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Importance of education and reform in Pakistan

David Cameron, the British Prime Minister, has just visited Pakistan and spoken of the UK government’s commitment to the country.

Over the course of the next five years, the UK’s Department for International Development (DFID) expects to spend over 1.3 billion pounds in Pakistan, which would make it the largest country recipient of UK aid by 2015.

A large proportion of this aid will focus on education, which is viewed as the key to transforming Pakistan’s future. Currently over 17 million children are not in school, which is described in DFID’s Spring 2011 report ‘UKaid: Changing lives, delivering results in Pakistan’ as “an education emergency”. Education is seen as the most important factor in boosting the economy, broadening outlooks and offering poor children better prospects for the future. One such child featured in the report is Humza Iqbal. At 12 years old, Humza lives with eleven members of his family in one room. His father sells fruit and makes just 1 pound per day, so cannot afford to send his children to school. With support from the UK government, Humza is now off the streets and has been attending school lessons. Recently awarded a prize for coming first in his class, Humza wants to be a teacher and says simply “I like school more than selling fruit”.

By 2015, DFID aims to provide assistance which will allow 4 million children like Humza to go to school and finance the training and recruitment of 90,000 teachers. Part of this assistance will go to low-cost privately managed schools, which are publicly funded. Putting a child through one of these schools is around half the normal cost in Pakistan, with fees at around 3 pounds per month. In the Punjab, the UK has been paying for children to attend such schools since 2009 and wants to expand the programme here and in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, as well as developing new approaches for Sindh province.

The UK expects to work alongside the government of Pakistan. However, David Cameron emphasised on his visit that UK support was dependent on reforms taking place in Pakistan. He pointed out that the country currently spends only 1.5 per cent of its Gross Domestic Product (GDP) on education and also has “one of the lowest tax-to-GDP ratios in the world”. With too few wealthy people paying tax, Mr Cameron said the situation was unfair “on ordinary Pakistanis....[and] on British taxpayers who are contributing to Pakistan’s future”. Therefore the DFID report is clear in its wording about the UK’s future financial support, saying this “could potentially” double to 446 million pounds each year (by 2015) and that Pakistan “could become the UK’s largest recipient of aid”. However, this level of spending is dependent on “Pakistan’s own progress on reform...to build a more dynamic economy and tackle corruption”.

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