The poverty alleviation programme is being accorded top priority by the incumbent government. Prime Minister Imran Khan is pressing hard for a new broad-based strategy to pull millions of people out...
The poverty alleviation programme is being accorded top priority by the incumbent government. Prime Minister Imran Khan is pressing hard for a new broad-based strategy to pull millions of people out of poverty. According to media reports, the government’s poverty reduction strategy aims to improve technical education, increase employment opportunities, enhance access to financial assistance for promotion of small-sized businesses and provide inexpensive accommodation, and social protection. Moreover, the government, on its part, has set pragmatic targets of holistic socio-economic development across the country to uplift a sizeable number of underprivileged people out of poverty.
Correspondingly, as CPEC enters a new phase of industrial cooperation and socio-economic development, experts from Pakistan and China are holding consultative sessions focused on an action plan in the key areas of healthcare, education and vocational training in order to initiate pilot projects in less developed areas. With the involvement of the provincial authorities, the discussion has focused on undertaking targeted projects and measures which are of high impact and low cost, and with less gestation period as well as being centred largely on the grassroots levels. This will, it is hoped, improve the quality of life, enhance the literacy rate, promote education, and create employment and agriculture growth. Efforts are being made to ensure that demonstration projects in agriculture, fishery, livestock and education are put in place by 2022-23, thus setting the course for tangible and sustainable socio economic development across Pakistan.
Although the world has made remarkable progress in reducing poverty, there are still 700 million people on earth living in acute poverty, earning less than $1.90 a day. In this regard, the performance of China towards reducing poverty has been exemplary. China is the first developing country to achieve the poverty reduction target set by the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) ahead of schedule. According to ‘The Telegraph’, more than 700 million Chinese people have been lifted out of poverty since the launch of reform and opening-up in 1978. The impact of rapid economic growth on poverty reduction in China has been impressive. Living standards have significantly improved and in 2018 the Chinese government was able to increase per capita income by 6.5 percent, and has set a target of 11 million new jobs by 2019.
In the path towards equitable socio-economic growth, education is the only instrument of human development that enables individuals to make informed choices and decisions. While Pakistan is eager to emulate many aspects of China’s drive towards poverty eradication, it is primarily the development of the education sector that offers the most pertinent lessons. In 2010, China set the education target towards a learning society rich in human resources by the year 2020. Today, China has the largest education system in the world with almost 260 million students and over 15 million teachers in over 0.5 million schools.
The Compulsory Education Law of China stipulates nine years of government-funded compulsory school attendance, which includes six years of primary school and three years of junior high school. After graduating from junior high school, students choose between senior high school and vocational education. Most importantly, secondary vocational education in rural areas is free. Through this system, China has made tremendous efforts to expand participation in secondary vocational schools in recent years so as to meet its economic and manpower needs.
CPEC also offers Pakistan a rare opportunity to learn from China’s experience and emulate the same according to domestic circumstances. CPEC also focuses on poverty alleviation and outlines a broad roadmap to bridge the urban-rural divide and enable a synergy of economic growth. Rapid creation of wealth coupled with sustainable economic growth through industrial development and modernisation in the agriculture sector provides a solid foundation for the implementation of the poverty alleviation strategy.
Importantly, the government needs to strengthen the Technical and Vocational Education and Training system (TVET). Vocational training should be expanded beyond the urban centres through online distant learning vocational training programmes for remote and rural towns. In an era of information technology, experts believe that virtual and distance learning is a key enabler for economic development and poverty reduction as it has the capacity to expand high-quality education to less developed areas. Through efficient use of smart IT technology, the target of reducing poverty in vast areas of Pakistan can be achieved in a shorter time span. Smart schools and vocational training centres can also support the skill-based HR development that is required for the economic growth being envisaged in the government’s economic development plans. These hubs of online education are fast becoming a major source of education around the world with India and China leading the region because of their sheer size and population.
Moreover, there is a growing need to develop a national plan for using technology to bridge the gap between schools in urban and rural areas. A five-year employment-oriented vocational training and education modernisation and reform programme can take us into the next phase of industrial cooperation in which at least four Special Economic Zones (SEZs) will see groundbreaking this year and the rest will be operational by 2025. The start of these SEZs will have a significant economic affect and is expected to generate over 450,000 new jobs for which we need efficient and trained HR.
Several TVET programmes supported by international development donors have been introduced in the recent past; however, the existing system has not delivered successful outcomes. Essentially, the education and vocational training system should be tailored to create opportunities in areas where we lack efficient human resource like the maritime sector, light engineering and tourism sectors. In the same context, the government may also encourage retraining for the existing work force (35-50 years age group) to brace them for better job opportunities in the regional markets. The Higher Education Commission (HEC) has a heavy responsibility and it should make it mandatory for all higher education institutions to create technology-driven vocational training hubs with faculty training which can support the growth of key industries through academia-industry linkage programmes.
Poverty reduction is a challenging task. Notwithstanding obstacles and other constraints, pragmatic steps driven by iron political will and cooperation under CPEC can help Pakistan achieve the set target. The demand of rapid economic growth can only be translated into reality through better human development outcomes. Skilled and efficient human resource, prepared through modern education and training, can result in sustainable socio-economic development.
The writer is a project management specialist and a faculty member at various
universities. Email: hdb4049gmail.com