EDUCATION FOR ALL

The statistics regarding state of education are shocking and a matter of concern

By AMANULLAH BASHAR
Feb 16 - 22, 2004

The constitution of Pakistan has placed the responsibility for basic education on the state. Under this constitutional obligation, the state is required to promote the educational and economic interests of backward classes or areas with special care. Obviously, objective behind this responsibility guides that the education is made available for all, irrespective of the social status of the people living in this country.

This idea is supplemented by yet another obligation on the state to remove illiteracy and provide free and compulsory secondary education within minimum possible period. Various governments have, over the years, formulated an assortment of policies and plans to fulfill the constitutional commitment of providing education to the people and removing of inequalities. Unfortunately, success has been very limited, through, with the result that the current state of education in Pakistan is deplorable. Education has suffered from a number of issues including low level of public spending, literacy and enrolments, high level of dropout from the school going system, acute regional and gender inequalities, and inequalities in the distribution of budgetary allocations to the education.

Unfortunately, this cherished goal which ultimately serves the national interest in all spheres of life including social, political and economic development is far from the desired level. Instead the rate of illiteracy is growing simultaneously with growing number of people living below poverty line.

Both demand and supply factors explain this state of affairs. On the demand side, poverty and illiteracy appear to be significant factors adversely affecting household decisions to send children to school. On the supply side, high population growth rates and lack of sufficient financial commitment has caused illiteracy to rise. There have been commendable efforts in the private and non-governmental sectors, but the scale of these efforts has not been sufficient to make a difference to the aggregate situation.

According to annual report released by Social Policy and Development Center (SPDC), Pakistan has been placed at the 144th position out of 175 countries in terms of the human development index. In other words, Pakistan ranks among the bottom 30 countries of the world. With respect to the education index, Pakistan ranks among the bottom 15 countries.

Comparative data reveals that Pakistan is at the bottom of the ranking of countries in the region, with an adult illiteracy rate of 56 percent, well above average of 37 percent for Sub-Saharan Africa and 44 percent for South Asia. Net primary enrolment rate in Pakistan is at 46 percent, the lowest in South Asia. Even Bangladesh, Bhutan and Nepal fare better than Pakistan in almost all key educational indicators.

The fact that education has failed to find its place in the matrix of policy priorities and targets have remained unrealized is the result of certain binding constraints, rooted in a number of factors at the societal and state levels.

There have certainly been consistent efforts on the part of the government to expand education. These efforts however appear to be stalled by structural and policy factors such as macro-economic and fiscal stabilization policies, poverty, rural land inequality, weak implementation of education policies, and above all, the socio-political environment. The rise of income inequality and poverty has served to restrict access to education for the poor, unequal rural land ownership, as well as disparity in urban resource distribution has contributed to unequal access to education. Macro-economic stabilization policy has tended to encroach on provincial finances and compromise resource availability for education, and education policies have suffered from a lack of success on the implementation front.

BUDGETARY ALLOCATIONS

Contrary to the importance of education for social and economic growth, public spending on education in Pakistan is 1.8 percent of GDP, which is the lowest in South Asia and has actually declined from 2.6 percent in 1990.

Figures obtained from a survey reveal that Pakistan is among the 12 countries in the world that spend less than 2 percent of GDP on education. Over the years, a stabilization driven macro-economic policy has shrunk the fiscal space for provinces, leaving little to spend on the provision of social services. Consequently, the growth in provincial expenditures for all levels of education has collapsed since 1997, the report said.

The statistics regarding state of education are shocking and a matter of concern. The report says that adult literacy rates have been increasing at less than one per cent per annum over the last 30 years, with considerable urban-rural and provincial differences.

The number of illiterate people has increased from 28 million in 1972 to 46 million presently. The 1993-2000 periods witnessed an annual growth rate of only 3.4 percent in primary enrollment against 6.4 percent during the 1980s. The situation in terms of net primary enrollment ratio is even worse not only are the levels of net enrollment rates low, they also exhibit a declining trend over the years and is now even lower than in Nepal and Bhutan.

Persistently low levels of primary enrollment have led to an increase in the population of out of school children in the 5-9 age groups there are 13 million out of school children out of about 50 million children in this group, over half of whom are girls. With respect to the net secondary enrollment rate, Pakistan registers a dismal 10 percent, with the same gender, rural-urban and provincial disparities that are evident in all indicators. At the national level, the overall dropout rate has increased steadily from 40 percent in 1996-97 to 54 percent in 1999-2000. Dropouts are generally higher among girls and are increasing at a higher pace relative to boys.

