For years on years, we have been witnessing an allocation of huge amounts in yearly financial bills for the education sector, but no visible improvement has taken place in the sector for decades. The billions of rupees, allocated in the past decades, badly failed to bring millions of children to schools.
According to UNICEF, Pakistan still has the world’s second-highest number of out-of-school children, estimated at 22.8 million, aged 5-16, representing 44% of the total population in the age group. The allocations have failed to improve the country’s literacy rate, still hovering around 60-65% for years, according to official figures, while independent studies show it is no more than 52-55%.
Educationists believe the government allocations, either in the Centre or in provinces, are not aimed at the development of the sector but only meeting non-development expenditure. A huge chunk of the allocations is consumed by the teachers under the head of their salaries but, regrettable, they fail to produce the desired results when compared with private sector teachers in the country.
People had a lot of expectations from cricketer-turned politician Imran Khan that he would specially focus on the education sector to bring about a major change in the field. However, his party’s governments in the Centre and two provinces – Punjab and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa – failed to make a significant improvement in the budgetary allocations for the sector in their first financial bills last year (2019-20) and for the upcoming year.
The Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf-led coalition government earmarked Rs. 83.363 billion for education affairs and services in the federal budget for 2020-21 against the revised allocation of Rs81.253 billion for the current fiscal year, showing a slight increase of around 2.5%. It proposed an allocation of Rs64 billion for the Higher Education Commission in the annual budgetary allocations and Rs4.5 billion under the Public Sector Development Programme (PSDP) for ongoing and new schemes undertaken by the Federal Education and Professional Training ministry. According to budget documents, Rs4.1 billion has been earmarked for the ongoing schemes and Rs355 million for the new schemes.
According to the financial bill, the bulk of expenditure of Rs70.741 billion has been allocated for tertiary education affairs and services in the budget 2020-21, which is 84.9% of the total allocation under the head.
A review of budget documents shows that the government earmarked Rs.2.931 billion for pre-primary and primary education affairs for 2020-2 against Rs2.83 billion for 2019-20; Rs7.344 billion earmarked for secondary education affairs & services for 2020-21 against Rs6.718 billion for 2019-20; Rs1.237 billion for administration against Rs1.407 billion for 2019-20, which was later revised to Rs727 million.
Last fiscal year, the government had allocated Rs29.047 billion to HEC for implementation of 138 development projects (128 ongoing and 10 new projects) of public sector universities/ higher education institutions. During July-March of the fiscal year 2020, an amount of Rs22.738 billion (around 80% of the total allocation) had been authorized to HEC for meeting expenditure against ongoing project activities.
However, the allocations for higher education by the federal government failed to satisfy the governing body of the Higher Education Commission (HEC). Its representatives deplored the cut in the budget by another Rs5.90 billion from the committed indicative budget ceiling of Rs70 billion for fiscal year 2020-21.
In a telephonic talk with Cutting Edge, a spokesperson for the HEC said the cut would adversely affect the country’s higher education system and force a shutdown of universities. The reaction of the HEC governing body was shared after its two-day 36th meeting, which was held in the third week of June 2020. The HEC chairman, Tariq Banuri, chaired the meeting.
Budgetary allocations for the sector in the population-wise biggest province, Punjab, were more demoralising. A comparison between the allocations made by the Pakistan Muslim League-N government in its last year, and those made by the PTI-led coalition government for the upcoming fiscal year’s ADP showed that the funding for education has dropped from Rs82.61 billion in 2017-18 to Rs36.64 in 2020-21, a staggering decrease of over 55%. School education showed a decline of over 48%, as the government earmarked only Rs27.6 billion for the fiscal year 2020-21.
Also, the development budget for provincial higher education witnessed a decline of over 78% as the PTI government allocated only Rs3.9 billion for the current fiscal year.
The budget documents showed that the special education sector had also been neglected as the government allocated only Rs555 million, showing a decrease of 48% when compared to the provincial Annual Development Programme of 2017-18. Literacy and non-formal basic education witnessed a decline of over 51% as the government earmarked only Rs2.5 billion for the upcoming fiscal year under the head.
