EducationVOLUME 14 ISSUE # 23

A dismal picture of education

Can anybody believe that only war-torn Afghanistan lags behind the nuclear-armed Pakistan in the context of regional comparison as far as the educational indicators are concerned?

All other countries in the South Asia region have shown improvement in the Human Development Indicators (HDI) in comparison to the motherland in the past years. The Economic Survey 2018-2019, released in the second week of June 2019, made this pathetic disclosure that Pakistan’s public expenditure on education as percentage to the GDP was estimated at 2.4pc in the fiscal year 2018-19, the lowest in the region.


The Human Development Report 2018, released by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), shows that Pakistan is ranked 150th out of 189 countries, with the Human Development Indicator (HDI) value of 0.562 (with 1 being the maximum value). It is really regrettable that successive governments in Pakistan have failed to meet the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), particularly Goal 4, which aims to ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all citizens through tangible improvements in the education sector of the country. So far, the country has failed to achieve the MDGs target related to education, as the desired changes could not be brought about to upgrade the educational system.


The literacy rate has been hovering around 60pc or so for the last many years, though the definition of a literate person could be questionable in the eyes of many. According to the literacy definition, announced by the federal government in 2017: “The ability to read and understand simple text in any language from a newspaper or magazine, write a simple letter and perform basic mathematical calculation (i.e., counting and addition/ subtraction).” According to the previous definition, used in the 1998 census, “A person was treated as literate if he could read a newspaper or a journal and could write a simple letter in any language.”

However, the world standards vary in defining literacy. Experts at a United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation meeting proposed defining literacy as the “ability to identify, understand, interpret, create, communicate and compute, using printed and written materials associated with varying contexts”. The experts note: “Literacy involves a continuum of learning in enabling individuals to achieve their goals, to develop their knowledge and potential, and to participate fully in their community and wider society”.

However, even under Pakistan’s literacy definition, there are no heartening figures. In 2017-18, the literacy rate showed 62.3pc of the population literate, with 72.5pc male and 51.8pc females so-called educated. The area-wise analysis suggests that the literacy rate increased in both rural (51.9pc to 53.3pc) and urban (76.0pc to 76.6pc) in the last five years. It was, however, observed that male-female disparity was narrowing down with the passage of time. The literacy rate increased in all provinces, Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (54.1pc to 55.3pc), the Punjab (61.9pc to 64.7pc) and Balochistan (54.3pc to 55.5pc) in the period, except for Sindh (63.0pc to 62.2pc) where a decrease was observed.


Like the literacy rate, budgetary allocations have also not been up to the minimum standards, set by world bodies for the underdeveloped and developing nations. International organisations working in the field of education recommend that every nation should allocate at least 4pc of its GDP for the education sector every year. However, public expenditure on education in Pakistan was estimated at 2.4pc of the gross domestic product (GDP) in 2017-18, compared to 2.2pc in 2016-17. A comparison with other developing nations paints a very depressing picture. For example, Nepal’s spending on education averaged around 4.7 per cent of the GDP, which is 235pc more than that of Pakistan. At the same time, Maldives education spending has averaged around 7pc of its GDP. And look at Swaziland and Kenya in Africa, whose education spending is almost 7pc of their respective GDPs. Pakistan’s immediate neighbours also outspend it in education. Iran’s spending on education has been around 3.7pc of the GDP while India’s has hovered around 3.2pc.


However, the federal as well as provincial governments have enhanced allocations for the sector during the past years. The Punjab increased its education expenditure in 2017-18 to Rs. 340.8 billion, compared to Rs. 260.6 billion in 2016-17, which showed an increase of 30.8pc in the annual development programme. Sindh increased its expenditure from Rs. 146.7 billion in 2016-17 to Rs. 166.0 billion in 2017-18, showing an increase of 13.16pc. Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan increased their expenditure on education from Rs. 136.1 billion to Rs. 142.6 billion and from Rs. 47.7 billion in 2016-17 to Rs. 52.8 billion in 2017-18, respectively.


Another reason for Pakistan’s notoriety is its largest out-of-school population. According to latest unofficial figures, there are 22.6 million out-of-school children in Pakistan which accounts for 44pc of all children in the country. The Economic Survey says that in 2018, 83pc of 6-16 year-old children in rural Pakistan were enrolled in schools, whereas 17pc children were still out of school. Compared to the Annual Status of Education Report (ASER) 2016, percentage of out-of-school children in rural Pakistan has decreased from 19pc. Amongst the enrolled, 77pc of children were in government schools and 23pc were enrolled in non-state institutions (20pc in private schools and 3pc in Madrasas).


In ASER 2018, amongst the 17pc out-of- school children (age 6-16 years), 7pc were males and 10pc were females. This gap has narrowed compared to the last ASER cycle (8pc males and 11pc females). The Punjab, Sindh, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Gilgit-Baltistan (GB) and Balochistan all recorded increases in enrolment (6-16 years) ranging between 1pc and 8pc. Pre-school enrolment (3-5 years) in 2018 stood at 37pc compared to 36pc in 2016. The highest enrolment for pre-school was recorded in Islamabad Capital Territory, 62pc, followed by 52pc in the Punjab and 50pc in Azad Jammu & Kashmir (AJK). The lowest enrolment was recorded for KP merged districts (erstwhile FATA) at 23pc.


A major hurdle to the enrolment of children is lack of schools, especially in rural areas. In 2017-18, there were a total of 172,200 functioning primary schools, with 519,000 teachers, across the country. These schools had an overall enrolment of 22.9 million students with an increase of 5.5pc over the previous year. The enrolment was projected to increase to 23.9 million (i.e. by 4.4pc) in 2018-19.


According to the survey findings, there were 468,00 middle schools in the country in 2017-18, with 438,600 teachers, and an overall of 7.3 million showing an increase of 4.3pc over the enrolment level of 2016-17. The enrolment was estimated to increase by another 3.7pc to 7.6 million in 2018-19. A total of 309,00 high schools, with 556,600 teachers, were functional in the country during 2017-18. The high school enrolment, at 3.9 million, represented an increase of 7.4 over the enrolment level of 3.6 million in 2016-17. The high school enrolment was estimated to increase by 6.6pc (to 4.1 million in 2018-19.


A total of 5,200 higher secondary schools/ Intermediate colleges, with the teacher population of 121,900, were functioning all over the country in 2017-18. The overall enrolment of 1.75 million in these schools represents a healthy increase of 9.8pc over the enrolment level of 2016-17. The enrolment was expected to increase by another 5pc (to 1.84 million) in 2018-19.


A total of 3,700 technical & vocational institutes with 18,200 teachers were functional in 2017-18. The enrolment of 433,200 represents an increase of 25.6pc over the previous year. With that increase in base, the enrolment was projected to climb to 8.7pc during 2018-19.


A total of 1,657 degree colleges in the country had a teacher population of 42,000 in 2017-18. That year, a significant decline of 47.3pc in enrolment (to 503,800) was observed in the enrolment level, which was projected to decelerate further to 4.3pc in 2018-19. In 2017-18, there were 186 universities, with 56,900 teachers, in the country, with a total enrolment of 1.6 million. That enrolment was 7.7pc higher than previous years. The growth in enrolment, however, was projected to decline by 0.2pc in 2018-19, according to survey estimates.