We Need To Rethink On Education: Mohammed Azhar

By: Bilal Hussain

Muhammad Azhar Khan is a graduate from Asian Institute of Technology Hong Kong. He is internationally recognized for his contributions to the success of numerous development projects of NRSP, UNESCO and NCHD in Pakistan. In 2006, he received UNESCO International Reading Association Award for NCHD for its valuable services in improvement of literacy rate in Pakistan. He is presently working with USAID in the Pakistan Civilian Assistance Program.

Q: Pakistan Education Task Force has suggested an education emergency. How do you see it and what would it mean for the nation?

A: Education emergency is a national initiative to raise awareness about illiteracy. 30 percent people are living in extreme educational poverty, having received just two years of education. We have unfortunately failed in meeting our Millennium Development Goals for education.

Q: More than 6 million children are missing out on primary schools in our country. What specific resources and support do they need?

A: They need consistent efforts. Indeed government has to increase its budgetary framework for education from 2 percent of the GDP to at least 4 percent benchmark. As of the findings of the taskforce, around 80 to 100 billion are needed each year, if Pakistan is to meet its education MDG, which is a 50 percent increment to today's expenditure.

Q: How do you rate the significance of public-private collaboration in education?

A: I think these two sectors jointly can play a pivotal role in advancing education. All the stakeholders can sit and devise effective and feasible ways for cooperation.

Q: Do you think our academic and vocational institutes are producing adequately qualified individuals?

A: Students are reluctant of practical work, while there are some other serious concerns over insufficient facilities in academic institutes also.

Q: Why always education has been overlooked for the economic development?

A: We need to rethink on education. Since, 18th Amendment, free and compulsory education has now become a right for every child and it's no longer a privilege as it was previously. It reflects government's will to progress in this sector.

Q: How important is it to bring education to the frontline of foreign humanitarian aid?

A: High illiteracy is a direct threat to country's survival. Foreign donors are also willing to spend money. Schools in conflict ridden areas especially FATA and Khyber Pakhtunkhuwa, have frequently been attacked in the armed-conflicts. Perhaps, the most important factor in education reforms is ensuring security and retention of the existing infrastructure.

Q: What are the actual restraints to curbing illiteracy in rural areas?

A: The real problem is that most of the rural inhabitants remain marginalized due to poverty. They have to earn if they have to survive. Consequently, these children are left with no option other than becoming an easy prey to child laboring and exploitation.