Education, especially when identified as a responsibility of the state, has long been held as critical to a country’s socioeconomic development. In many frameworks, education is also seen as an effective tool for critical and autonomous engagement with political and civil structures of society. For those same reasons, however, an ineffectively designed or underserved education system runs the risk of reproducing socio-cultural constraints that hamper the next generation’s opportunities nd chances for the aspirations stated previously. This explains the emphasis in Goal 4 of the global Sustainable Development agenda for 2030 on inclusive, equitable and quality education. These dimensions are important to consider not only in expanding educational opportunities but also as mediators of 16 other SDGs. In the current environment of an unprecedented global pandemic, equitable access to, and participation in, a quality learning environment has taken on an extended hue, adding the urgency of distance/remote/digital learning options to an already complex variable mix.
Developing countries are especially well-placed to benefit from more sustained attention to SDG 4, with its positive effects on goals like maternal health, protection of the environment and others that require the support of a literate and engaged population. With nearly 1/3 of its populace within the school going age range, and 2/3 within a higher and further education age range, Pakistan is an opportune context for strategic and significant investments in educational planning and delivery. Yet nearly half of Pakistani primary students cannot demonstrate basic numeracy and literacy skills. The country’s education expenditure on one of the world’s largest youth populations remains critically low even in the South Asian region, and despite a population growth rate of 2.5% and high migration rates into their cities, most provinces in Pakistan still lack effective local governance models for service delivery.
Alongside gender, resource, ethnic and income inequities, the context also struggles with a large, but ineffective state teaching service and an upcoming new, but hotly contested national curriculum. Above all, Pakistan’s largest looming problem remains over 20 million out-of-school children across the country. Their educational loss can translate into a generational loss of not just basic literacy and numeracy skills, but all the additional skills and abilities required to live a meaningful life (e.g. sustained/entrepeneurial employment; autonomous reading; family planning; civic engagement).