MOUNTING PRICE OF EDUCATION

SADAF AURANGZAIB
Jan 07 - 13, 2008

"It's not unusual in Pakistan to hear of public schools that receive no books, no supplies, and no subsidies from the government. Thousands more are 'ghost schools' that exist only on paper, to line the pockets of phantom teachers and administrators." National Geographic: Struggle for the Soul of Pakistan, Don Belt

Education has its ramifications on the economic, social, moral and cultural life of the people. The standard of education of a nation is an indicator of its development, progress and prosperity. The situation of education in Pakistan has always been in an adverse condition due to the various factors that contribute towards this very serious and necessary element of the society and the nation as a whole.

The UNESCO's Education for All Global Monitoring Report 2007, says that Pakistan is second among the countries of the world with highest number of out-of school children and the illiterate population in the country is rising.

The report says the net enrolment ratio in Pakistan is less than 80 per cent when it is compared to other developing countries where enrolment ratio went up to over 85 per cent by 2004. It discloses that of 6.5 million out-of school children, 80 per cent were never enrolled. This grave situation is the result of poverty since more than 60 per cent of the population subsists on $ 2 a day. Pakistan having over five million illiterates is one of the countries where global illiteracy is concentrated.

Lack of education is responsible for poverty which later limits the access to schooling. Pakistan along with India and Bangladesh also have the notoriety of being one of the 19 countries that have more than one million out-of-primary schoolchildren, most of the remaining countries being in sub-Saharan Africa such as Burkina Faso, Mali or the Niger.

Eliminating poverty requires providing access to quality education and provision of suitable job opportunities. Education thus helps to lay the foundation for the following pillars of poverty reduction: Empowerment, human development, social development and good governance.

It is also no secret that by raising the standard of education, the corporate sector is bound to get a more educated, more efficient and healthier workforce that will in turn bring more profit to the industry. It is not only the corporate sector which will benefit but also the poor rural population of the country that aspire to improve the quality of their life by educating their children. As such the corporate sector should contribute its role in bringing an educational revolution in the country.

Nonetheless the Policy makers of Pakistan do not seem to realize this immense importance of investing in the people of the country, and not only in the construction of roads and bridges. Lack of skills and high illiteracy levels are a great barrier to economic development as an inadequate infrastructure. This will become increasingly evident as Pakistan is forced to compete in world markets where most developing countries already have more skilled workers.

PRICE STATISTICS OF A SIMPLE HOUSEHOLD ON EDUCATION

A general market survey reveals that if a person earns Rs10,000 a month then he has to manage at least Rs2,500-3,000 for one kid in the month of August to cover up education expenses in shape of course and other items. That is also for a normal kind of education i.e. (Matric system through Private schools) and not the Cambridge system which is on a much higher range in terms of cost of education.

One can guess the hard times of a person who earns only Rs 6,000 a month and have more than two kids. How he manages to meet other requirements like paying utility bills and purchasing food items in such a meager salary especially in the month of August.

School owners do not lag behind in making windfalls as they jack up monthly fee and annual fee at the start of new academic session. And what they give to the teachers and staffers from their huge monthly incomes is really shameful to reveal here.

The situation of the higher education is no less than the above mentioned primary education price hike. Prof V.K. Tevari, Vice-President of the All India Federation of University and College Teachers' Organization, compared the neo-liberal commercialization policies of the WB in India and Pakistan with reference to the GATS agreement said that Indian varsities were facing exactly the same policies of restructuring the Model Act, which he said would make education a commodity and would place higher learning into the hands of entrepreneurs, just as the Pakistani varsities were being targeted through Model University Ordinance, Task Force reports, Tenure Track System and Foreign Faculty hiring."

According to Eng Ghulam Kibria, the school education cost has risen up to Rs5,000 per month, while university education cost up to Rs12,000 per month, which was affordable only for upper and upper-middle classes only.

INCLUSION OF PRIVATE AND NGO SECTOR TOWARDS EDUCATION IMPROVEMENT

The government has indicated that it does not have the resources to cope with improving the higher education system on its own. It has, therefore, turned to the private and NGOs sector as partners in this effort by creating a policy environment that would allow these two actors to become more involved, particularly in the creation of new institutions.

Some critics of the private higher education in Pakistan are of the opinion that this sector is totally business oriented. Owners of private universities have been amassing huge money by fooling the students in the name of their affiliation with one foreign university or another. Only a few of the universities imparting postgraduate courses with affiliation to foreign universities have sought the permission from HEC.

Higher education in public and private sectors has expanded considerably in the last few decades. The number of colleges and universities has increased. The demand for higher education is increasing rapidly due to its high rates of return and expanding size of middle class. Higher education is regarded as a very expensive undertaking and requires a careful analysis of its financial requirements in order to ensure its sustainability. Therefore, if not properly managed, private institutions could be instrumental in causing major drifts in class and social division.

