Education is a passport to human development, helps abolish social evils such as poverty, promotes sustainable development and helps global development. But unequal access to schooling, gender parity, lack of quality threatens the universal goal of education for all from becoming a reality.

Here’s a brief on the status of education and efforts taken by the governments in the developing Commonwealth countries in Asia.

Let’s have a glimpse at the literacy rates of the four developed countries: Singapore has a literacy rate of 96.1 per cent, for Malaysia it’s 95 per cent, in Maldives it is 98.82% while in Brunei it is more than 90%. This is because central governments in these countries spend a lot not only access to education, but also on quality of education, skills-based training and ICT.

In contrast with these, the four developing nations present a sorry figure. This is largely due to lack of sufficient funds allocated by their governments for education. A quick glance through the statistics for the developing countries will provide a gist of the whole situation. According to official figures, India currently spends 4.1 per cent of its GDP on education, Sri Lanka spends 5.0 per cent, Bangladesh spends 2.4 per cent and Pakistan spends a meager 1.4 per cent. Also, while these are all official figures submitted by the individual governments, an insight into each of these countries would again tell us another story.

For example, last year, the Federation of University Teachers’ Associations (FUTA) in Sri Lanka had organized a nationwide campaign asking the government to prioritize education and raise the budgetary allocation for education to 6%. According to FUTA, the government spent only around 1.9% of their GDP on education (as opposed to the official figures of 5 per cent) and this finding was based on 2011 Central Bank annual report and the 2010 University Grants Commission annual report.

Let’s take up another example. The Indian government has been spending a lot on innovative education schemes, prominent amongst which is the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyaan, an education for all movement, which is the government’s flagship programme for elementary education. Also, according to the recent union budget for 2013-2014 drawn up by the Central Government, the proposed increase on the spending for education is about 7% (as compared to that for the current fiscal year) with the focus being on capacity building and job-led education. But, the education scenario hasn’t changed much. This is because none of the Government led educational initiatives assess the learning outcomes in schools or the quality of education. Quality-wise, nothing much has changed. As a result, often, students are not equipped with skills to function professionally or socially.

To summarize, although there has been some work done in these countries, it is not enough. Quality education for all should be a serious goal for all countries, and the central governments of individual countries should make conscious efforts towards realizing the same. Education is a fundamental right of every citizen and every government should strive hard to make sure that this fundamental right is not denied to anyone. They should focus on implementing innovative and effective policies to improve access to education, quality of education, provide better learning environment, etc. Education shouldn’t be A priority, it should be THE priority.

By Ayswarrya Ganapathiraman