Education: still a distant dream?

November 22, 2020

Long-term and result-oriented policies are vital to fulfill the national and international commitments on education

Being a developing country with a rapidly increasing population, Pakistan is facing many issues of socio-economic development. The biggest issue is a lack of appropriate policies to educate the youth so that they can contribute to national development. Winning the race of development requires a massive increase in the education budget as currently Pakistan spends less than 2 percent of its GDP on education.

According to UNDP’s Human Development Report 2018, Pakistan is ranked 150th out of 189 countries. In a comparison with other countries in the region - India, China, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Malaysia - Pakistan lies at the bottom. Only Afghanistan lags behind Pakistan in the context of regional comparison.

According to a recent report by the World Bank, Pakistan’s economy could incur considerable losses over the next couple of decades on account of Covid-19’s impact on the education system. The report, Learning Losses in Pakistan due to Covid-19 School Closures, has predicted that learning poverty in the country might rise to 79 percent from the present 75 percent, due to the schools closure.

It is feared that 930,000 additional children will drop out from primary and secondary schools. Given that there are already 22 million out-of-school children, this represents a 4.2 percent increase. Considering that around 44 percent of our children are already out of school, the pandemic-related dropouts could well mean that half of our child population will have no opportunity to learn, grow and eventually become productive members of the society.

The World Bank report suggests mass enrolment drives with cash incentives for families to encourage them to send their children to school. The fresh crisis notwithstanding, the government can also use these strategies to boost overall school enrolment and improve the learning poverty situation. A little investment in education would go a long way in ensuring an economically stable future for Pakistan.

The primary school enrollment ratio of children is only 63 percent currently. Half of the enrolled children leave the schools for several reasons and are added to child labour which is another major issue. The remaining children, who complete primary education and reache secondary schools, usually do not get quality education. Many parents choose private sector educational institutions hoping for better standards.

86 percent of the primary schools are in the public sector, whereas, 14 percent are in the private sector. But when it comes to middle schools the ratio is vastly different. 37 percent of middle schools are in the public sector and 63 percent are private. The share of higher secondary educational institutes in overall education system of the country is about 2 percent.

According to the Article 25A of the Constitution of Pakistan, “The State shall provide free and compulsory education to all children of the age of five to sixteen years in such manner as may be determined by law.” I believe that the word “education” should be replaced with “quality education” through an amendment to the Constitution. That will bind the authorities to work on quality of education rather that passing the students to inflate the numbers on education index.

When a student from a middle class family completes early education from a public sector institution, he usually feels immense pressure to face the competition in getting admission to a well reputed university and eventually in the job market. The job market is quite volatile and employers prefer candidates with good English language skills.

Private sector institutions work hard on language skills and personal grooming of their students. The question is why don’t public sector schools and colleges have the same focus?

Nearly 49 percent of Pakistan’s population consists of women. Unfortunately as nation we are not focused on girls’ education. A national level awareness campaign is needed to end the discrimination. Educated mothers can make the nation better educated and mostly crime free.

We never see teachers of private sector schools doing any other work but public sector school teachers are expected to help with student enrollment, population census, elections etc.

Pakistan needs to enhance its education budgets and spend 10 percent of the GDP on education. The government will do well to proclaim an education emergency for 10 years.

We need a pragmatic approach to bring an education revolution in the country. Long-term effective and result-oriented policies are vital to fulfilling our national and international commitments.

The writer is a freelance journalist. He writes about socio-economic issues in Pakistan. He can be reached at [email protected]

Education in Pakistan: still a distant dream?