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Shehbaz Sharif declared an ‘education emergency’ across Pakistan on Wednesday, the 8th of May 2024. This is in recognition of the fact that with over 26.2 million children, aged 5 to 16 years, Pakistan has one of the highest populations of out-of-school children in the world, according to the UNICEF.

He said that he will be convening a meeting shortly with the Chief Ministers of the four provinces on the state of basic education in the country. The allocation of the function of providing education is within the domain of the Provincial Governments, as per the Constitutional allocation of functions. Ideally, he ought to have convened a meeting of the Council of Common Interests (CCI) on the Education Emergency and the steps to be taken thereof.

The objective of this article is to highlight the trends in the number and composition of out-of-school children in Pakistan. The information has been extracted from the Pakistan Social and Living Standards Measurement Survey carried out periodically by the Pakistan Bureau of Statistics. The last such survey was undertaken in 2019-20 and the findings released in June 2021. Information was tabulated down to the district level based on the sample size of almost, 5300 blocks covering over 80,000 households in the country.

The first table highlights the trend in the percentage of out-of-school children in Pakistan by gender from 2013-14 to 2019-20.

                           Table 1
percentage of Out-of-School Children, Male and Female,
                  2013-14 and 2019-20
                      2013-14                  2019-20
4 Male                   27                         27
4 Female                 40                         37
4 Total                  33                         32

As expected, the percentage of male out-of-school children is significantly less than the percentage of female out-of-school children. According to the latest estimates, 27 percentage of the male children are out-of-school as compared to 37 percentage in the case of female children.

The above table also highlights the very slow rate of progress in reducing the percentage of out-of-school children in the country. This was 33 percentage in 2013-14 and has shown only a marginal decline to 32 percentage in six years. In fact, the percentage of male out-of-school children has remained unchanged while that of female out-of-school children has come down from 40 percentage to 37 percentage.

The next Table 2 highlights the incidence of out-of-school children by Province in 2019-20.

The table-2 clearly shows the large variation in the incidence of out-of-school children among the provinces. It is the lowest in Punjab at 24 percentage, followed by Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, Sindh and Balochistan at 32 percentage, 44 percentage and 47 percentage, respectively.

The variation between urban and rural areas in the country is shown in Table 3 for 2019-20.

There is a big difference in the incidence of out-of-school children between the urban and rural areas. The latter have schools frequently characterized by absentee teachers and lack of basic facilities, especially for girls. The surprising finding is the high incidence out-of-school children in Sindh, despite the highest rate of urbanization.

This raises the issue of allocation of funds by the Provincial Government to education. This information has been obtained from the PRSP Progress Reports prepared by the Federal Ministry of Finance. The latest such report is for 2021-22 and a summary is presented in Table 4.

Estimates have also been made of the level of education expenditure as the percentage of the Gross Regional Product of a Province. The highest percentage is of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa at 4 percentage. It is followed by 2.5 percentage of the GRP in Balochistan, 1.2 percentage of the GRP in Punjab and 1.1 percentage of the GRP in Sindh. For the country as a whole, including federal spending, education expenditure as a percentage of the GDP was only 1.7 percentage of the GDP in 2021-22. This compares, for example, with 4 percentage of the GDP in India.

The Table 4 also highlights the very low share of development spending. Consequently, the annual rate of increase in the number of schools is only about 2,400 in the country. This is hardly adequate to cater for the increase annually in the number of children, aged 5 to 16 years, of almost 2 million.

The promulgation of the Education Emergency should lead to major decisions for faster expansion of school education in the country. A five-year plan ought to be put together by the Planning Commission and the Provincial Planning and Development Departments, with the target of bringing down the incidence of out-of-school children from almost one-third currently to one-fourth by 2029.

The issue of immediate importance is raising the level of education expenditure by the provinces, which is hardly 1.6 percentage of the GDP. The policy adopted by India of the levy of an Education Cess on the income tax may be considered in the forthcoming Federal Budget.

This cess is 3 percentage of the total taxable amount. It has helped raise public education spending in India to 4 percentage of the GDP. Revenue from the Education Cess may be fully transferred into the Divisible Pool for sharing with the Provincial Governments. This will convey the signal of strong action after promulgation of the Emergency.

                              Table 2
percentage of Out-of-School Children, Male and Female, by Province
                           Male        Female                Total
4 Punjab                    22           26                     24
4 Sindh                     39           51                     44
4 Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa        22           44                     32
4 Balochistan               38           59                     47
                               Table 3
Urban and Rural variation in percentage of out-of-school children
                  Male               Female                 Total
4 Urban            21                  23                      22
4 Rural            30                  44                      37
                                       Table 4
                Expenditure on Education by the Provincial Governments
                                                                       (Rs in Billion)
                                 Total              percentage on           percentage
                             Expenditure on          primary and              share of
                               Education             Secondary             Development
                                                     Education             Expenditure
4 Punjab                           436                  80                          11
4 Sindh                            221                  66                           4
4 Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa               310                  60                          11
4 Balochistan                       76                  66                          11
4 Total                            1043                 68                          10

There is no doubt that if Pakistan is to progress beyond low middle-income status and low level of human development it will have to attach top priority to creating more human capital by ensuring that all children go to school and acquire knowledge and skills thereafter for faster increase in labour productivity in the country.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2024

Dr Hafiz A Pasha

The writer is Professor Emeritus at BNU and former Federal Minister


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Azeem Hakro May 14, 2024 09:21am
declaraion of education emergency is a commendable first step, but it must be followed by concrete measures and a commitment to long-term educational development.
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KU May 14, 2024 09:59am
After last week's International Education event in Islamabad, anyone can judge the level of lies and incompetence of our leadership after witnessing the utopian thoughts on achievements in education.
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KU May 14, 2024 10:15am
Simple truth is that our curriculums do not have a human development outcome. We must benchmark our curriculum with developed countries and reap benefits. Our system is literacy focused n poor policy.
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