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Opinion

December 30, 2011

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We’re killing education

We’re killing education
Creation and application of literacy, education and knowledge through higher education are not one and the same thing. Literacy in Pakistan amounts to someone’s being able to read a newspaper and write a simple letter in a language. More focused on the adult population, Pakistan falls significantly behind many countries in literacy, and will not be able to achieve the MDG of 100 percent literacy by 2015. In the last five years, literacy has risen by only 3 percent to 58 percent, and therefore will probably reach 60 percent by 2015. The NCHD, which has now been devolved, failed to achieve the MDG in education. The number of adult illiterates is actually rising.
Education, which falls within the jurisdiction of the provincial governments, is in a sorry state of affairs in Pakistan. HDI 2011 ranks Pakistan 145 (out of 187 countries), showing gross enrolment ratios for primary and secondary education at 85 percent and 33.5 percent, respectively. The Education for All (EFA) Development Index ranks Pakistan at 118 out of 129 countries. Similarly, the Prosperity Index ranks Pakistan at 105 out of 110 countries in the education category.
The Pakistan Education Task Force 2010 reports that one-third of primary age children are not in school. It also reports that 35 percent of those children who do attend school and make it to grade 3 cannot do single-digit subtraction. On the other hand, a recent study by AKU IED found that around 70 percent of teachers teach for only 15 minutes in a 35-minute period, and 10 percent teach for less than five minutes. The Annual Status of Education Report 2010 shows drastic reduction in school enrolment from 16.7 percent in class 1 to 3.3 percent in class 10, and that more than half the children surveyed could not read even Urdu or a local language properly. About 4,000 “ghost schools” exist in Sindh alone.
Enrolment figures according to the Economic Survey of Pakistan 2010-11 show about 19 million are enrolled in primary schools, 5.2 million in secondary schools, 2.6 million in SSC and 1.2 million in HSSC. Out of 600,000 passing HSSC, only about 100,000 enter universities and 180,000 enter degree colleges, while another 200,000 are admitted as private students and distance students. There are just not enough room at schools, colleges and universities!
The only real difference is in the domain of higher education. Despite scarcity of funding, universities and campuses have opened in far-flung areas and new academic programmes and technologies have been introduced. Over 1,400 HEC scholars have completed their PhDs and joined the universities. Also, Pakistan’s share of research publications worldwide has gone up three-folds in the last eight years, which is quite an achievement. Eleven accreditation councils are functioning and focusing on improved curriculum, while 85 quality enhancement cells established at the universities are working to improve quality of education. Universities are being ranked for the first time, and as a result of these reforms, two universities are now among the top 300 technology universities of the world.
Accessibility to higher education in Pakistan for age-group 17-23 is still among the lowest in the world, about 7.8 percent. This is lower than Ghana’s at 9 percent and Cameroon’s 11 percent. South Korea enjoys among the highest accessibility at 98 percent, Finland at 94 percent and Israel at 60 percent. Among other countries having higher accessibilities are Turkey (38 percent), Iran (36 percent), Malaysia (32 percent) and Indonesia (21 percent). India is at 15 percent and increasing due to its heavy funding of higher-education. Even though the Pakistan Education Policy 2009 plans to increase accessibility to 10 percent by 2015, and to 15 percent by 2020, the government has reduced HEC funding.
Pakistan spends only 1.7 percent of GDP on education, or less than half of what Vietnam‚ Malaysia‚ Thailand‚ and Indonesia spend, respectively. Only six countries in the world spend less than Pakistan does on education. Within this already reduced pie for education, only 0.22 percent of the GDP (about 13 percent of the total education spending) goes to higher education. Pakistan’s commitment to the higher education sector was scaled back by 10 percent this year while India has raised its higher-education budget by 25 percent. This reduction in the HEC budget was in addition to the 40 percent cut imposed last year.
India is spending 3.5 percent of its GDP on education, with 1.03 percent, or $11.5 billion, on higher education alone. This federal allocation through the UGC is in addition to the states financially supporting university budgets, and in some cases providing up to 80 percent of the university budgets. Nine new prestigious IITs have been established in the last three years in addition to the seven original ones.
India’s political leadership is sending out all the right signals. India has a Knowledge Commission headed by a world-renowned expert serving as an adviser to the Prime Minister; a ministry of human resource development, and a strong and centralized UGC. Recently, the Indian cabinet approved setting up the National Commission on Higher Education and Research (NCHER), following the HEC Pakistan model.
Pakistan must invest foremost in education with renewed vigour. The lower education must focus on improving quality, while the HEC must be supported to raise Pakistan’s knowledge workers’ level to world standards. Any other direction will be suicidal for Pakistan’s education.

The writer is chairman of Pakistan’s Higher Education Commission. Email: [email protected] gov.pk

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