Speech by the Ambassador of the European Union to Pakistan H. E. Mrs Androulla Kaminara
At the launching of STA-DEEP, 11 March 2021, Karachi
Honourable Minister, UNICEF Country Representative, Dear Guests
I am delighted to take part in today’s launch of the technical assistance component of the “Development Through Enhanced Education Programme” (DEEP).
As you may know the EU has been a partner of the Sindh Government in Education since 2006, providing direct budget support to the sector, overall amounting to EUR 120m. The technical assistance component we are launching today is directly linked to our ongoing budget support of EUR 42m which we hope can have a lasting positive effect on the education system in Sindh.
Today’s launch is an important step for putting in place the capacity building work of the programme. The UNICEF team will be the real catalyst for utilising the budget support in an effective and timely manner.
I would like to take this opportunity to thank the UNICEF offices in Islamabad and Karachi for the good collaboration during the inception phase and wish you a successful implementation. UNICEF has been a trusted EU partner in education in Pakistan (and other countries) and we are currently also working with them in Balochistan Province.
But I would also like to congratulate and thank the Government of Sindh, represented here by the Honourable Minister on keeping the need for education reform in its focus.
In our view there are already successful, ongoing reforms (such as the EU supported school consolidation and clustering programme). At the same time the impact of other reforms at school level (such as on enrolment and quality education) probably offers room for further work and improvement.
The key document for reform progress is obviously the Sindh Education Sector Plan of 2019-2023, as the main policy framework. We understand it will be formally launched in the coming weeks and are pleased to see that along with the administrative oversight of the department, there is also political ownership for driving this agenda forward, for which I congratulate the Government of Sindh and the Honourable Minister.
Donor Coordination is an important aspect for integrating various efforts being made to further the educational objectives in the Province. It is pertinent that the Government of Sindh takes the lead in encouraging all development partners to follow the road map of the school education and literacy department as laid down in the Sindh Education Sector Plan 2019-23 and work in a sector-wide and complementary approach. This is important to ensure that efforts are neither duplicated nor wrongly prioritized.
One important focal area of EU support is the Cluster based Schools Management Policy which has already been notified by the Sindh Government and which for us is a key step towards achieving progress at school level.
Schools can perform better when they are empowered to be in charge of their own planning and management of resources, including developing annual plans with output targets. Currently there is no output based budgeting. Some efforts were made during the previous sector plan period (2014 to 2018) to make school specific budgets, but the management of resources remained centralized.
We are hopeful that there is at this point solid political commitment to empower the school level, allowing to improve resource availability and utilization.
We are aware that overall school enrolment decreases significantly as students progress from primary to middle, to secondary level education. At middle level, the Gross Enrolment Rate (GER) is just 55%, from 79% at primary level, and falls to 51% at secondary level. Nearly 50% of children leave school by Grade 5.
Various reasons contribute to a high dropout, including low economic status of parents, perceived low returns of education, and engagement in market activities and in household chores. The shortage of middle and secondary schools is also a reason for dropouts. We are confident that the Government of Sindh will continue to address this issue in its overall sector planning.
Finally, let me talk about the importance of education for girls. Three days ago the world celebrated International Women’s Day, and I had the pleasure and honour of taking part in the celebrations at the Presidency of Pakistan, in Islamabad. Some of the speakers at the event included women and girls who gave impressive accounts how they had managed to succeed and thrive, sometimes against the odds, in a country in which gender equality is an area that still needs a lot of reform and improvement. One thing is clear: we cannot empower our girls if we deny them the foundation of education.
I hope that you will agree with me that in Sindh striking gender imbalances continue to exist in relation to access to education. The primary Net Enrolment Rate (NER) for girls in rural areas, for example, is at 41% (compared to 61% overall for the province), which drops to 14% at middle level, and 6% at secondary level. Various barriers to girls’ enrolment and retention exist. They include long distances to school, childcare and housework, unavailability of female teachers, and inadequate sanitation facilities. I am sure that by further improved sector planning and relevant financing for girls education a difference can be made in the access and equity figures related to gender imbalances in the education sector of the province. We certainly hope that with this project, work can be done towards sustained improved enrolment and retention of girls.
In conclusion, I would like to thank the Honourable Minister and the country representative of UNICEF again for their partnership in improving the education system in Sindh. We look forward to a successful implementation of this important project.