Govt fully committed to provide best educational facilities within the minimum possible time

June 13 - 19, 2005

State Minister for Finance, Omar Ayub Khan jubilantly made while rhetorically reaffirming conventional vow of radically changing country's poor labourers as read out the budget 2005-06 in the lower house of the parliament. He declared, to substantiate his claim, a raise of Rs500 (8.3 dollars) in minimum monthly wages to take them to Rs3000 (50 dollar a month and marginally higher than a dollar a day the scale which reflects the World Bank drawn poverty line).

The planners look down upon those 'cynics' who have been skeptical of the government achievements. But this cynical approach may continue to prevail until the haphazard and windfall growth could not be transformed into a truly 'knowledge-based' progress.

Many Pakistanis (the planners) believe this country provides attractive foreign investment opportunities with low labour costs. Think again! The real comparison is not the hourly or monthly cost of labour but the value of what the labour produces per hour, called productivity. If labour productivity really was high in Pakistan, the world's corporations would be lining up to build factories here. Instead, cars are made in the USA, Germany, Japan, and Sweden where hourly labour costs are nearly the highest in the world. That's because it is cheaper to build cars there. And that is because 'real productivity' is higher. And the only difference between Pakistani labourers and those of the Western countries is education.


Like always, this time too, the federal government earmarked Rs223 billion or over 20 percent of the total budget size. Another leeway was allowed to this head by linking it to the GDP growth, which is set to grow in the range of 6 to 8 percent for the next year.

It has been a very old fashion that Pakistan spends far more on military defence than education because India is thought to be a clear and present military threat and despite looming friendship, defence needs still tops our priority. Perhaps the myth of cheap and abundant human labour blinds many in Pakistan to the reality that ignorance is the country's real enemy. Without an educated population there would be little worth defending.

Yet, the biggest problem just might be entirely psychological. If, as most people in the decision-making circles of Pakistan believe, unskilled labour is a cheap, abundant resource, there is little incentive to make good use of it. If you see labour as expensive, which in reality it is in Pakistan, you would think of better ways to use it. Thinking like that leads to education: skilled labour is much more productive. Skilled labour knows how to make effective use of tools and materials. Skilled labour can make sensible decisions without having to be supervised every minute of the day. On the other hand, because labour is seen as a cheap commodity in Pakistan, there is little incentive to provide education and skill development. The elite is strongly committed to the notion that 'education is vital for my children'. Private education is a booming industry. Private education is perhaps more accurately seen as an insurance policy, a way to ensure a future for our children to save them from neglect in the emasculated public education system. Education for others receives scant consideration.

For the year ending June 2005, the government had allocated Rs12.2 billion and revised the expenditures slightly up to Rs12.3 billion. This budget increase, the Economic Survey for the outgoing year says, has increased overall literacy rate of 52 percent by about two percentage point compared to Labour Force Survey of 2001-02.

The World Economic Forum surveys about half of the world's nations every year to compare productivity and many other measures of economic efficiency. Pakistan used to be included. However, Pakistan was dropped from the list because the reliability of the statistics was so poor that they were no longer comparable. If it were listed, it would come somewhere near the bottom of the list, behind India, perhaps a little ahead of sub-Sahara Africa.

However, the Pakistani survey concedes that the education is key to change and progress, therefore the government has adopted this sector as one of the pillars for poverty reduction and benefit of masses. It further said that the government is fully committed to provide best educational facilities to its people within the minimum possible time. It further conceded that the reason for Pakistan's low educational status is varied but one important factor is that Pakistan's educational system has been highly fragmented and segmented. It has, therefore, created some intractable problems in the optimal utilization of human resources under the given labour market.

For the next fiscal year, the government has budgeted Rs16.65 billion. That is it. The government is also determined to augment vocational training institutes to produce 300,000 skilled workers to fill in demand-supply gap.

It is of no use to debate on as to how much the budget would cater to the educational needs of the country. The fact as the entire university budget of the Pakistan Higher Education Commission serving a country of nearly 150 million people is about half the budget of a small to medium sized university in the West, speaks volume.