During all his struggle in the last 22 years and more incessantly so in the last five years Imran Khan rightly voiced for preferential investment into human development. Education and health come up as obvious areas of attention. Given the fact that Pakistan’s population has doubled between 1998 to 2018, still growing at a rate of 2 percent per year, and the fertility rates in Punjab, KP, FATA and Baluchistan are still higher between the range of 3.4 to 4 births per woman — investment into girls education could have been the much needed approach to control population growth rate and improving health and education related indicators in the country. That the governments of past failed to pay much needed attention to girls’ secondary education is evident from our surging population size. However, with the inception of a PTI government in Pakistan, it was hoped that a national education emergency, with a focus on girls’ education, would be announced. Prime Minister Imran Khan would have stood taller had he announced a national programme on girls’ secondary education instead of five million houses scheme, which is susceptible to scams. Not that housing needs are not there, but prioritising a scheme of brick and mortar worth billions of rupees goes inconsistent with the mantra of prioritising government investment for human development. If such a programme which emphasizes first enrollment of girls and then retention them up to higher secondary hits multiple targets at the same time. For instance, girls with secondary schooling are up to 6 times less likely to be married while still underage than those with little or no education. Each extra year of a mother’s education has a potential to reduce the probability of infant mortality by 5-10 percent. Not just that, but seen economically, an extra year of secondary school for girls can increase their future earnings by 10-20 percent, thereby breaking the vicious cycle of household level poverty and contributing to national poverty alleviation efforts. Currently, in three of the four provinces of the country, PTI has got their own governments or of their allies. Imran Khan has got a rare opportunity to walk the talk about preferential public expenditure in human development including girls’ secondary education. But how big really is the opportunity? Let’s see here; according to a report from Alif Ailan, an advocacy and research project for education sector, only 53 percent of all girls of school going age get enrolled for primary education. Of this number, 42 percent drop out even before completing primary education. In the rural Pakistan, as much as 67 percent of the girls aged 15 years and above never had a chance to see the classroom from inside. Of the total government schools in the country, only 37 percent cater to girls’ education needs. Imagine the scope of work and opportunity for any government to address these gaps. In fact, this could be one of the pillars of ‘change’ agenda that this government claims to have come with. A national emergency on enrolling the girls and then facilitating them to complete at least secondary education could lay the real foundation of social change in Pakistan. Educating a girl has so many collateral advantages that it’s far more profitable in long term to even fully fund the girls’ education than to keep bailing out deficit ridden state-owned corporations such as PIA and Pakistan Steel Mills. Each extra year of a mother’s education has a potential to reduce the probability of infant mortality by 5-10 percent. Economically, an extra year can increase their future earnings by 10-20 percent, thereby breaking the vicious cycle of household level poverty and contributing to national poverty alleviation efforts As mentioned earlier, the benefits of girls’ education will help reduce incidence of child marriages, minimize the number of children the girl will have after marriage and the infant mortality rate. It will also increase the probability of women’s participation in skilled labour force and their ability to play a due role in public life. Known more for his military expeditions and Napoleonic wars, Napoleon Bonaparte is credited to have given France a modern education system in early 19th century. He has so aptly said ‘Give me an educated mother, I shall promise you the birth of a civilized, educated nation’. In our case, we may take a stride towards becoming a more civilized and educated nation, if the government can commit itself to helping girls achieve a minimum of secondary education. This can’t be achieved without addressing the existing gaps in education infrastructure for girls such as increasing the number of secondary schools for girls, provision of a cash or in-kind incentive to girl’s family, and provision of missing facilities such as science labs, school boundary wall, toilets and water supply. The physical infrastructure and facilities might not be most useful in the absence of non-material qualitative aspects of education. These may include inclusion of skills/vocational subjects at secondary school level, training of teachers in interactive teaching methodologies, and revival of school management committees (SMCs). The writer is a sociologist with interest in history and politics. He tweets @ZulfiRao1 Published in Daily Times, November 1st 2018.