KNOWLEDGE-BASED ECONOMY

SHAMSUL GHANI
(feedback@pgeconomist.com)
Aug 16 - 22, 20
10

Following are the opening lines of the chapter on Education forming part of Pakistan Economic Survey 2009-10:

"It is widely acknowledged that education is among the single most important factor contributing to poverty alleviation. Education plays an overarching role and has a cross cutting impact on all aspects of human life. It is a vital investment for human and economic development."

The above lines have all the force and attraction required to qualify as the opening paragraph of a highly important subject - education. But, rhetoric and beautifully constructed sentences contribute just nothing towards practical solution of problems they purport to address. We have spent 63 years allowing our leadership to toy with our problems without ever bothering to be at least serious about those problems, leave alone the question of resolving them. We all know that lack of education is the root cause of all economic and social imbalances of our society. Besides having immense economic potential, Pakistan is blessed with a predominantly younger generation which, through proper education, guidance, and training can be converted into a force that can be used to develop high-value economic and social synergies. Ours is the era of knowledge-based economy. We cannot survive anymore on the basis of conventional economic tools. A combination of automation, computerisation and IT-based problem solving can give a tremendous boost to the economy and social uplift.

Numbers of factors hamper educational development in Pakistan. Most destabilising of them are:

1. Government's failure to assign top priority to education
2. General societal ignorance of the value of education
3. Resources constraints

Education has never been and will never be the top priority of the ruling elite, which is formed of predominantly feudal material. Promotion of education creates awareness which in turn becomes a potent threat to the feudal power structure. The country is said to have a literacy rate of around 57 percent. This is highly controversial. If measured on the basis of international yardstick of literacy, vastly fudged literacy rate would shrink drastically.

During military autocratic rules, the education sector comparatively gets greater attention and government financial support. The country's conventional democrats who mostly come from the feudal setup hardly focus on education either for lack of time or by design. Lack of talent pool and party-line compulsions deter them from finding the right persons for the high-profile positions of great national importance. Being aware of the short tenure of their rule they are caught up between the desire to dismantle previous government policies and the ambition to advance their own. The result is that the important sectors like economic, finance and education hugely suffer.

The general societal ignorance of the value of education suits the ruling elite who has to exert minimal effort to steer the poor segments of society away from the pursuit of education. Religious extremism also creates a potent synergy with the economic backwardness and poverty to drive the youth away from the midnight-oil-burning pursuit of education. The distraught and misguided youth takes to the course of seemingly easy and money-rich ways of terrorist life. The parents hardly try to understand the value of persistent educational effort that could transform the lives of their children, and theirs' too. Their own lack of education and poor economic condition stand in their way.

Resource allocation for education sector in terms of percentage of GDP has been dismal throughout the history of Pakistan. Education has been allocated, on an average, 2.1 percent of GDP per annum during the last 10 years. The country's population has also grown at almost a similar rate. The resource allocation could at best suggest that education is in stagnancy mode.

GOVERNMENT SPENDING ON EDUCATION AND LITERACY RATE IN VARIOUS COUNTRIES

COUNTRY SPENDING ON EDUCATION AS % OF GDP LITERACY RATE% COUNTRY SPENDING ON EDUCATION AS % OF GDP LITERACY RATE %
Pakistan 2.1 57 Indonesia 3.5 Not available
Bangladesh 2.6 55 Thailand 4.5 Not available
Nepal 3.2 58 Malaysia 4.7 92
India 3.3 Not/available Iran 5.2 Not available
Sri Lanka Not available 90.6 Vietnam 5.3 93

It will be observed that in order for a nation to have a literacy rate of 90 plus, its government must spend on education around five percent of its GDP. Pakistani governments have been spending around two percent of GDP on education since the birth of this country. Any revolutionary change in this pattern is not expected in the near future.

Like so many other policy documents, we have a National Education Policy 2009. Work on this policy was started in 2005 but remained suspended during 2007 and 2008, as those were the years when political strife had been heightened. The democratic setup did well to resume work on the policy. Unfortunately, the document known as National Education Policy 2009 does not make a good reading. Highly improbable and unachievable goals and objectives have been dumped together in this document. Only two of them are being reproduced here to gauge the level of seriousness of those responsible for the preparation of this document:

1. Government shall take steps to ensure that teacher recruitment, professional development, promotions, and postings are based on merit alone.

2. The government shall allocate seven percent of GDP to education by 2015 and necessary enactment shall be made for this purpose.

Objective #1 hardly needs any comments. A society that has been raised on quota systems, and ruled by the herds of "non-graduates" and fake degree holders can not expected to change overnight.

Objective # 2 shows the level of arrogance of policy makers. During the last 63 years, government has not been able to raise the education expenditure percentage from two to three. The claim to raise this percentage to seven within a short period of five years is more than ridiculous - just to make an understatement. This is not the only unrealistic document prepared by policy experts. There is a huge sea of them lying unattended and unimplemented. As someone said, "don't ask me questions; I won't tell lies." So do our policy makers say, "don't ask us to make policies; we won't tell lies."

Pakistan has reached the most critical juncture of its history: its economy underperforming unabatedly, social fiber destroyed by vested interests, security threatened by terrorists and natural disasters. The moment of truth is staring in our faces. Are we destined to completely degenerate as a society and as a nation? To achieve a turnaround, we will have to be honest with ourselves as a nation; with the nation as leaders, and with the country as policy makers. The beginning can be made from the fields of education and economy. Honest, sound and workable economic and educational policies and their sincere implementation can usher in an era of knowledge-based economy. This is the only way to survive as a nation.