Investment in education and human resource development offers high returns in terms of economic growth and development.

The report shows that poverty has an adverse impact on access to education and unequal access to education has an adverse impact on development level. The rise of income inequality and poverty in recent years is shown to restrict access to education for the poor and unequal rural land ownership has contributed to unequal access to schooling.

Poverty is also shown to be concentrated in households in which the head of the households is illiterate. Thus, children belonging to such households, trapped in illiteracy and poverty, tend to remain out of school and be pushed into child labor with all its attendant consequences. It is not surprising that the single largest reason cited by households for not sending boys to school is that education is too expensive in Pakistan.

The study establishes a case for greater and more broad-based spread of education opportunities in order to reduce the disparity between districts and raise their development levels. In addition to economic development, income and education inequality also has implications for social cohesion. Income is the primary determinant of whether a child goes to an English-medium or Urdu-medium school or to a madrassah. The students of these different streams hold such different world views and opinions that they seem to be living in different worlds. In many respects, these world views are even hostile to each other and to an extent that has polarized society and impended social cohesion. The starkest difference is between students from elite English-medium schools and madrassahs, which stand diametrically opposed to each other in terms of their opinions on almost all issues.

In fact the outcome of the constant neglect right from the inception of this country over the significance of quality education for all which in fact prepares a society for developing all social, economic, and political and above human values. This state of ignorance at such a large scale becomes more challenging in the face of the technological changes and globalization of markets which is setting up unprecedented process of transformation of the economies of the world from the traditional "resource" to knowledge based development in all spheres of life especially the economic growth. The most important components of a knowledge based economy are human and institutional capital as opposed to physical and financial capital in the resource-based economy.

UNDERLYING PURPOSE

Education has a wide range of advantages and benefits for economic, social and political development of a country. The positive relationship between economic development and education levels and the impact of investment in education on economic growth are well established. The transiting of the world towards a knowledge based economy is adding to the importance of human resources in general, and of education in particular. Human resources are poised to commend an increasingly important role in the balance of world economics and, hence, political power. In addition to economic and political impacts, and also because of them, education leads to social spill-over as well.

PUBLIC-PRIVATE PARTNERSHIP

The current state of education in Pakistan is the victims of various experiments made under different philosophies in Pakistan. The nationalization of the private sector educational institutions under the doctrine of so called socialism changed the entire complexion of the education, the soul of social growth of a nation. When that idea of nationalization proved a miserable failure, the education was again transferred to the private hands. But this time the situation was completely changed. Most of the moneyed people entered into the noble sector of education have converted education as a commercial venture being run only for profit making. The trend of commercialization killed the very spirit that education should be for all. Now is the time when only people desire to have quality education should carry a heavy purse to bear the exorbitant cost of education. As far as public sector educational institutions were concerned, the class rooms present a deserted look. Students have no option but to go to the coaching centers to get through the examinations. The most of the coaching centers are being run by the teachers of these public sector institutions, who instead of taking classes with devotion to discharge their duties honesty are more interested in promoting their own coaching centers. These teachers come to the public sector institutions just to attract more students for their own coaching centers. These faculty members are regular in the public institutions only in the days of salary disbursement. It is irony that the amenity plots allotted by the government for education purpose are openly used for commercial gains. The prime land given for the purpose of education, in some cases is being used for marriage gardens and other commercial purposes. In order to escape from their commitment, a small portion of such lands is cleverly reserved for education institutions. In other cases, though the educational institutions have been set up but they are being run purely for money making instead of serving the cause of spreading knowledge at an affordable level in the society.

The situation calls for radical steps to improve quality of education, ensuring discipline among the students and eradication of rampant corruption. The situation also demands that an effective partnership between public and private sector educational institutions.

A wide range of international studies have established that, by and large, human resource development impacts economic development positively. Of course, higher levels of economic development enable higher allocations of resources to attain higher level of human resource development. However, human resource development remains the basic step to economic development.

A knowledge-based society necessarily requires a higher average standard of education and a greater proportion of its work force as knowledge workers. The concept of education based economics should not be confused with that of information and communication technology. Technology is only a subset of the content of knowledge that encompasses a knowledge-based society. The new type of knowledge, unlike the knowledge based work the industrial society relief on, goes beyond the skills of professionals such as scientists, engineers, technicians, architects, lawyers, doctors, economists etc. It is a more multi-disciplinary and holistic body of knowledge and requires institutionalization to be productive.