Minister of State for Education and Professional Training Muhammad Balighur Rehman on Thursday emphasised that education was the society’s collective responsibility.

“Around 25 million children are out of schools at the moment. They are our own children so we have some responsibility towards them. Although we have seen improvement in dropout rates, provincial education budgets and missing facilities over the last two years, we have to work more to overcome all these issues of education,” he said during a special ceremony organised here for the signing of an agreement between PARWAN E9 Centre and ILM IDEAS 2 for the Early Childhood Education Development Programme.

The ceremony held at the Academy of Educational Planning & Management (AEPAM) was attended among others by Parwaan President, Chief Executive & Founding Director CGN-P Mehnaz Aziz, Director General AEPAM Muhammad Khan Khichi, team leader Ilm Ideas-2 Shahida Saleem, senior government officials and other representatives of NGOs and INGOs.

The minister said there was a dire need of early childhood education, especially in public schools.

“This Early Childhood Education Development Programme is the successful example of public-private partnership. Early childhood education is very important. Education in primitive years develops the personality of a child, so giving quality education to children in early age is very much essential. Focusing on early childhood education helps prepare children for schools and thus, increasing their chances of continuing with education,” he said.

The minister stressed the need for sustainability of policies and said it was better to start a programme on a smaller scale for a longer term than starting an over ambitious program for a shorter period of time.

“The Early Childhood Education Development Programme is a pilot project for a period of three years targeting 72,000 children aged between three and five years and training of 6000 social entrepreneurs for starting ECED centres all over Pakistan,” he said.

The minister said it was just the first phase. I hope to see more and more children enrol in this programme and continue with their studies after getting early childhood education.

Talking about the role of the Academy of Education and Planning and Management, the minister said education planning should be done in the academy and this institute should be become a role model for all the educational planning academies in the country.

He said he was happy that the authenticated report on education indicators had been published by the AEPAM recently after several years.

“I expect more work and better reports in future from the National Education Management Information System and National Education Assessment System as well, which are housed in AEPAM,” he said.

The minister said instead of reinventing the wheel and working separately, all education stakeholders should work in close collaboration to improve and upgrade the existing education system in Pakistan.

He said according to a report 45% of schools in Pakistan lacked washroom facilities last year but the number had reduced to 35 per cent this year, an improvement of 10% has been witnessed and that provincial education budgets had been increased.

The minister said Rs600 billion was spent on education annually in Pakistan with 90% coming from the government and the rest from private sector and donors.

“There is no dearth of funding; we just have to work in synergy and with patience to achieve SDGs 4,” he said.

Parwaan President Mehnaz Aziz stated that this is Pakistan’s first ever innovative programme to cater to early year’s education and development needs of children of age 3-5 years which will simultaneously create income generation opportunities for youth especially females of marginalized areas. The Parwaan Preschool Programme will provide quality Early Childhood Development (ECD) opportunities to about 72,000 children of the neglected age group 3 to 5 years and will increase the likelihood that the children stay at school and succeed in the all-important first initial years of primary education.

She highlighted that the programme will be implemented in two phases over a period of three years. Ms. Aziz told that through a multi-stakeholder approach 6000 youth will be trained as social entrepreneurs to open ECD centres in 30 low performing districts in terms of education in Punjab, Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, Baluchistan and FATA. She noted that the intervention will be carried out in five districts, including Khushab, Bahawalpur, Kohat, Charsadda and Islamabad capital territory.

While talking about Pakistan’s commitments to UN Sustainable Development Goals 2030, she stressed that Pakistan being the signatory of UN SGDs is mandated to take all possible measures to ensure that all girls and boys have access to quality early childhood development, care and pre-primary education so that they are ready for primary education. Ms. Aziz added that the programme will support the government in achieving the SDG 4, target 4.2 for provision of early childhood education to the children.