The financial year 2019-20 budgetary allocations for the education sector in the centre as well in provinces, where the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) is in power, or is a major coalition partner, have really disappointed people who are concerned about the state of literacy and quality of education in the country.
The ruling party has always placed education on top of its priority list in the past. Its manifesto says “(The) PTI will put in place the most ambitious education agenda in Pakistan’s history, spanning reform of primary, secondary, tertiary, vocational, and special education.” It promises allocating at least 4% of GDP (gross domestic product) for the sector, as prescribed by the world bodies, admitting that “the public school delivery system is under-resourced and has capacity constraints”.
PTI Chairman Imran Khan’s maiden speech as the 22nd prime minister of Pakistan pledged that the education crisis would be treated as an emergency; his government would put all out-of-school children in schools, and allocate adequate funds for the purpose. However, the budgetary allocations for the sector, announced in finance bill 2019-20, have brought sheer disappointment to those who believed in the party manifesto and speeches of the prime minister.
In the federal budget, allocations for education have been reduced by 20.5%. The PTI-led coalition government in the centre has earmarked Rs. 77.262 billion for education affairs and services, against the revised allocation of Rs. 97.155b for the current fiscal year, showing a decrease of around 20.5%. Also, despite its claims of furthering the cause of higher education in the country, the government made a sweeping cut of 40% in the funding for the Higher Education Commission (HEC) in the current fiscal year. Pakistan’s expenditure on education as percentage to GDP was estimated at 2.4% in fiscal year 2018-19, which was the lowest in the region. And for fiscal year 2019-20, allocations for the sector have further been lowered.
The official documents show that Rs. 28.64b has been earmarked for the Higher Education Commission (HEC) under the Public Sector Development Programme (PSDP) for 2019-20, against Rs. 35.830b in 2018-19, which was later revised downward to Rs. 30.961b. The HEC had demanded Rs. 55b under the PSDP for 2019-20. The bulk of expenditure at Rs. 65.233b has been allocated for tertiary education affairs and services in the budget 2019-20, which is 84.4% of the total allocation under the head.
The budgetary details, published by the national media, say that Rs. 2.831b has been earmarked for pre-primary and primary education affairs, compared with Rs. 10.120b allocated in 2018-19, Rs. 6.718b for secondary education affairs and services for 2019-20, against Rs. 12.365b for 2018-19, Rs. 65.233b for tertiary education affairs and services against Rs. 71.824b, earmarked for 2018-19, which was later revised to Rs. 71.743b, and Rs. 1.407b for administration against Rs. 1.588b for 2018-19, which was later revised to Rs. 1.565b.
There’s good news also for parents. The federal government has reduced duties on paper meant for textbooks by 3%, which would reduce the prices of books in a marginal way, benefiting the students at large.
A cut in budgetary allocations for education was also made in the Punjab, the population-wise biggest province of the country, where the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf is a major ruling coalition partner. The provincial government has allocated a total budget of Rs. 383b for the sector, of which Rs. 336b is the current budget, mostly going to salaries and other related expenditures, while Rs. 46.9b is for development budget, to be spent on development of educational institutions across the province under the Annual Development Plan (ADP) 2019-2020.
The proposed finance bill showed that in terms of percentage of the overall education budget, only 12.2% would be spent on the development side, while the rest would be used for meeting the non-development expenditures. The development budget for the education sector, Rs. 46.9bn, is almost 14% of the total provincial development budget, which is Rs. 350b.
According to official figures, the PTI government, in its first budget, presented for eight months of 2018-19 in October last year, had allocated Rs. 32.8b development budget for education. If compared with it, the present development budget, Rs. 46.9b, shows an increase by 43%. However, if compared with the Pakistan Muslim League-N’s 2017-18 development budget, i.e. Rs. 81.9b, a decrease of 43% is noted. For the fiscal year, the then government had allocated a development budget of Rs. 53.3b for school education alone, which was almost Rs. 6b more than the PTI’s total development budget for education this financial year.
As far as the overall development budget for education is concerned, the maximum share, Rs. 32b, will go to school education, followed by Rs. 7.3b to higher education. Special education will get one billion rupees, literacy and non-formal basic education Rs. 2.6b, while sports & youth affairs will get Rs. 4b.
However, the government has come up with an ambitious plan of setting up six new universities in the province, including the much discussed Baba Guru Nanak University in Punjab’s district Nankana Sahib – the birthplace of the founder of the Sikh religion, Baba Guru Nanak. Of the total Rs. 32b for school education, Rs. 2.5b will be spent on the ongoing schemes, Rs. 3.4b on the new schemes, while Rs. 26b will be spent on other development programme including Rs. 19.5b for new initiatives of the School Education Department for imparting education under the Punjab Education Foundation (PEF), and Rs. 5b for new initiatives of the School Education Department for imparting education through outsourcing of public schools under the Punjab Education Initiatives Management Authority (PEIMA).
