new terms ‘learning-crises’ and ‘learning-poverty’. These terms are very attarctive and interesting for me as a Ph.D scholar. I will study and search more about these two terms. I also waiting for second part of this article which is about the role and contributions of AKESP with respect to socio-economic development in Upper and Lower Chitral in KPK Pakistan.
Overall, it is very articulated and informative article for policy makers and practioners. Keep it up.

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This publications reveals the needs and improvement of education in Pakistan’s education terminologies. It is a brief study that tries to draw our attention and responsibilities towards educational needs

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A very good analytical attempt to comprehend the basic and deep rooted flaw in the educational system and subsequent policies of the country. Though Pakistan had inherited the colonial legacy in each and every field but it in education it even couldnt hold the status que of colonial time. The frequent educational framworks poor policies weak implementation and above all lack of resources all led to the educational crisis in the country as righly mentioned in the Blog.Aftr more than 73 years of national life there is no uniformity and consensus in the educational system ultimately resulting into educational chaos in the society.
I am agree with the author about the poor infrustructure and political interference in education especially in the remote geographical areas of the country. This reminds me one of my visit to a district in southern kp where i found two primary schools inside one boundry wall merely built to appease political supporters.
The prospects of success of SDGs regarding education in pakistan is directly linked to the committment of the government by diverting resources by keeping education a prioity by invloving all the relevant stakeholder and by evolving a uniform educational framwork for the country. The success story of AKES to provide quality education in most challenging circumstances in pakistan is a true stimulus to government education system.

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[…] is a postcolonial nation-state in South Asia. With a population of 214 million people, others estimate it around 222 million, Pakistan is the 5th largest country in the world in terms of population. Before it emerged as a […]

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Well-articulated and proper outlining of the challenges that Pakistan has been grappling with over the years toward development and progress. Being a postcolonial state, many challenges emerged at the time of inception, in Pakistan, and further continuation with different external and internal flavors such as hostile neighbors, Cold World War era and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, post 9/11 war-on-terror, political instability, institutional conflict and the race of supremacy, inappropriate dealing of cultural and ethnic diversity with the unified religious trappings, lack of political will toward education and so on, have severe effects on education governance. However, the efforts of AKDN and AKESF are undoubtedly commendable in uplifting education in the remote parts of the country. Waiting for the second part of the blog.

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Very comprehensive and analytical at the same time of the historical and current context of educational scenario of Pakistan. I liked the way the author has articulated the diverse challenges in a easy to follow way. Looking forward to read the next post.

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