Pakistan People’s Party’s Chief Minister in Sindh, Murad Ali Shah, claimed in his speech in the assembly that the province’s education budget for fiscal year 2020-21 had been increased to Rs244.5 billion when compared to Rs212.4b for 2019-20. He said that despite resource constraints, the government had allocated funds which were 25.2% of the current revenue budget.
The budget document reported an allocation for development priorities of universities and boards to the tune of Rs3.3b. For FY 2020-21, Rs1b had been allocated as grant-in-aid for the Education Management Organisation (EMO) for handing over the management of schools to EMOs. Moreover, Rs6.6 billion were allocated for the purchase of furniture and fixture, Rs6.1 billion for new activities with the help of international donor agencies, Rs2.3 billion for free textbooks, Rs1.8 billion for school management committees to meet the requirements of schools, Rs5 billion for the repair and maintenance of school buildings, Rs480 million for an Emergent Need Fund for meeting new initiatives under Covid-19 and Rs663.4 million for educational assets of proscribed organisations of Sindh taken over by the government of Sindh.
Interestingly, every year, the Sindh government claims making more and more allocations for the education sector. But the ground realities never change. The chief minister, Murad Ali Shah, admitted last year in a meeting with a 38-member delegation of the Foreign Service Academy, comprising diplomats from China, Afghanistan and Pakistan, that at least 6.4 million children in the age group of 5-15 years are still out of school. They make 40% of their age group population in the province.
Also, the education minister informed a cabinet meeting that there were 7,611 shelter-less schools, 10,516 single-room schools, and 18,507 two-room schools in rural Sindh. He also admitted that out of a total of 49,103 government schools, there were 18,660 schools which were being run by a single teacher. Another startling revelation the minister made at the cabinet meeting was that there are 11,441 schools in Sindh, where not a single student is enrolled.
The education literacy situation is not much different in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province, which is being run by Prime Minister Imran Khan’s party. For fiscal year 2020-21, the provincial government allocated Rs1.3 billion to address the financial challenges of public universities. The minister, in his budget speech, announced an additional amount of Rs500 million for Pak-Austria Fachhochschule Institute in Haripur. He said that Rs110.6 million would be spent on the Swat University of Engineering and Technology while Rs1.3 billion would be utilised for construction of 74 colleges.
The government also allocated funds in the budget 2020-21 for the provision of tablets to school teachers for online education and classes. He said the decision was taken in the wake of the pandemic, adding that cash would be provided to teachers for the purchase of tablets.
The minister said that schools would be revamped, 300 new schools would be constructed and 534 were being upgraded. To meet the demand of teachers, 21,000 new inductions would be made, while 30,000 additional assistant education district officers would also be appointed to improve the standard of schools and quality of education. He claimed that a campaign would be launched in 13,000 schools to improve enrolment.
Perhaps the minister was unaware of the fact that his party has been ruling the province for the last seven years, and every year beautiful promises are made in the budget speeches. But the ground realities keep telling different stories. KP still has some 2.6 million children out of school. Despite passing 13 years to the October 2005 earthquake, most of schools destroyed by the earthquake have not been reconstructed till date, and over 100 schools are awaiting construction in two districts of Hazara division.
And lastly, Balochistan, the mineral-rich and area-wise biggest province of the country: it seems its problems are also as large as its geographical boundaries. Its Sardars and ruling elite have never made any sincere efforts to make their subjects educated.
In a budget speech in the Balochistan Assembly on June 20, a minister again announced allocations in millions and billions for the education sector, like all other sectors. Finance Minister Zahoor Ahmed Buledi announced that this year also, more than Rs63.5 billion had been allocated for the education sector. But, we all know, these are only numbers. The numbers have failed to make any difference in the past, and this year too, there will be no change on the education horizon of Balochistan. It will persist with the lowest literacy rate of around 41% (official figures, the actual number falls far below it); its 2.3 million, out of total 3.6 million, school-age children will again stay out of school, there are still 3,500 ghost schools, over 2,000 ghost teachers were removed from service last year, but who knows how many more are still there.