EDUCATION & ECONOMY

FOZIA AROOJ
(feedback@pgeconomist.com)
Feb 22 - 28, 2010

A society of literate and skilled citizens has more chances of prosperity economically and socially. Education is vital to the socio-economic development of nations. It spins the social fabric of the society and gives rise to economic well being through knowledge, skill, and creative strength of the society. It promotes a productive and informed citizenry and creates opportunities for the socially and economically underprivileged sections of the society. Education can reduce poverty and social injustice by providing the underprivileged resources and opportunities for upward social mobility and social inclusion. Public spending on education as a percentage of total government expenditure has remained very low in Pakistan, 1.8 percent of GDP, well below prescribed international levels that range between the 20% recommended by the Unicef. This spending is the lowest in South Asia. Pakistan remains amongst the 12 countries of the world that spend less than 2% of GDP on education.

As the sixth most populous country in the world with 40% of the population under the age of 15, Pakistan faces an enormous challenge in providing universal quality education to all its citizens. Following Nigeria, Pakistan has the largest number of out-of-school children and youth, and is estimated to still have 3.7 million children out of primary school in 2015. The solution, however, requires more than just building schools and hiring teachers.

Quality education contributes to student's cognitive development, his/her sense of social responsibility, and ensuring an equitable system. While Pakistan's average per capita annual income is approximately $1,000, yet it is skewed with almost 40% of the population living on less than a dollar a day. Investments on education are the lowest.

Net enrollment rates of 56% (which do not take dropouts in account) are less in comparison to neighboring India (90%) and Bangladesh (92%). About development, Pakistan is no longer keeping up with its south Asian nations and rather is equated with sub-Saharan Africa.

Economic backwardness is highly linked to low labor efficiency and training, deficient supplies of entrepreneurship and slow growth in knowledge. The countries that have surged ahead on the other hand are characterized by high level of human capital accumulation where the educated labor force has raised the level of output and the rate of growth sustainably over a period. Pakistan at the moment is suffering from a host of economic as well as socio-political maladies such as unemployment, low earnings, inflation, corruption, exploitation, rapid population growth and, above all, political instability resulting from lack of highly educated leaders and professionals.

In fact, education is the only effective remedy, which can cure the economy and eradicate social evils. Education is considered to have a strong correlation with social and economic developments. In contemporary times when the focus is on the 'knowledge economy' the role of education becomes all the more important in the development of human capital. Education reforms change both the structure and content of the education syllabus, decision-making, and policy implementation.

The reforms will require clear standards to measure progress and independent oversight to keep the process on track and deal with the problem that will inevitably arise from such an effort. Without affordable and accessible education, Pakistan is closing the door to tomorrow's brightest entrepreneurs, scientists, engineers, doctors, lawyers, computer scientists, bankers, artists, and other intellectuals. Moreover, by not providing education opportunities to students, the government is neglecting a very effective way to alleviate poverty through economic growth and development. The United Nations has projected that by 2050 Pakistan's population will double to about 350 million with the projected workforce at approximately 221 million. By increasing spending on education manifolds from the current 2.42% of the real GDP, Pakistan has a unique opportunity to invest in its human capital by providing adequate education and skills to this emerging workforce.

Education financing schemes such as cost sharing and private student loans are extremely popular in developed countries. As a society realizes the high importance of educated citizens, the burden of financial costs is carried as much by the government as the students themselves. In developed countries, students are given the opportunity to earn college and higher education degrees, which enable them to gain employment and pay back their student loans. Both student and society benefit immensely from such opportunities. Such financial assistance schemes provide students with prospects that they cannot otherwise afford. In the absence of financial aids that enable students from low-income families to attend higher education, only well-off students can afford to pay the increasing fees of educational institutions. The government, therefore, cannot afford not to support more students and make it easier for students of all financial backgrounds to attain higher education.

On the other hand, the government must be involved in investing in the education of its citizens and the future of the country. One approach that the government may follow is the establishment of an education tax. Every Pakistani must pay Rs100/year as education tax, which may be collected at the time of issuing/renewing of the, for example, national identity card.

We should particularly emphasize on the launching of modern information technology education. IT has globalized the world of science. New and innovative learning options and opportunities are constantly being introduced in this field. Developing countries like Pakistan need to be upbeat and vigorous to explore technological innovations to cut the shackles of poverty.