In his maiden speech as the would-be premier, Imran Khan expressed a strong will to improve the state of education. Despite frequent failures, Pakistan has been committing to ensure Education For All (EFA) to its own people as well as to its donors for the last one-and-half decade. The state has spent millions of dollars to raise up the vital literacy indicators intertwined with the right-to-education as envisaged in Article 25-A of Pakistan’s Constitution. Having failed to secure its Millennium Development Goal (MDG) targets, the Pakistani government once again participated in the post-2015 Dakar Education Framework and pledged to impart objective, accessible, free and equitable education to all children aged five to sixteen years. Before moving ahead, it is essential to take a step back and observe the progress made over the last one-and-half decade:Pakistan is one of the largest recipients of the UK’s Department for International Development’s (DfID) assistance in education. From 2006 to 2015, it received around $2.1 billion for social sector development, including education. From 2011-2015, the Government of Punjab laid-out its priorities to enrol at least four million children in primary school and at least 2.4 million children at the secondary level; train 45,000 teachers and construct more than 20,000 classrooms and the requisite toilets. Similarly, it committed to recruit 43,000 new teachers, construct 36,000 classrooms and put 5000 schools on solar energy by 2018.To supplement the enrolment of 500,000 children, the beneficiaries of BISP families are being transferred cash by the UK High Commission since early 2017. The said government fell short of all targets at various ratios. DfID is also committed to provide $90.3 million to Punjab Education Foundation to enrol all out-of-school children from 2013-2018. Like DfID’s continued support from 2010 to 2019, the World Bank’s (WB) support commenced in 2003 and will continue till 2021. Similarly, USA contributed $70m aiming to educate 200,000 girls. Working in collaboration with the School Education Department in 2013, UN Girls’ Education Initiative, UNICEF and DfID facilitated more than 3million children (of 15million out-of-school-children, 55percent of whom were girls) to go to school in Punjab. DfID further assisted 7.5million children to enrol in 2016. With the assistance of € 7.4million, EU and UNICEF also facilitated Balochistan Education Support Programme (2018 onwards) to improve infrastructure, enrolment and teaching quality in about 13,000 schools.Without enhancing the domestic budget, it will be impossible to achieve the education-related Millenium Development GoalsBelieving education to be the inalienable right of every child, it is appropriate to examine how responsive Pakistan’s government has been to this ideal. Accepted and adopted universally, progress around EFA-MDGs can effectively be inspected around the principles of ‘availability and accessibility’, ‘quality and efficiency’ and ‘adaptability cum acceptability’ of the content and contours of the education imparted. Despite making tall promises and launching various programmes with international assistance, progress around EFA has been inadequate. The education challenge — a virtual state of emergency — is pretty serious. Gross and Net Enrolment Ratios (GER and NER) remain below or far below desired targets and disparities drastic. With 12 million children out of school, Pakistan has the second highest number of out of school children in the world.Beyond enrolment and equity, EFA also envisions to improve the quality of education. Unfortunately, Pakistan performs drearily on that count too. Poor management, improper teaching, absenteeism, high drop-out rates, and discriminatory text books fail to impart quality education. Only a handful of teachers are adequately qualified and trained, hence they fail to contribute to children’s intellectual growth. Broadly, teacher-students ratio stands at about 1:46. About 29 percent of primary schools have only one-teacher and one-classroom. On top of the missing facilities, low presence of students and loss of working days under rampant political crises make the situation worse. Multiple national or international assessments disclose students’ knowledge and skills to be far lower than their grades. The Standardised Achievement Test results (2016) in English, Urdu, Sindhi and Arithmetic are already disturbingly poor. In Samia Alfat’s views, ‘donor funding builds human and capital capacity but there is no concomitant for building institutional capacity. Absorbing trained man-power and improving administrative plus governance system involve managing these assets. Donor-funded projects mainly focus on immediate operational objectives, not on the long-term institutional building without which development (in this case educational development) is not possible’.With the failure or inexistence of homegrown models, lack of national political will and without pre-requisites put-in-place for EFA, we are forced to use ‘established best practices’ which accomplish little. Handling education as a technical rather than a social problem itself is a problem. Lack of a comprehensive reform-plan and lack of political will cause underachievement in the education sector. Read more:Education is the only solutionWithout enhancing the country’s domestic budget to at least six percent of the GDP, achieving SDGs, like MDGs, seem improbable. Only robust and home-grown financial support can help promote equity, expansion and excellence in education. The plan for progressive realisation of literacy goals has almost become a smoke-screen to cover-up state failures. Infrastructure and economic-growth-drives must be balanced-out in favour of education. Resource constraints are in fact excuses over other priorities meant to serve every new government’s political interests. Higher drop-out rates at all three levels makes increased GER/NER virtually meaningless. On top of the inefficient policies; poverty, gender-inequality, terrorism and natural disasters, all contribute to higher drop-out rates. Madrassa education needs to be reformed and transformed to address the quality and content of education for thousands of children enrolled there. An international benchmark for literacy should be adopted with clear indicators at all three levels. Bottom-up district and provincial plans for reform and progress with adequate donors’ assistance may prove more successful. Elimination of ghost-schools, ghost-teachers and absenteeism, test-and-merit-based teachers’ recruitment, putting an end to political interference and removing corruption in posting, promotion and transfer is essential to rectify Pakistan’s broken education system.The writer is based in Islamabad. He is Executive Director at the Institute of Development Research and Corresponding Capabilities (IDRAC)Published in Daily Times, August 10th 2018.