EDUCATION: SOCIETY'S MIRROR

NUSRAT KHURSHEDI
(feedback@pgeconomist.com)

Apr 2 - 8, 20
12

"Verily Allah will not change the (good) condition of a people as long as they do not change their state (of goodness) themselves. [Al-Ra'd 13:11]

No country can thrive in the modern world without educated citizens. Education is a critical ingredient to poverty alleviation and economic growth. The future performance of the country depends on the successful development of the education sector.

However, in case of Pakistan, low budgetary allocations and their inappropriate use were responsible for poor education standard in the country. Along with this, missing budget lines, delays in disbursement, poor spending capacities at the federal, provincial and district levels and lack of transparency have served to aggravate the crisis. That's why Pakistan continues to be counted among the countries with low spending on education and it lacks the capacity to spend what is available.

None of the countries that have come out of the poverty trap have adopted this approach. Rather, they have invested in their physical infrastructure and human resource development and, as a result, they have become skilled, educated and productive. The system of education is a true reflection of any society. The more a system is ingrained in egalitarian bias, the more it affects the socioeconomic structures.

Pakistan is continuously paying a high price for neglecting investment in human capital, thus, fostering a persistently high population, deceleration of growth, worse law and order condition and prevailing poverty.

The overall literacy rate of Pakistan is 53 per cent, and the country does not fare well within the region as Sri Lanka and Maldives have a 100 per cent literacy rate while India boasts of 61 per cent. Public expenditure on education as a percentage of GDP is also lowest here as compared to other states in the region. Islamabad spends 2.1 per cent as compared to New Delhi, which spends 4.1 per cent, Dhaka 2.4 per cent and Kathmandu 3.4 per cent.

Generally, Pakistan spent 2.5 per cent of its budget on schooling. Now, it spends just 1.5 per cent in the areas that need it most. That is less than the subsidies given to PIA, PEPCO and Pakistan Steel. Provinces are allocated funds for education but fail to spend the money.

By this, there is a zero per cent chance that the government will reach the millennium development goals by 2015 on education. On the other hand, India, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka are all on their way to achieve the same goals. India's improvement rate is ten times that of Pakistan, Bangladesh's is twice that of Pakistan.

Time to time educationists expressed concern over meagre allocations for the education sector by successive governments and called upon the present rulers to allocate maximum funds for education to ensure achievement of 100 per cent literacy target by the end of 2015.

Even after decades of reforms, Pakistan is still ranked very low as only 60 per cent children have access to schools, of which 30 per cent could make it to fifth grade, 10 per cent to middle level, 6.7 to secondary level, and only 0.6 per cent to higher education. The dropout rate is about 60 per cent in the country.

Dropouts take place due to a low level of economic development in the last few decades, widespread poverty, the existence of child labour, expensive textbooks and stationary, poor motivational level in parents to retain their children in schools, a persistent negative attitude towards formal education, and a general lack of decent, cheap and high-quality education.

Pakistan can drop this dropout ratio by introducing effective technical education. Unfortunately, in Pakistan, technical education and vocational training was not given due attention, despite knowing the fact that through technical education the country can earn more remittances especially from Middle East countries.

Educational justice entails not only access to schools but includes provision of quality education for which attention is needed for the betterment of infrastructure. It is estimated that about 17,000 educational institutions have no shelter, 500,000 no electricity, 66,000 no drinking water, 80,000 no boundary walls, and 82,000 lacked latrine facility. There are 30,000 ghost schools.

The decision to allocate funds must ideally be taken on the basis of accurate data. Pakistan is still far from making such data available or putting it to good use. Ask some basic questions about education, for example. Is there a list of public schools operating in Pakistan, with their individual enrolment figures compared to the number of eligible students, city-wise and district-wise? Little credible data are available, other than the aggregate enrolment and teacher figures that are available on the web pages of the provincial ministries.

Education data have very little link with polices since decision-making is not data based. Data compiled by government departments aim at portraying a good picture rather than identifying the core issues and working for improvement. Data, policies and budgeting remain isolated. This lack of collaboration within the departments has affected the whole process adversely.

Reforms are also needed in education system. Little concentration government should pay in the forthcoming budget for improving the government school system because the public sector education system in Pakistan is simply obsolete and dying a slow death in this fast-paced world of fierce competition.

Teachers are not well-trained, textbooks are outmoded, and examination system favours rote learning rather than evaluating and critically analysing skills. The private sector, on the other hand, offers cocktail education, as students have to study variety of subjects, which make them more conversant and the examination system tests their critical skills. However, few schools are able to fulfil this criteria. As a result, students from the private schools are more successful in acquiring well-placed and lucrative jobs. So, in a way the very system of education is working against the interests of students from the less privileged sections of society.

Government should consider and specifically allocate some funds for girl's education. Women constitute 52 per cent of population but their literacy rate is only eight per cent in some places, like Battagram.

Education greatly benefits personal health. Particularly powerful for girls, it profoundly affects reproductive health, and also improves child mortality and welfare through better nutrition and higher immunization rates. Women with some formal education are more likely to seek medical care, ensure their children are immunized, be better informed about their children's nutritional requirements, and adopt improved sanitation practices.

Just one year of education for women in Pakistan can help reduce fertility by 10 per cent, controlling the other resource emergency this country faces.

In every matter, government refers constitution and constitutional rights and forgets that every Pakistani has a constitutional right to universal education, a little discussed or known fact of the law. But, for the government it is a matter of shame that if we follow the current rates of progress towards education, then no person alive today will see a Pakistan with universal education as defined in our constitution. Balochistan would see it in 2100 or later.

There are 26 countries poorer than Pakistan but send more of their children to school. Demonstrating the issue is not about finances, but will and articulating demand effectively. It is too easy, and incorrect, to believe that Pakistan is too poor to provide this basic right.

What has been overlooked in the discourse on the 18th Amendment is that education has now become a right and no longer a privilege as it was previously. Article 25A sets up a possible scenario where a citizen can take the government to court for not providing them access to education, or even can be the ground for a suo moto action.

Government should realize now that there is a direct correlation between education and development. There is a need to make the system a lot more egalitarian and progressive. A transformation is in order by introducing changes in the demand and supply of educational opportunities. Secondly, the curricula should be a value added one. Thirdly, the government should increase spending on this sector, and, finally, a conscious effort should be made to bridge the gap between the two educational systems which would help a great deal in reducing the gap between the haves and have-nots and for this provision of adequate funds allocation, basic infrastructure, facilities and access to education are essential to promote education in the country.