NationalVolume 14 Issue # 12

A sector starved of resources

A new UN report released recently says Pakistan is 50 plus years behind in its primary and 60 plus years behind in its secondary education targets. According to the UN Global Education Monitoring Report, a large part of the world is set to overshoot its deadline by more than half a century,

It may be recalled here that world leaders agreed two years back that by 2030 all girls and boys should be able to complete free quality primary and secondary education, but chronic under-funding is holding back progress. According to the report, Pakistan is struggling with its large out-of-school population, including 11 million children out of primary schools – the most absolute number of children out of school anywhere in the world, though Liberia tops the ranking for the worst access to primary schools with 62 per cent proportion of children missing out on primary school. A further eight million children are out of secondary schools (48 per cent of lower secondary school-age children).  Pakistan also has a staggering 10.4 million adolescents out of upper secondary school.

There is also a wide gulf between school completion rate and education attainment between the rich and poor; urban and rural based and between boys and girls. Poor rural males have a literacy rate of 64 per cent, but their female counterparts pale in comparison with 14 per cent. Many 10-year-olds had never been to school, had already left (often because of not benefiting from the experience) or were in a lower grade and had not yet developed reading skills. While 89 per cent of grade 10 students could read a very simple text, only 64 per cent of sampled 14-year-olds could do so, a difference of 25 percentage points.

One factor for this has been fewer resources allocated to education, with Pakistan committing only 11.3 per cent of total government expenditure to the sector as opposed to the recommended minimum benchmark of 15 per cent. According to experts, domestic financing is the largest and most important source of funds for the sector. Pakistan’s commitment to education is reflected in its longstanding target of spending four per cent of the GDP on education. The target was set in 1992 and the pledge has been repeated in government policies and education sector plans since then.

However, spending has so far fallen far short of the target. In recent years, the allocation has not exceeded 2.5 per cent of the GDP, and only reached 2 per cent in 2013-14.In absolute terms, Pakistan spent $5.3 billion on education in 2013-14. Given the current spending patterns, Pakistan faces enormous financing challenges. According to For All Global Monitoring Report (EFA GMR), to meet post-2015 education goals by 2030, the country will have to increase its current per student expenditure by 10 times at the pre-primary level, by six times at the primary level, and by four times at the lower secondary level.

Pakistan is among a minority of lower-middle income countries which will need to roughly double spending on basic education to achieve goals by 2030, and will have to increase proportion of GDP allocations to basic education by almost three times. The small size of allocations for the education sector in Pakistan is largely related to the government’s capacity to raise tax revenue. The government’s capacity to raise revenue through taxation is extremely limited as the federal government has not been able to raise the tax-to-GDP ratio for several years.

The case study points out that tax reforms remain a huge public policy hurdle, with little will within parliament to implement measures required to improve tax revenues. While the Federal Board of Revenue’s tax collection has increased in absolute terms, it has remained at just 8.7 per cent of the GDP for the past 10 years — among the lowest proportions in the world.

Despite the signal of strong commitment, a significant proportion of funds allocated for the education sector remains unspent. Budget-tracking exercises over the past couple of years reveal patterns of under-spending for both recurrent and development expenditure in all provinces. Between 2010-11 and 2013-14, nine per cent to 13 per cent of Punjab’s education budget remained unspent.

Data for Sindh also reveals erratic patterns in spending of education funds; nearly a quarter of the education budget remained unspent in 2013-14, equivalent to $310 million. This amount could support 2.7 million primary children in schools. Spending in the smaller provinces — Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan — appears to be better, with the former spending more than its budgetary allocations in some years.

The country also receives bilateral and multilateral aid for the education sector and these funds are important for supporting the education system. Aid to education has dramatically increased from $20m in 2002 to $432m in 2012. Pakistan is among the top 10 countries receiving aid for education. One potential reason for the relatively large amount of aid it receives may be that donor countries are keen to continue engagement for geopolitical and security reasons, the study says.

Aid to basic education has been the main focus of the official development assistance to Pakistan, accounting for more than 50 per cent of the total aid to education since 2002. The proportion of aid to higher education exceeds spending on secondary education and its share has been increasing. A reason for changing priorities within education is related to a shift in priorities by donors over the years. Donor coordination has always been difficult in Pakistan. With about 30 donors working in the education sector, it has been a tough task to coordinate their activities and funding. One reason for lack of effective and sustained coordination has been lack of a strong position by the federal government to spearhead initiatives. The situation has worsened after the 18th Amendment.