EDUCATION SECTOR: BAROMETER OF ECONOMIC & SOCIETAL WELL-BEING

SHAMSUL GHANI (shams_gahni@hotmail.com)
Nov 17 - 23, 2008

Education is a pre-requisite to sustained economic growth and societal well being. The higher the real literacy rate of a country, the greater the achievements on economic and social fronts. Our resource allocation to social sectors, especially education, has been minimal. Utilization of allocated funds has also been dismal. During 2006-07 only 33 per cent of allocation could be utilized. During the first quarter of 2007-08, only 7 per cent of funds allocated for education could be utilized. An under performing education sector can hardly boast of any worthwhile achievement of economic goals. The literacy rate in real term, and not just the number of people with ability to read/write, is what really matters.

Purposeful spending and full utilization of the funds allocated for education should be ensured. The run-of-the-mill type curricula also need to be replaced with more open and dynamic education programs. We need to inculcate a culture of R&D in our children at school level by introducing a full time subject that provides children with an opportunity to exhibit their creativity and skills. The performance of individual students should be graded on the basis of new ideas generated and devices produced to display application of these ideas.

In terms of a Pakistan Social & Living Measurement (PSLM) survey, Pakistan's overall literacy rate (age 10 years and above) was 55 per cent in 2006-07 - male 67 per cent, female 42 per cent. The preceding financial year reported an average of 54 per cent male 65 per cent, female 42 per cent. The stagnancy in female rate has much to do with the destruction wreaked on female educational institutions in war torn Northern areas. The officially declared literacy rates do not conform to the prevalent social and economic backwardness. The real rates must be much lower. It is time we honestly come up with real educational statistics in line with the international standards. In a country where heinous crimes and brutal excesses are committed against women having bias for education and enlightenment, and where girl schools are razed to ground with satanic relish, a high rate of 42 per cent is to be taken with a handful of salt. The following table gives a summarized version of our education sector performance.

NUMBER OF MAINSTREAM INSTITUTIONS, ENROLLMENT AND TEACHERS BY LEVEL
YEAR ENROLLMENT

INSTITUTIONS TEACHERS
  2005-06 2006-07*p 2005-06 2006-07*p 2005-06 2006-07*p
Pre-Primary 7,135,447 8,322,620 - - - -
Primary + Mosque 16,834,417 17,043,460 157,526 158,378 443,973 447,890
Middle 5,262,323 5,576,010 39,370 42,918 310,753 334,554
High 2,133,008 2,244,147 22,909 25,177 362,188 390,612
Higher-sec/Inter 853,535 907,704 2,996 3,332 69,425 73,273
Degree Colleges 325,993 324,988 1,135 1,371 20,568 23,676
Universities 424,012 424,271 111 113 37,509 37,536
Total 32,968,735 34,843,200 224,047 231,289 1,244,416 1,307,541
Source : Pakistan Economic Survey 2007-08
*p = Provisional data by EMIS-MoE, Islamabad

According to the data released under Pakistan Education Statistics 2007, there were on the aggregate 245,682 educational institutions in 2006 out of which 164,579 or 67 per cent were run by public sector and 81,103 or 33 per cent were run by private sector. While the quality difference in the education imparted by two sectors is now proverbial, the cost factor too is a tattletale sign of a lopsided society of haves and haves-not. It will be observed that from primary to university level there is cumulatively one teacher for every 20 students. For public sector schools alone, this number is 30 plus. For a well-known private sector educational network, this number is 13. This sufficiently explains the difference in the quality standards of two educational sectors.

THE COST FACTOR

In a society where around 40 per cent of population lives below the poverty line, quality education is a logically denied luxury for the majority. For families with an average monthly income of Rs.3,000 to Rs.6,000, the only option is to consign their children to the public sector schools imparting free primary education. The ever mounting financial stress forces them to discontinue the education of their children after primary level. This stark reality is highlighted when the difference in enrollment between any two levels is observed.

For example, 16,834,417 students at primary level are reduced to only 5,262,323 students at Middle level. These numbers finally taper off to a meager 424,012 at University level, which means that only 2.5 per cent of the population manages to reach the university level during 2005-06. Shall we still insist on a 55 per cent literacy rate?

The families having monthly income between Rs.8,000 and Rs.15,000 somehow mange to finance the public sector schooling cost of their children up to the matriculation level after which the pay-back time for their children starts. As a result children are lost in the job hunting mad race. Only those families having a monthly income of more than Rs.20,000 dare to send one or two of their children to college. They wait in anguish to see the end of four painful years when their child will be able to complete his or her graduation to take over the job for supporting the family.

The extremely prohibitive fee structure of private sector schools particularly those based on Cambridge education systems makes quality education the exclusive domain of the ultra rich. Admissions from class one to A-Levels cost around Rs.40,000 to Rs.100,000 (inclusive of two months tuition fee and security deposits). The monthly tuition fee from class one to class eight is in the range of Rs.3,500 to Rs.5,500. For O-Levels it is in the range of Rs.5,500 to Rs.7,000 and for A-Levels it is in the range of Rs.10,000 to Rs.12,000.

According to a 2005-06 survey on national poverty status, the 21 per cent non-poor segment of population has an average per-adult monthly income of over Rs.1889. Given the help of this yardstick, it should not be difficult to figure out the number of the ultra rich, and thus also the number of those having access to quality education.