Pakistan has the second highest out-of-school population in the world with around 12 million Pakistani children not attending school. That’s more than the entire population of Greater London. About two third of Pakistani women and half of Pakistani men cannot read or write, making Pakistan’s literacy rate the third worst in the world.

Pakistan will feel the consequences through the generations. Consider that Pakistan’s population exceeds 180 million, of whom almost half are children under 18. If a large majority have no chance to go to secondary school - and a significant minority cannot even gain a basic primary education - then millions of children are missing out. Pakistan is in the depths of an education emergency.

Education is everyone’s right. But it is especially significant for girls and women. Despite progress, Pakistan is still ranked 134 out of 135 countries in the World Economic Forum’s ‘gender gap’ report, due to lack of economic opportunities, denial of access to education and health, and under-representation in politics and decision-making.

So Pakistan is missing out on the talent and productivity of half its population, holding back huge opportunities for growth. This is true because educational achievements of women create ripple effects across generations. Educating girls is one of the strongest ways not only to improve gender equality, but to promote economic growth and the healthy development of families, communities and nations. All of the evidence shows that investing in female education is also one of the most effective ways to reduce poverty.

That’s why education, particularly girls’ education, is the UK’s top priority work in Pakistan. Some significant progress has also been made in recent years in making education accessible. In Punjab alone, up to one million more children aged 4-16 enrolled in schools in the last two years. In Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, since 2009, the UK has funded textbooks for millions of students and provided monthly stipends for more than 400,000 girls to help them go to school. We have also seen increased education budgets at the national and provincial level, greater transparency in spending and more teachers appointed on merit. Teacher attendance is also up. Progress is being made, but the education emergency isn’t over yet.

We hope Pakistan will keep the momentum going. The UK will go on contributing. I believe education can help put Pakistan on a path to growth and away from aid dependency for good. By 2015, the UK support will benefit four million children in school including two million girls; recruit and train an additional 45,000 teachers in Punjab province alone; improve test results in core subjects including Urdu, maths and English; and work with the Government and civil society to sustain commitment to reform the education system in Pakistan.

Education is one of the most important factors for transforming Pakistan’s future. It boosts the economy, broadens outlooks, empowers people, and offers a brighter future for Pakistanis. Education is the biggest investment the British Government is making in Pakistan. We are committed to working with the Pakistani authorities to end this education emergency.

The writer is a British High Commissioner.