FOCUSING TECHNICAL EDUCATION

SHAMSUL GHANI
(feedback@pgeconomist.com)
June 20 - 26, 20
11

Alan Greenspan, the ex Fed chairman and a free market economist, thought that little can be projected about US economy - say in 2030 - unless he gets affirmative answers to the following questions. Will the rule of law still be firm in 2030? Will we still adhere to the principle of globalized free markets, with the protectionism held in check? Will we have fixed our dysfunctional elementary and secondary school systems? Will the consequences of global warming emerge slowly enough so as not to significantly affect US economic activity by 2030? And finally, will we have kept terrorist attacks in the United States at bay?

Apprehensive of the deteriorating US primary and secondary school systems, Greenspan describes the negative transition in the following words: "Our educational system responded in the 1920s and 1930s, high school enrollment in this country expanded rapidly. It became the job of these institutions to prepare students for work life. In the context of the demand of the economy at that time, a high school diploma represented the training needed to be successful in most aspects of American enterprise. The economic returns in the job market from having a high school diploma rose, and as a result, high school enrollment rates climbed. By the time the United States entered World War II, the median level of education for seventeen-year-old was a high school diploma - an accomplishment that set the United States apart from other countries...In the foregoing, I have voiced concern about the state of our elementary and secondary education while lauding the world-class university system we have built over the generations. It should be clear, however, that unless the former could be brought up to world class, the latter will either have to depend on foreign students or sink into mediocrity...Enhancing elementary and secondary school sensitivity to market forces should help restore the balance between the demand for and supply of skilled workers in the United States."

Pakistan has suffered, from its inception, from the same disease that is now proving worrisome to the leading world economy. While Greenspan foresaw the domination of US university system by foreign students, Bill Gates, the Microsoft chairman warned the US Congress of putting a check on the migration of skilled workers in the following words in March 2007: "America will find it infinitely more difficult to maintain its technological leadership if it shuts out the very people who are most able to help us compete. We are driving away the world's best and brightest precisely when we need them most." The US, constrained by its world economic leadership status and operating under a fast-pace free market capitalistic system, finds it difficult to correct its education system that is not responding at primary and secondary school level - the reason being the time required to effect reforms. It has, therefore, reluctantly opted for the alternative - dependence on migrated workforce.

On the contrary, Pakistan is in a position to look back and address the fault lines of its education system. It has no leadership pressures, and it is not a fast-lane economy. Correcting our primary and secondary education systems in line with the global demand for economic workforce can bring rich dividends. Making technical and vocational training the focal point of basic education can turn us into a market of semi-skilled and skilled labor suppliers. The Asian Tigers, Hong, Kong, Singapore, Taiwan, Malaysia, Thailand etc rose to economic heights by following a simple economic model - an open economy for foreign investors with property rights in force and abundant, mostly educated, low-cost labor on tap. These nations never indulged themselves in democratic versus autocratic tug of war and often recorded amazing economic progress under autocratic rules. We did the same a few years, but were, unfortunately, dragged into the damaging tug of war and were made to pay a price that has gone far beyond our capacity.

PAKISTAN'S VITAL EDUCATION STATISTICS (IN THOUSANDS)

EDUCATIONAL LEVEL

ENROLMENTS INSTITUTIONS TEACHERS
2008-09 2009-10 2010-11 2008-09 2009-10 2010-11 2008-09 2009-10 2010-11
Pre-Primary 8,453 8,743 8,925 - - - - - -
Primary 18,468 18,756 19,022 156.7 157.4 157.0 465.3 466.5 470.0
Middle 5,414 5,501 5,525 40.9 41.3 41.8 320.5 331.3 337.5
High School 2,556 2,582 2,658 24.3 24.8 25.2 439.3 446.5 455.2
Higher Sec/Inter 1,074 1,165 1,257 3.2 3.3 3.4 76.2 77.1 79.2
Degree Colleges 429 542 620 1.3 1.4 1.6 21.2 30.8 35.7
Universities 804 936 1,105 0.1 0.1 - 52.8 57.8 63.5
Total 37,180 38,226 39,111 226.6 228.4 229.0 1,375.3 1,409.8 1,441.2

The most vulnerable point of our enrolment statistics is the middle level where enrolments taper down to just 29 percent of those at primary level. Similarly, at high school level, the enrolments shrink to 48 percent of those at middle level and to just 14 percent of those at primary level. The reasons for a high dropout ratio could be various and divergent, ranging from social to economic and from cultural to religious. But, the economic reason is certainly the dominant one. In most of the cases the state, if interested in the uplift of society, can tone down cultural, social, and religious concerns through policy incentives.

Investment in education, particularly in potential and emergent economies, guarantees a rich return in the shape of a higher economic growth. Free education at primary and secondary levels coupled with stipend-based technical and vocational training programs can transform the raw talent of a young generation into instruments of fast-pace economic development. Commenting on the employment mismatch, Dr Ishrat Hussain, Dean & Director IBA and Ex-Governor State Bank of Pakistan, recently said: "We are producing people for whom there is no demand in the country but at the same time there are acute shortages of nurses, paramedics, air-conditioner mechanics, plumbers and technicians of all sorts." We could generate a sustained flow of such stuff by introducing various technical training programs at primary, middle, and high school levels.

With proper economic growth measures in place, the domestic market should be prepared to welcome the high-school certificate holders with necessary training of technical occupations. As cheap semi-skilled and skilled labor is in demand worldwide, this workforce can relocate to ensure a better life for its family and an enhanced inflow of workers' remittance for the country. The opportunities for such a workforce are immense. Presently, a number of world leading economies are haunted by the specter of their aging population and their noncompetitive, deteriorating capital stock. They are on a lookout for foreign skilled workforce to stoke the fire of their economic development. They are now speaking loudly against government restrictions to block the entry of foreign workforce. The US central banker and economist Alan Greenspan writes in his book The Age of Turbulence: "The shortages occur because we are inhibiting world competitive labor markets from functioning. Administrative exclusionary rules have been substituted for the pricing mechanism. In the process, we have created in this country a privileged, native-born elite of skilled workers whose incomes are supported at noncompetitively high levels by immigration quotas on skilled professionals. Eliminating such restrictions would, at the stroke of a pen, reduce much income inequality and address the problem of a potentially noncompetitive capital stock.

The economic law is simple - competition and only competition is to prevail in all markets and youth market being no exception. If a state fails to put its teeming, talented youth to some productive use, there are competitors to buy it out for their nefarious ends and destructive purposes. By neglecting our young generation, we have become a raw material supplier to the terrorist organizations.