It is generally felt that economic and social development cannot be ensured without optimum utilization of human resources for which education is a sine qua non. SAARC has, therefore, emphasized the importance of promotion of education. The Heads of State or Government at the Ninth Summit at Male´ in 1997 acknowledged that illiteracy was one of the major causes impeding the development of the vast human resources of South Asia and a major factor contributing to the region’s economic backwardness and social imbalance.
Cooperation in education entered the SAARC agenda early with the establishment of a Technical Committee on Education in 1989. Since reorganization of the SAARC Integrated Programme of Action (SIPA) in 1999, this subject has come under the purview of the Technical Committee on Human Resources Development. A SAARC Chair, Fellowship and Scholarship Scheme is in operation. A SAARC Consortium of Open and Distance Learning (SACODiL) has been created with a view to standardization of curricula, mutual recognition of courses and promotion of transfer of credits. A SAARC Teachers Forum has been established. Nevertheless, a lot more remains to work before concrete benefits of such cooperative activities are clearly visible.
Education in South Asia suffers from the twin problem of lack of access and of excellence. In majority of the SAARC Member Countries, enrolment of children of primary school age is far below universal level. This problem is further compounded by high levels of dropout. Thus literacy rates remain low. The situation at the secondary and tertiary level are no better. In some respects, are even worse.
The SAARC Social Charter, which was signed by the Heads of State or Government during the Twelfth Summit (Islamabad, 4 - 6 January), reaffirmed the importance of attaining the target of providing free education to all children between the ages of 6 - 14 years. The Member States agreed to share their respective experiences and technical expertise to achieve this goal.
At the Thirteenth SAARC Summit held in Dhaka in November 2005, the leaders noted the achievements of the Member States during recent years in the area of primary education and stressed that to meet the challenges of the twenty-first century Member States must make important strides in the areas of science, technology and higher education.
At the invitation of the Government of Sri Lanka, the First Meeting of the SAARC Ministers of Education/Higher Education was held in Colombo on 27 March 2009 preceded by the Meeting of the Senior Officials of the Ministries of Education/Higher Education. This Meeting considered matters relating to SAARC-UNESCO Cooperation in the field of Higher Education, Role of the Committee of Heads of University Grants Commissions/Equivalent Bodies and Open & Distance Learning in South Asia. This Meeting focussed on Higher Education Policies and Strategies in South Asia and deliberated on the Plan of Action on Higher Education.