UNBEARABLE COST OF EDUCATION
PROPER RESOURCE UTILIZATION CAN TAP FUNDS
SHABBIR H. KAZMI
Feb 22 - 28, 2010
Globalization has created many opportunities as well as challenges. Only those nations can benefit from the opportunities, which acquire the requisite knowledge and skills. Human resource development is enhancement of human capabilities in achieving desirable objectives. Relevant quality education and training, predominant in the new environment, promotes a productive and informed citizenry, and offers opportunities to the socially and economically underprivileged sections of society.
Elementary schooling becomes the most remunerative investment in educational programs of the developing countries when opportunities for gainful employment of the educated are made an integral part of the strategy. Physical and mental well-being in a holistic and integrated approach towards human development is crucial.
Some of inherent issues of education systems include teachers' absenteeism, high dropout rates particularly at primary level, gender biasness, social stigmas, low literacy rate, and unsatisfactory performance of schools. However, mother of all evils is high cost of education.
Private sector role in education has increased with the passage of time, mainly due to paltry allocation of funds for education by the government. According to some findings, number of private educational institutions in Pakistan is close to fifty thousand. Out of these over sixty per cent are operating in the urban areas and remaining in the rural areas. The share of private sector in total enrollment is less than one-fifth at primary school level, about fifteen per cent at middle school level and high school level.
Most of the private schools select their own curricula and textbooks, which are not in conformity with public schools. Majority of the schools are "English medium" which attracts the parents for sending their children to these schools. Many of these schools admit large number of students and also lack adequate physical facilities. These schools usually charge higher fees. Significantly large number of such schools is not registered with the concerned authorities. Therefore, in most cases the certificates issued by these institutions are not recognized by public schools. Majority of these institutions are functioning in the rented buildings.
According to the Constitution of Pakistan, the federal government is entrusted with the responsibility for policy planning and promotion of educational facilities in the federating units. This responsibility is in addition to the overall policymaking, coordinating and advisory authority; otherwise, education is the provincial subject. Universities located in various provinces are administered by the provincial governments, but are exclusively funded by the federal government through the higher education commission.
Education for All refers to the global commitment to ensure that by 2015 all children would complete primary education of good quality (Universal Primary Completion), and that gender disparity would be eliminated in primary and secondary education no later than 2015. This commitment was made at the World Education Forum in Dakar, Senegal in April 2000 and reaffirmed in the Millennium declaration in New York in September 2000. The government of Pakistan assigns top priority to this commitment. Ten year Perspective Development Plan (2001-11) formulated long-term macroeconomic and sector growth strategies and poverty reduction and human development is the priority area of the plan.
One of the major factors responsible for the unsatisfactory development of education in Pakistan is the low level of public investment in education. Interestingly, the levels of public investment in education in South Asia have been found to be at the lowest order, even less than those in sub-Saharan Africa. Reportedly, Bangladesh invests less than 2.5% of its gross national product (GNP), in Pakistan it is less than 3% and Nepal and India spend slightly more than 3% on education.
While it is generally believed that the public sector is handicapped due to financial constraints, one study suggests that the recurrent unit cost in private schools is half of that incurred by government schools (even without factoring in the cost of amortizing school buildings). This raises issues of the cost of service provision and the overhead expenses being incurred to provide elementary education in the public sector. It also indicates the mismanagement of public expenditure on education, as the bulk of the revenues are not going towards improving the quality of instruction in the schools.
Education sector development in Pakistan has been hampered by a number of problems including inadequate physical infrastructure and facilities, shortage of trained and motivated teachers, and inadequacies related to quality and relevance of curricula. A major setback has been under-investment in quality education.
Lack of proper and regular supervision and monitoring has led to major breakdowns in quality. Governance related problems manifest themselves in lack of transparency, accountability, and tracking mechanisms as well as of partnerships between planners and service providers. There is also lack of clarity in roles and responsibilities. Finally, the problems of matching resource mobilization and utilization to targets and outcomes, multiple reporting lines and absence of formal criteria for funds allocation at the school level also constitute major challenges.
A review of the education system identifies two key issues 1) limited availability of funds and 2) imprudent use of the scare resources. It is also noted that even the best strategies could not be implemented mainly because of 'Wadera Shahi' particularly in the rural areas, where people have to depend on government schools. It is on record that often the elected representatives do not spend the money on education fearing that their 'Haris' if educated will no longer remain their 'slaves'.
According to Raza Haroon, IT Minister for Sindh, "the conditions may be far from satisfactory but students' interest in education particularly in the information technology is enormous". Therefore, it is the responsibility of every citizen of Pakistan to contribute towards education. The biggest contribution will be spending a few minutes to look into the affairs of schools in the neighborhood. Only accountability can help in ensuring optimum utilization of the meager available resources.