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March 31, 2015

Sindh’s education — the ‘primary’ irony


March 31, 2015

With 45 percent of primary schools in Sindh working with only a single teacher, the provincial government continues to earmark the larger share of the meagre budget allocated for educational development toward secondary schools.
In the ongoing financial year, the Sindh government has allocated 49 percent of the total development budget for secondary education. On the other hand, the amount allocated out of the total development budget for primary education is only 13 percent, according to a report on public financing of education prepared by the Institute of Social and Policy Sciences (I-SAPS).
Around 26 percent of the development funds have been reserved for higher education while 12 percent earmarked as “other” expenses.

Dwindling development
This year, the funds allocated for development comprise only 10 percent of the total education budget.
Though the total budget outlay went up by more than 10 percent this year with the allocation of about Rs149.5 billion for education, 90 percent of the increase was earmarked for current expenditure — with 75 percent reserved for salaries and 25 percent for non-salary expenses.
The development budget witnessed a decrease of 12 percent this year, from Rs16.89 billion to Rs15.04 billion, according to the findings of the report.
“This misplaced allocation reflects in the state of schools and their management,” explained Ahmad Ali, the lead education researcher at I-SAPS. “For the past several years, the funds allocated for salaries have kept increasing with the number of employees. However, the increase in non-salary component used for monitoring, maintenance, teachers’ training and classroom supplies has stayed minimal. This is why the lack of effective allocation and expenditure of the non-salary budget directly affects the overall performance and quality of the environment at schools.”
According to data provided by the Sindh Information Monitoring System, 7,461 of the

47,394 schools in the province are without buildings, 23,241 lack electricity, 20,212 are without toilets and 23,047 schools have no drinking water.
Ali said for the past three years, the provincial government had successively increased funds reserved for the current expenditure while the development budget was more or less ignored.

Primary irony
The strange part about allocations in the overall education budget is that the funds reserved for primary education make up the lion’s share.
But since most of the allocations have been in the salary component of the budget and for which the Sindh government consistently spares more funds year after year, it makes no actual difference on the ground.
“This is because once the salaries are paid off, the leftover funds remain mostly unutilised for the rest of the fiscal year, subsequently, also inciting corruption among education officials,” said Ali.
According to the analysis by I-SAPS, during the last fiscal year 23 percent of the overall education budget was not used. In fact, 67 percent of the development funds and 53 percent of the non-salary budget also remained unutilised.
“The irony is that while the Sindh government continues to increase allocations, there has been a progressive decrease in their spending during the past few years,” Ali said. “It is imperative for the provincial government to collate data with its education policy and budgetary allocations otherwise its efforts will bear no fruitful results.”
To prove his point, he cited the government expenditure on each student enrolled in school. “During the financial year of 2012-13, the Sindh government spent around Rs16,500 on each student while during the last fiscal year this amount increased by 21 percent to about Rs20,000,” he said. “However, the increased spending has not resulted in any corresponding improvement in the children’s learning outcome.”
His assessment is reflected in the Standardised Achievement Tests being carried out by the provincial government’s Reform Support Unit for the past couple of years. According to its results for the academic year 2013-14, the overall performance of class-V children across the province was 21 percent, in language, mathematics and science. The overall result of class-VIII students was around 22 percent.

Need for collation
Ali’s stance was endorsed by educationist Shahnaz Wazir Ali, the president of the Shaheed Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto Institute of Science and Technology (Szabist). She also believes that stronger monitoring of schools was required and the government could make this job easier and less expensive by providing incentives to one-room-low-cost schools.
“The government can halve the amount it spends on a child’s education by providing incentives to small schools. Not only do they cost little, but they also have closer monitoring of children’s performances,” she said.
“Educational policies need to be made from the bottom up, not the other way round. There is a dire need to collate dynamic data, monitoring and the overall planning. The government needs to devolve the education policy to districts and empower the district officers. It will bridge the gap between the understandings of policymakers and those who implement them.”
However, the Sindh education minister when contacted dismissed all responsibility for devising the provincial education budget and deciding the allocations. He claimed that the Reform Support Unit was responsible for this task.
However, officials at the RSU said they were only mandated to advise the education secretariat where all the final decisions were made.

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