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PESHAWAR: Civil Society Organizations have urged all political parties to make girls’ education and gender parity in education on the top of their election manifestos for the upcoming polls and emphasized that the issue requires commitment from all political parties to ensure a fair and inclusive educational landscape in the country. The demand was made during a joint press conference of the civil society organizations.

Addressing the press conference, Qamar Naseem, Co-Convener of Pakistan Education Champion Network (PECN) said the plight of education, especially of girls, is very dismal and needs measures on war footing to overcome the gap.

He said that according to findings of a survey conducted under the auspices of the Benazir Income Support Programme (BISP) a staggering 4.7 million children between the ages of five to sixteen years are out of schools in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa out of which 2.9 million are girls. This issue is particularly prominent in the province’s merged districts, where 74.4 percent of the out-of-school children are girls. The ratio drop out of girls from primary to middle level is 60 percent while only 18 to 19 percent of girls could reach to 10th grade.

The estimates of Benazir Income Support Programme were made in year 2019 while the devastating flood of October 2022 has also affected education of thousands of already enrolled students, both boys and girls, by damaging a large number of education institutions in the country, Qamar added.

The Elementary and Secondary Education (E&SE) Department estimates that an additional 15,000 government schools are needed to accommodate the 4.7 million out-of-school children in KP.

If government spends all of the educational budget on construction of schools, only 300 schools can be construct on annual basis so how many funds and years will be required to construct 15000 schools, he questioned. He suggested for replication of public-private policy introduced in Sind for provision of education to students. He said KP government is spending around Rs. 18000 on every primary student on annual basis and Rs. 48,000 on student of secondary level. If an agreement is reached with private educational institutions for education of children, about half of this amount can be saved and children will also get education without construction of new schools.

The civil society organizations acknowledged the successes achieved by the KP government’s commitment towards education, with 35,000 functioning government schools currently serving approximately 5.5 million children. However, the stark reality remains that a large number of children, particularly girls, remain out of school.

The CSOs called for an increase in budget allocation and effective spending towards Annual Development Budgets with a special focus on girls’ education. More gender-specific allocations are needed, especially in regions like the merged districts where the gender disparity is most pronounced.

By prioritizing girls’ education, KP will not only foster equal opportunities but also enable the province and the country to tap into the immense potential of half its future leaders, innovators, and workforce. The organizers called upon the political leadership to make bold commitments and propose feasible, long term strategies to address this crisis. Girls’ education is a non-partisan issue that affects our economic development, social progress, and national prosperity, they added.

Amna Afridi, a youth activist, and member of the EVAW/G Alliance Khyber said, “It’s high time that we, as a nation, stop treating girls’ education as a side issue.

Girls’ education and gender parity in education need to be central to our political, social, and economic debates. We believe that the upcoming National General Elections provide an excellent opportunity to instigate this essential change, she added.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2023

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