The World Bank is reported to have stated that it will assist Pakistan in developing a new model of non-formal education which, it said, would combine literacy, labour market skills and life skills development for uneducated and illiterate children, youth and young adults in selected districts of Punjab and Sindh.
This indeed is a great achievement which certainly gives birth to a legitimate hope of a better tomorrow for millions of children, youth and aspiring adults who have been left out of the mainstream education system. These can be exploited by mafias to become beggars or child labour.
Recognising these critical issues, the Federal Education Ministry, in co-ordination with education departments of provinces has been developing a roadmap to restructure the country's much neglected education system since late 2018. The Ministry lately rolled out reforms in Madressah education system and Vocational training.
Educationists divide education sector into formal and informal segments. Formal education is classified as structured education given in an institution. These institutions are schools, technical colleges, universities, etc. Non-formal education is usually provided to out-of-school children and adolescents as well as young adults who, for some reasons, did not have an opportunity to attend school. Informal education is the oldest education system. Informal education takes place outside schools and is imparted through resources and resourced people in the community. In the case of informal education there is no attempt at structuring it. Here the child learns from his family, friends, experience and the environment in which he grows up.
Prior to the British rule in subcontinent, formal and informal education was a well-established system produced men of great men in various areas of science and social sciences.
According to the Adam's enquiry report, around the year 1835, there existed approximately 100,000 village schools just in the Bengal Presidency, offering education to 13.2% of boys.
Lord Macaulay of the British empire introduced English-medium education system in the subcontinent, especially through his famous Minute of February 1835 to systematically destroy the great traditional education system. He called for an educational system that would create a class of Anglicized Indians who would serve as cultural intermediaries between the British and the empire's subjects: Indians.
This fatal blow to world's largest and one of the best education systems created a class system in education which denied majority of the population, specially those from rural areas, the opportunity of quality education. The literacy rate dipped and never staged a comeback. For all the governments formed in Pakistan after Partition, education was never a priority.
The private sector significantly salvaged the collapsed education system of Pakistan in the public sector. But the fee structures and capacity of private institutions constitutes impediments to the aspirations and plans of many talented aspirants to get education, specially higher and professional education.
Scholarships offered to deserving students by universities are not in accordance with the demand due to meager government funding and so is the case in the private sector.
So far, the only known entity in private sector which came up in support of this left-out talent is said to be The Professional Education Foundation (PEF) Pakistan'. PEF is a not-for-profit registered trust - managed by professionals and philanthropists from the private sector who also mobilise funding from local and overseas philanthropists. PEF offers scholarships and interest-free loans to deserving students.
Working closely with 36 leading public universities all over Pakistan, PEF with a start of 75 students in 2009, has funded over 1825 by 2018-19.
Professional education, in particular, is one key route for poverty elevation in the country. Equally important is vocational education to create the pool of craftsmen and skilled technicians.
The comeback of non-formal education is highly significant development in relation to education sector. Although all schemes sound good, the rewards lie in their implementation and sustainability.
(The writer is former President of Overseas Investors Chambers of Commerce and Industry)