Spending on education in Pakistan is the lowest in South Asia

Mar 01 - 07, 2004

Despite the obvious importance of education, 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.

According to an in-depth analysis of the state of education in Pakistan, made by Social Policy and Development Centre (SPDC) in its annual review 2002-03, 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 report 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.

The current state of education as described in the report is 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.

According to the world ranking of the Technology Achievement Index which measures the level of technological achievement of an economy and the knowledge economy Index-which measures how effectively an economy creates, diffuses and uses knowledge for its economic and social development-Pakistan is categorized as a marginalized economy. There is, therefore,

There is a need and urgency for serious efforts to upgrade the educational level in the country.