The Danish School and Centres of Excellence Authority has been allocated Rs. 1.5b, up from one billion rupees in the previous year. The PML-N government had earmarked Rs. 3b for the project in its last budget for fiscal year 2017-18.
In Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, where the PTI is running the show smoothly without the support of any coalition partner, Finance Minister Taimur Jhagra admitted in his budget speech that the province needed at least 65,000 more teachers to impart education to all school-age children. However, he said that funds were available for recruiting 21,000 teachers only during the fiscal year 2019-20. He also announced allocation of funds for improving the condition of 28,000 schools in the province, adding that 3,000 Assistant Sub-Divisional Officers (ASDOs) out of a plan of 7,000, would also be appointed to act as head teachers at schools. During the fiscal year 2019-20, the government would construct 6,000 new classrooms, initiate 700 modern preschool nursery classrooms, set up a woman cadet college and Rs. 1.86b would be awarded as scholarships.
According to the budget statement, the elementary and secondary education department stood third in terms of funding allocation with Rs. 17.38b for the next year against the revised estimate of Rs14.9b in the current year.
There’s, however, good news for the higher education sector in the province. In the new financial year 2019-20, Rs. 5.7b has been allocated for the sector with 40% increase, compared with 2018-19 allocations. Rs. 2.5b has been allocated for 20 universities of the province.
The Pakistan People’s Party government in Sindh has declared education its top priority for the fiscal year 2019-20, claiming an increase in the budgetary allocations for the sector. According to the official documents, the allocation for school education has been increased from Rs. 170.832b to Rs. 178.618b in the FY2019-20. Also, on the development side, Rs. 15.15b has been allocated in the ADP 2019-20. Chief Minister Murad Ali Shah said that his government had developed the Sindh Education Sector Plan & Roadmap (2019-23) through a consultative process. Civil society, intelligentsia and academia were taken on board considering them equal stakeholders in the development of society. He claimed that the new sector plan focuses on providing additional classrooms to accommodate fresh entrants to schools and ensuring a conducive environment in schools in terms of the provision of clean drinking water facilities, toilets and compound walls to ensure retention of students, especially girl students.
School education has been allocated Rs. 15.15b for 279 schemes (188 ongoing and 91 new schemes). Also, Rs. 9.597b has been allocated for the Sindh Education Foundation for 2019-20. The funding for the college education has been increased in the non-development budget from Rs. 15.777b to Rs. 18.094b, and on the development side, Rs. 4b allocated under the ADP 2019-20.
Major development initiatives in the College Education Department are: 17 new degree colleges planned to be established in Karachi (Korangi, Malir, West), Hyderabad, Umerkot, Sukkur, Jamshoro, Shikarpur, Jacobabad and Sanghar. The allocation for the Universities & Boards Department increased from Rs. 9.529b to Rs. 10.585b in the current financial year.
However, critics have always contested budgetary allocation claims of the Sindh provincial government, saying no visible change on the education scene, especially in rural Sindh, is observed for years. The PPP has been in power in the province for over a decade, but schools and colleges in interior Sindh still present a depressing scene, despite announcement of billions of rupees for the sector every year.
The mineral-rich area-wise largest province, Balochistan, has suffered from years of neglect and under-funding as far as the education sector is concerned. The province has a literacy rate of 39%, which is much lower than the national rate. Official statistics show a dismal state of education in the province, which constitutes 44% of the country’s total land mass. There are 12,600 primary, middle and high schools for more than 22,000 settlements in the province. The province will have yet to establish 10,000 schools on a war-footing to ensure the provision of education to children across the province. It has 57,000 government teachers, while it needs 60,000 more. The province has only 1.3 million school-going children out of total 3.6 million children. The situation of educational facilities in all parts of the province, excluding Quetta, is worst.
In financial year 2019-20, the sector again failed to get sufficient allocations, as only Rs. 60b were set aside by the provincial authorities. The finance minister announced the Balochistan government had decided to fill 15,998 vacant posts in the Education Department on merit, though there is no guarantee the promise would be fulfilled, keeping in view the past record of such promises. According to the minister, in the secondary education sector, 1,057 new posts would be created. Around 123 new primary schools, 125 middle schools and 94 high schools would be established and upgraded, he announced.
There seemed only one good news in the budget document for the education sector: universities’ annual grant of Rs. 550m has been increased to Rs. 1.5bn, which would be disbursed through the Universities’ Finance Commission. However, until and unless budgetary allocations are not increased for school education, especially girl education, the dream of bringing the literacy rate in the province on a par with the national figures could not be materialised.