Good institutions of higher learning are essential for building leadership and professionalism in our country. Unfortunately government institutions no longer enjoy the reputation they used to twenty years ago. The Punjab University, Government college of Lahore and Karachi University, are not perceived as institutions of high academic standards anymore. At the core of this deterioration is the public examination system. Malpractice in the system has made the Intermediate, Bachelors and Masters Degrees unreliable measures of student competence. Public institutions of higher learning have also become a source of student politics, and student and teacher non-attendance is high.

The inability of degrees from government universities and colleges to serve the graduates in the job market has led to a substantial demand by parents and employers for private higher education, where students are willing to pay high fees. However these institutions are mostly commercial ventures, some of them playing a role in providing marketable skills. Most serve as tuition centers to prepare students for board exams, rarely providing quality education and opportunities for intellectual growth.

A few universities in the private sector have attempted to fill this vacuum for quality higher education, of which the best known two are the Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS) and the Aga Khan Medical University in Karachi. These universities provide successful alternatives to poor quality education in the public sector. In the case of the Lahore University of Management Sciences, the initiative came from businessmen who supported and funded the setting up of a private school that they perceived would meet the demand of Pakistani industrialists and bankers for well qualified local MBAs.

Behind successful ventures there are always individuals or a group of people who are committed and persistent in achieving goals for their institutions. However when the institution expands, individuals may lose the momentum to maintain high standards. It may also not be possible for one person or a small group of persons to effectively continue maintaining the same level of interest and high standards. Once an institution is successfully established it is important to also establish a clear organization structure for sustaining quality to guide those who work in it.

To remain financially viable, it is important to be able to cover running costs through fees, and through donor funding which is needed to be raised and worked upon to bring in more fruitful results in the higher education set up

IMPACT AND RESOLUTIONS

Though the government has doubled expenditure on education in the last ten years but the emphasis is still on construction of facilities and recruitment of teachers without an effort to improve quality of education. The vast majority of children who do attend school are not able to read and comprehend material other than what they memorize from textbooks. Nor are they able to perform simple computational skills in mathematics. So for a lot of children who do make it to school, the education they receive is extremely inadequate and an inefficient use of public resources.

Millions of poor families in Pakistan want good schools for their children. They demonstrate this demand enthusiastically when they are assured that the education received is worthwhile. Participation rates are high in successful projects. Successful schools established under the Baldia Home Schools project, the Orangi Pilot project and the Aga Khan Rural Support Program have also been in operation since the eighties. All these schools operate with community support and involvement.

The majority of Pakistanis have access only to the cheaper state provided education; there is scarce evidence of reform in state universities. The varsities which are offering the valuable education that could participate in the overall human resource development needs to asses the operational charges and the cost of education so that a common man of a society would be able to get good and quality education. If we would be able to institutionalize the system of education with the help of government, through proper funding and donations, we would be able to get a much positive response as far as education is concerned as no man in the society wants to live below poverty line and each individual hopes and works towards the better future. The need of the time is that a greater interest must be placed in the sector and actions must be taken on forefront and on sure footings and they just not imitate the other models of various countries but should be based on the real findings of the country statistics and such a modus operandi should be initiated that would make each and every individual a productive source by having a quality education as his utmost right.

HISTORICAL BACKGROUND

When Pakistan was founded in 1947 as a result of the partition with India, the country had only one institution of higher education, the University of the Punjab. Over the next 20 years, many private and public schools and higher education institutions were established to help fuel the country's socio-economic development.

In the early 1970s, all of Pakistan's educational institutions were nationalized under the government of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, who was committed to the idea of Islamic Socialism.

For the next decade, Pakistan's entire system of education was state-run. However, the growing demand for higher education fast outpaced the establishment of new public universities. During that period, the system could accommodate only 25 percent of the high school graduates who applied to higher education institutions. The overcrowding prompted many wealthy Pakistanis to seek university degrees abroad in the United States, Great Britain and Australia, while others sought out private tutors at home or entered the job market without a degree.

In 1979 a government commission reviewed the consequences of nationalization and concluded that in view of the poor participation rates at all levels of education, the public sector could no longer be the country's sole provider of education. By the mid-1980s, private educational institutions were allowed to operate on the condition that they comply with government-recognized standards.

Until 1991, there were only two recognized private universities in Pakistan: Aga Khan University established in 1983; and Lahore University of Management Sciences established in 1985. By 1997, however, there were 10 private universities and in 2001-2002, this number had doubled to 20. In 2003-2004, Pakistan had a total of 53 private degree granting institutions.

The rapid expansion of private higher education is even more remarkable if we look at the number of institutions established on a year-by-year basis. In 1997, for instance, three private institutions were established; in 2001 eleven new private institutions were opened; and in 2002 a total of 29 private sector institutions sprung up.