CPEC and Attainment of SDG 4 in Pakistan By Dr Sadia Sulaiman

CPEC and Attainment of SDG 4 in Pakistan By Dr Sadia Sulaiman

The UN Millennium Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) is a component of Pakistan’s development agenda, with the aim of eradicating poverty and uplifting the socio-economic profile of the people. Within this context, SDG 4, which relates to quality education for both boys and girls, was adopted as a ‘priority goal’ by the Government of Pakistan. However, attainment of SDG 4 has yet to reach a momentum where it can start delivering at grass-root level for the benefit of the masses.

According to the SDG status report of 2021, the progress on SDG 4 has remained stagnant overall with the national literacy rate remained at 60% from 2015 to 2020. There is a need to draw up an effective strategy to ensure quality education for all across Pakistan. However, the question arises as to how this objective can be achieved keeping in view the current financial crisis and subsequent impact on every sector, including education.

The education sector in Pakistan is faced with multiple problems ranging from gender gap in the ratio of school enrolment for both boys and girls to the availability and utilisation of funds for running various schools, colleges and universities. The issue of lack of technical training at the college level for ensuring employment after degree completion, presence of thousands of ghost schools with ghost teachers, lack of training for teachers associated with both the private and public educational institutions, and the resultant appalling standards of education are just a few of the major issues that Pakistan’s education sector currently faces.

An appropriate way out of the current fiscal crisis is to adopt a smart and sustainable approach in policy making at various levels. In terms of socio-economic development there is need to club together some of the projects and plans with similar kinds of development goals. One key project which has been the focus of attention in Pakistan and all across the world is China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). It is a $65 billion mega project which has entered its second phase. In its ongoing second phase, the project has come up with a new focus and emphasis upon the education sector in Pakistan, like opening of technical education institution and initiating and strengthening student exchange programs. Keeping in view the requirements of youth bulge in Pakistan, there is a need to put more emphasis upon construction of new schools, technical and vocational training centres, and higher education institutions — while at the same time upgrading the old ones.

If aligned with SDG 4, CPEC can help enhance the quality of education across Pakistan. While working on the attainment of SDG 4, the federal government has tried to facilitate provincial governments to improve the recruitment of teachers and student enrolment ratios, especially with regard to girls, for improving the overall literacy rate of the country. On the other hand, CPEC has also worked in the same direction, where the need for better technical education facilities was realised in remote areas like Gwadar and FATA. As of now, 25 solar schools have been set up to help facilitate the local communities.

All the steps taken either for the attainment of SDG 4 or as part of the CPEC project for promoting better education facilities need to be synchronised with each other. If the money and resources, which have been spent separately, are combined, it would not only strengthen the resolve to promote quality education but it would also prove to be cost effective. The only need is to start thinking on along these lines with a clear road map and priority list.

Some key areas of focus in this regard can be the insurance of free primary education, the emphasis upon promotion of girls’ education, prioritising IT and other technical skills, and promoting the culture of research and development. With the increasing inflation and high poverty rates, free primary education can bring respite to the large swathes of population who cannot afford to send even a single child to school. The construction and upgradation of primary schools with basic services such as the availability of the books and stationary should be mandatory in the vicinity of all CPEC projects, and the outcome of such initiatives should be counted in the attainment of SDG 4.

It is commendable that CPEC has focused on promoting technical and vocational training to meet the requirements of projects in various fields such as energy, transportation and infrastructure by building a localised skilled labour force. There is a need to associate the gains from such initiatives with the attainment with SDG 4 as well. This can be further broadened to expand on research and development component in higher education institutions — a field relatively neglected in the domain of Pakistan’s socio-economic and development policies. Furthermore, keeping in view the requirements of this technologically advanced era, the CPEC-SDG collaborative mechanism should focus on the fields of information technology and climate change — areas that have huge employment potential for the youth. The women folks should be given incentives and special attention in CPEC projects and there should be a special quota for female students in technical and vocational schools. They should be given priority in any employment opportunity created under CPEC.

These small steps can not only address the woes of the common people across Pakistan by giving them opportunities and exposure, but can also save human resources and financial capital required in the attainment of SDG 4 in particular and other SDGs in general.

CPEC and Attainment of SDG 4 in Pakistan By Dr Sadia Sulaiman

Published in The Express Tribune, July 23rd, 2022.

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