Wake up call for Pakistan

Citizens can come together to address issues of quality, accountability and governance; this has been amply proved by the Annual Status of Education Report (ASER) Pakistan and its South-South partners across India, Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Male and Senegal. Pratham India being a pioneer in the philosophy and methodology of household based citizen led assessment has been at it since 2005 and Pakistan initiated the movement in 2008/9. Since then there has been no looking back. In Pakistan led by Idraa-e-Taleem-o-Agahi (ITA) or Centre for Education and Consciousness, ASER has been run by ITA as a coalition of many civil society and semi-autonomous agency partners, both large and small mobilizing annually 10,000 citizen volunteers, a majority being young people. In an interesting twist, ASER Pakistan has mobilized public sector institutions on learning assessments, provincial and district teams to not just understand the nuts and bolts of ASER but also participate in tool making, testing and finalization for a complete buy in at each stage of the survey. ASER has not just stopped at recruiting civil servants but also politicians to knock on doors of their constituents to find out if their children are in school and learning! ASER teams believe that the best votes can come from education but only if the politicians walk the talk and overhaul governance in their constituencies. In 2013 pre and post general elections 30 politicians were mobilized in a campaign aptly titled  “politicians knocking on the doors” (for learning).

Fiercely independent, the ASER launches are held mostly in public sector facilities such as the Planning Commission, Civil Officers Club etc. to share data driven learning and access challenges as a mirror to highlight how far the citizens are from their fundamental right to education as indicated in Article 25 A for all children aged 5-16.  ASER tracks precisely this very age group in fact 3-16 to track early year’s access (3-5 years) and learning of 6-16. The mammoth country level assessment that takes place as a juggernaut  over 16 weeks from survey to report launching by an army of young volunteers is an evidence based social  movement  that has a shock value of good and bad news alike. It is a wake-up call for both civil and political elites to demand better services that can enable the children to be equipped with basic learning for the 21st century; but first they (6-16 year olds) have to have their fundamental competencies of at least grade 2 in place. According to the ASER 2013 report 50% of grade five children cannot read grade two level texts in Urdu/Local languages and 57% children cannot do basic two digit arithmetic. When these figures are disaggregated by gender, and type of school at the provincial, district and village level the crises of quality and accountability unmask the culture of silence on learning. ITA through a rigorous bottom-up and top-down concurrent dissemination strategy, segments its audiences (parents, parliamentarians, teachers, media, judiciary, industry, bureaucracy and civil society. It seeks to draw attention to the urgency of placing learning above access and not as a linear equation of access first and quality later. This has been the misleading message and action of the EFA and MDG mantras! The South-South initiative across seven countries with Mexico and Nigeria joining the group, has been active not just on the domestic front but also influencing regional and global stakeholders; the obsessive UPE focus with alarming GMR findings of 250 million children in school and not learning (2012) is undergoing active course corrections globally as captured in the post 2015 Development Agenda conversations!

In 2014, ASER 2013 results will do the rounds to address governance through local mayors as local governments come into being  through the campaign “mera nazim mera school” or ”my mayor my school” and “teacher katcheries  or teacher courts” with teacher unions/associations; media and  youth groups. Without capabilities there are no entitlements and who is responsible for learning? Surely it must be both the state and society – the CALL FOR ACTION BY ASER PAKISTAN IS TO BOTH PARTIES.

ASER Pakistan is supported by the Open Society Foundations; DFID Dubai Cares and Alif Ailaan.


Baela Raza Jamil works for Idraa-e-Taleem-o-Agahi, Pakistan.

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