Kathmandu,12 Nov 2014: The member countries of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC), though making gradual progress in terms of physical development, have not made the expected progress in terms of attaining the universal goal of ‘Education for All (EFA)’.
As per the latest study carried out by the South Asia Initiative to End Violence against Children (SAIVAC), an organisation of civic society working for the child rights in South Asia, the overall literacy percentage in the SAARC is 58.4. Among the SAARC member countries, Afghanistan has the least percentage of literate population at 26 per cent while Sri Lanka has the highest percentage at 92.2. Both Bangladesh and Pakistan have the literacy percentage at 57, India 63 and Nepal 65. These figures show that the status of education in the South Asia is somewhat improving, compared to the figures for the last decade.
The SAARC member countries including Nepal have been running programmes with the assistance provided by various donor agencies in their pursuit of attaining the EFA goal by 2015. As in Nepal, which has implemented the School Sector Reform Programme (SSRP), other countries have taken various steps as Access to Education and Good-governance in Education and Quality Education for that purpose. But as it has already become clear by this time that the EFA goal is not going to be met by 2015 globally, countries have begun chalking out the Post-EFA Programmes. In this backdrop, the forthcoming 18th SAARC Summit going to be held in Kathmandu on 26 and 27 November will announce eradication of illiteracy in the region by 2030.
Among the EFA goals are increasing the child development centres, guaranteeing that all the children have access to education, fulfilling the learning needs of children (including the indigenous nationalities and the minorities), and reducing illiteracy among the elderly, reducing gender inequalities, and ensuring quality in all aspects of education.
In the context of the SAARC member countries, the question of ensuring access to education comes foremost than quality. Many countries, in their bid to guaranteeing free and compulsory education to their citizens, have enshrined these provisions in their constitutions as well. While the Free and Compulsory Education Act is implemented in India, the Interim Constitution of Nepal, 2007 has a provision that states that every Nepali shall be entitled to free education up to the secondary level as set out by law. The required legislation is being framed while there is a debate regarding what topics come under the purview of ‘free education’.
Mere declaration of Education for All is not significant in itself, its effective implementation is. Along with the government, various NGOs and INGOs have been supporting the EFA campaign. The Rotary International too organised a regional conference in Kathmandu two years back and on the occasion announced its plan to make SAARC fully literate by 2017. The World Bank, the Asian Development Bank, UNICEF, Finland, Norway, DFID, UNESCO, DANIDA and JICA have been providing assistance to Nepal in the EFA programme.
The regional meetings of the Education Ministers of the SAARC member countries are also held from time to time for discussing the shared problems in the education sector and exchange of cooperation. The second meeting of the SAARC Education Ministers held in Dhaka, the capital of Bangladesh, on 14 December 2009, had issued a 19-point commitment for achieving the millennium development goal in education. A mechanism has been formed in each SAARC member country for the implementation of this commitment paper.
UNESCO, in its Global Monitoring Report that it released recently in Bangkok, has taken the teacher as the main catalyst for quality education. Accordingly, various initiatives have been undertaken in the SAARC member countries to make the teachers capable, honest and free from political influence.
In Nepal, the only achievement that it can exhibit is the increase in the net enrollment rate of children of the school -going age. The current school enrollment rate is 95.3 per cent which is an increase of nearly 15 percentage points compared to the enrollment rate in the last decade. The budget allocated to the education sector constitutes nearly 15 per cent of the country’s total budget. The share of the donor countries in the budget in the education sector is 25 per cent. Although the budget for education is less as per the international norm, the representatives of the donor agencies and those concerned have expressed dismay over the lack of output commensurate with the investment made in the education sector.
A report by the World Bank states that increasing the government’s ownership in education should be encouraged in Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India and Nepal. It also underscores development of insitutionalised system and skill enhancement and coordinating with the donor agencies. It has pointed to the need of making the women’s education result-oriented and doing away with social inequalities.
The first SAARC Summit (1985) in Dhaka had passed a proposal of expediting the socio-economic development works through the maximum utilisation of human capital and the natural resources for the happiness and prosperity of the people of this region. The second SAARC Summit held in Bangalore, India on 17 and 18 November, 1986 concluded that the children were the basis for human development and therefore they should be accorded high priority in the national development plans. The fourth SAARC Summit held in Islamabad, Pakistan on 29-31 December 1988 decided to establish a human resources development centre in Islamabad.
The centre has been providing policy advice on human resources development by conducting research, training and information dissemination. A technical committee has also been constituted in that regard which has been working in the areas of skill development, education and human resources.
The 13th SAARC Summit held in Dhaka in 2005 decided to emphasise on science, technology and higher education for the education that can stand the challenges of the 21st century by resting on the foundation of the achievements made in the primary education. The Open and Distance Education Association, the SAARC Chair study grant and scholarship and SAARC Award are a few of the initiatives taken at the SAARC level for the development of the human resources in the region. The South Asian University is also in operation in New Delhi, India since five years.
The Global Campaign for Education, in the side conference titled ‘Education for All: What after2015′ in the United Nations’ 68th General Assembly, stressed on adjusting the goals of education for banishing poverty and hunger, the common problems afflicting the SAARC member countries. The forthcoming 18th SAARC Summit is expected to underline the need of action-oriented policy for achieving the EFA goal in line with the UN Millennium Development Goals.