The Prime Minister has rightly lamented recently on the lack of access to education of children generally and especially from poor families or those resident in the backward areas of Pakistan. He has highlighted that in Pakistan today as many as 26 million children, aged 5 to 16 years, are out of school. This is almost 36% of the total number of such children in the country. This high percentage of out-of-school children is one of the highest in the world.

The distribution of such children is concentrated in rural areas. 70% live in villages and the remaining 30% in towns and cities. This is clearly a reflection of the limited access to schools. Also, 58% of the children are females. Greater priority continues to be attached to the education of the male child.

The various surveys by the Pakistan Bureau of Statistics, especially the Living Standards and Social Measurement Surveys, highlight the differential access to education of children belonging to different household income quintiles.

The enrollment rate of children in the top income quintile is over 150% or twice as high as children in the bottom quintile, depending on the level of education, from primary to high school.

Therefore, the lack of access to education is one of the key factors contributing to the perpetuation of inter-generational inequality in Pakistan. Raising the enrollment rates will also contribute to a more productive labor force.

The central issue is whether the expansion in the school system in the country has kept pace with the number of children of school-going age. A perhaps less-known source of education statistics in Pakistan is the Academy of Education Planning in the federal Ministry of Education.

It has been publishing annually the Pakistan Education Statistics since the late 90s with the latest publication of 2020-21. The information in this outstanding publication is effectively based on an annual census of educational institutions in the country.

The Academy collects information on the number of institutions, teachers and enrollment in the government, public sector and in the private sector respectively.

There is comprehensive coverage of the education system of Pakistan from primary to university level. The Academy has prepared a long-term series of the development of the education system of Pakistan at the school level.

The findings for the last three decades from 1990-91 to 2020-21 are as follows:

(i) The number of primary, middle, and high schools expanded rapidly in the decade of the 90s, with a combined growth rate of 4.3% annually. This was well-above the growth rate in the number of school-going age children in the country of 2.4%.

However, from 1999-2000 to 2020-21, there has been a big slowdown in the growth in the number of schools to only 1.4% per annum. In line with the slowing down in the rate of expansion of the school network, the growth in number of teachers annually has been only 2.8%. In fact, the number of teachers combined in both public and private schools has fallen by over 30,000 from 2017-18 to 2020-21.

(ii) There was a strong response of enrollment in the decade of the 90s. In the three levels combined the annual growth rate was as high as 6.4%. However, in line with the slower expansion of the school system, the growth rate has fallen to below 4%. In recent years, the teacher-student ratios have fallen sharply, impacting thereby on the quality of education.

The failure of the education system to expand at a sufficiently rapid rate, especially the school network, explains why net enrollment rates have not risen adequately and the number of out-of-school children remains exceptionally large.

The UNDP Global Human Development Report of 2022-23 has vividly highlighted the failure of the educational system of Pakistan. A comparison is made below of the latest estimates of years of schooling achieved or likely to be achieved on average in India, Bangladesh, and Pakistan.

            Years of Schooling
             Actual Mean   Expected Mean
             Years         Years
India        6.6                    12.6
Bangladesh   7.2                    11.9
Pakistan     4.4                     7.9

Pakistan performs very poorly in these two indicators. This is the main reason why Pakistan has fallen from the medium to the low level of human development and is now bracketed with Sub-Saharan countries.

The basic question is why Pakistan has performed so poorly in educating the children at least up to high school level? The first part of the answer lies in the trend of overall allocations of funds for education by the federal and provincial governments.

The total government expenditure on education has increased from Rs 829 billion in 2017-18 to Rs 1102 billion in 2021-22, according to estimates by the Federal Ministry of Finance.

This has implied a decline in the expenditure as a percentage of the GDP from 2.1% in 2017-18 to 1.6% in 2021-22. The corresponding magnitudes for India and Bangladesh are 4% and 2.2% of the GDP respectively.

The PBS has estimated for the first time the contribution of the education sector, public and private, to the GDP. This has also fallen from 2.9% in 2017-18 to 2.6% of the GDP in 2022-23 and also indicates that the contribution of the private sector has not improved significantly.

Is the fall in public expenditure on education a reflection of an overall fall in total public expenditure as a % of the GDP or the result of a decline in its share? It is apparently more to the assignment of lower priority, especially by the provincial governments, as the share has declined of education from 11.6% to 10.7% of total public expenditure.

The Prime Minister has indicated that the situation has worsened to a point where there may be a need for declaration of an education emergency. Clearly, the four provincial governments will have to accept the prime responsibility for a radical improvement in the education sector and efforts at bringing down significantly the number of out-of-school children in the country.

There is a need for the Prime Minister to convene an urgent meeting on this issue with the four Chief Ministers. Strengthening the education system calls for the launch of a vigorous resource mobilization effort by the provincial governments and for appropriate changes in priorities.

Progressive reforms in the realm of property taxes, agricultural income tax and the sales tax on services should help in the generation of revenues for a big expansion in the school system and improvement in quality of education in Pakistan. Also, the BISP (Benazir Income Support Programme) should provide support and an incentive to poor families to send their children to school.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2024

Dr Hafiz A Pasha

The writer is Professor Emeritus at BNU and former Federal Minister


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KU Apr 16, 2024 10:48am
Common people believe education is useless for them because there is no skill imparted or guaranty of jobs, their children earn more from daily wages. The state of education is actually only literacy.
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KU Apr 16, 2024 10:50am
There are or were 3700 institutes in formal TVET sector, yet we rarely see any data on its functions or enrolment. The opportunity cost of 160 million youth is criminal at the hands of nefarious.
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