June 14 - 20, 20

While shifting its focus on tertiary levels of education and health, the federal government has vowed to transfer the responsibilities of managing primary and secondary education sectors to its federating units in the budget speech presented by Dr Abdul Hafeez Sheikh for the next financial year 2010-11. Finance Minister said the federal government has restricted its roles in the social sectors limiting itself generally to tertiary levels of health and education with major responsibilities of these sectors shifted to the provinces.

The budgetary allocation for the tertiary education only constitutes 73 per cent of the total allocations for education affairs and services. Total estimated allocation for 2010-11 for education is Rs34.5 billion as compared with Rs31.5 billion revised estimates of 2009-10 while tertiary education got the budgetary allocation of Rs25.2 billion as against Rs23.3 billion earlier.

The state of education sector in the country is abysmal because of mainly lack of funds. Not all pre-primary, primary, secondary, and tertiary education sectors are contributing significant shares in the economic developments of the country. Therefore, the need of high fund allocations overall to this economically critical sector cannot be denied. However, that what should be the scale to measure the intensity of needs of particular subsectors is debatable. In Pakistan's context, some educationists call for unshared focus on the developments of primary education that they think can directly reduce the poverty incidence by a large degree. But, others' viewpoints equally carry substance who say developing higher schooling as well as higher education sector can give boost to local industries lacking a pull to localisation.

Education is important for the economic mobilisation. Unfortunately, successive governments neglected the sector that is evident from uncompetitive and underserved students of mainly public-run education institutions. What one can call it apathy of the government is manifested in the poor state of public sector education institutions as compared to the properly funded private sector.

In this federal budget, Rs3.1 billion has been allocated for pre-primary and primary education affairs services, showing an increase of 10 per cent from Rs2.88 billion revised estimate of FY10. Government has increased allocation to secondary education to Rs4.2 billion from Rs3.8 billion. Allocation to tertiary education was Rs25 billion as against Rs23 billion revised for budget 2009-10.

According to latest statistics of ministry of education, there are 256,088 education institutions in the country with a total enrolment of 37 million students. Seventy per cent (182,477) belong to public sector and 73,611 to private sector. Public sector education institutions of various categories account for 67 per cent (25 million) of the total enrolments while private sector has 12 million students. Total teaching staffs were recorded at 1.3 million, out of which 56 per cent in public and 44 per cent in private. Total enrolment at pre-primary stage is 7.4 million. There are 156,592 primary schools in the country and 89 per cent in public sector. Out of total 320,611 middle schools, 121,052 in public sector. Similarly, government runs 9,911 high schools out of 23,964. Forty per cent of 3,213 higher secondary schools and colleges belong to public sector; 1,202 degree colleges are of government. There are 124 universities in the country, of which 68 are in public sector. Total enrolment in the universities is 741,092 and noticeably 86 per cent (637,037) are in public sector universities.

The enrolment ratio is overall education sector is not encouraging and in case of higher education, this becomes more discouraging especially when Pakistan is acclaimed of having a significant numbers of youth. UNDP estimated more than 60 per cent of Pakistanis fall under the age of 25 years. In this context, funds realignment towards tertiary education is appropriate since lack of government funds would result in further deterioration of crumbling education system in the country. A sizeable portion of the population depends on state supports to get education. Hopefully, increase in allocations may improve the decaying public sector education short of motivated teachers and straitjacketed curricula, poor infrastructure, and aimless education standards. However, primary education and secondary education can involve people who could not attend primary schools let alone colleges and universities in the mainstream.

Dr. Abdul Hafeez Sheikh in the budget speech said that the government would develop innovative scheme for benefiting the poor. The government will start health insurance cover programme with Rs25,000 per family per year for hospitalisation. It is obvious that a certain premium should be paid by the insured to get the covers. Even if it is not likely to happen as it is usual in group insurance in public and private sector companies with deduction of insignificant amount out of salaries, the cover is too little to bear the high costs of hospitalisations for a year. Most importantly, this cover will more likely be for the government employees, so obviously majority of non-government employees drawing Rs7000 per month will let pass the yet needed health benefits. Increase in workforce of lady health workers to 104,000 from 90,000 may extend health services to more underserved areas if meritocratic and not political recruitments take place. The government has allocated Rs7.2 billion for the health affairs and services, an increase of 12.3 per cent over a revised estimate of Rs6.7 billion.

PPP-led government under the 7th NFC Award has stretched the resources to the provinces from Rs655 billion in the ongoing financial year to Rs1033 billion for the budget of coming year. Provinces will receive Rs373 billion as development expenditures from the federal government. While this is more than 80 per cent raise over this year's Rs200 billion, it is now on the discretion of provinces that how they allocate this funds and to which sectors. Health and education, no need to say, should be priorities for healthy and wealthy people.