In the soon-to-end year 2017, the federal as well as provincial governments, once again, failed to fulfil the promises made to the public in the Constitution of Pakistan. Article 25-A says: “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.”
Article 37-b urges the governments to “…remove illiteracy and provide free and compulsory secondary education within a minimum possible period.”
However, the outgoing year didn’t prove to be much different from the previous years as far as developments in the education sector of the country are concerned. Budgetary allocations were decreased once again in most cases, inequalities in education, particularly gender disparity, could not be bridged, higher education remained neglected and a large number of higher education institutions remained headless for the major part of the year.
While parents protested against illegal and illogical increase in fees by private educational institutions, college and university students in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa took to the streets against a hike in fees by the provincial higher education authorities. Medical education suffered many setbacks, one after the other, starting from leak of entry test papers in Punjab and Sindh and ending at disbanding of the Pakistan Medical and Dental Council by the government authorities.
Reports: The Global Education Monitoring (GEM) report, released in the beginning of year 2017, warned that if the governments did not take inequalities in education seriously and effect major transformation in the sector to achieve Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030, the universal primary education goal would not be achieved till 2051, universal lower secondary completion till 2062, and universal upper secondary completion till 2087. That means the country is set to miss by more than half- a-century the deadline for ensuring that all children receive a primary education.
It is a regrettable fact that Pakistan has the most absolute number of children out of school anywhere in the world, including 5.6 million out of primary schools, around 5.5 million out of secondary schools (48% of lower secondary school age children), and a staggering 10.4 million adolescents out of upper secondary school, all figures startling, mind-blowing.
Another report was released in September 2017 by Idara-e-Taleem-o-Aagahi (ITA), the Annual Status of Education Report (ASER) Pakistan-2016, reminding all concerned once again that Pakistani children may be attending school, but they are not learning much.
The survey findings showed that the Punjab rural districts saw a slight decrease in overall out-of-school children, but learning outcomes and early childhood education deteriorated drastically, though the province is the most developed and, population-wise the biggest province of the country.
Budgetary allocations: As far as budgetary allocations are concerned, authorities again failed to fulfil their promise of allocating at least 4-6% of their GDP and 15-20% of the total public expenditure for the education sector in financial year 2017-18.
Centre: The federal government, apparently, increased the budget for the education sector by almost six times, compared with the previous fiscal year’s allocations. However, there was no mention in the budget documents that almost half of the previous year’s allocations for the sector remained unutilised. According to the Federal Audit Report, 47% of the total development budget, Rs1324.67 million, out of 2762.30 million, remained unutilised.
The budget proposals for financial year 2017-18 showed that the Centre would spend Rs90.52 billion on federal education and related services in the current fiscal year. The allocation was nearly Rs6 billion higher than the allocation under this head last year. Besides, Rs25.5 billion were allocated for 105 ongoing schemes, the government set aside Rs. 9.1 billion for the 62 new projects, mainly focusing on development, research and innovation.
Punjab: It was a sad reality that the Pakistan Muslim League-N government in the Punjab province cut allocations for the education sector in the financial year 2017-18, like in the previous financial year. According to Alif Ailaan education initiative, allocation for education during the fiscal year 2017-18 was Rs345 billion (17.5% of the total budgetary allocations), which is 1% less than the allocations made in the financial year 2016-17.
Last year (2016-17), the finance bill showed that in its ninth consecutive budget, the PML-N’s provincial government allocated Rs323 billion for education, which was 19% of the total budget of Rs1,681 billion. The budget documents said that the education budget was 58% of the total annual development programme (ADP), allocated for the year. During the financial year 2015-16, it was 77% of the total ADP, hence 19% reduction in the allocation.
And this year, too, the budgetary allocations were reduced by 1%, compared with the last financial year. However, the budget documents for year 2017-18 claimed that with an overall allocation of Rs345 billion, including development and non-development budget, the provincial government increased the allocation by 9%.
Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa: The provincial government, in its fifth annual budget, allocated Rs127.91 billion for education sector. Out of which, Rs115.92 billion were allocated for primary and secondary schools, and Rs6.32 billion for higher education, making a total increase of 18% in the education budget compared with the last year. The higher education budget was increased by 31% and elementary and secondary education by 17%.
Fata: For the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata), the allocations for the education sector in 2017-18 financial year stood at Rs12.8 billion, showing an increase of 9.4% over the previous budget.
Sindh: In the Sindh Education Budget 2017-18, the allocation percentage for the development side was decreased from 21.03% in 2016-17 to 20.06% in 2017-18, with Rs202.7 billion set aside for the sector.
For the financial year 2017-18, the total budget under pre-primary and primary education also went down from Rs55.3 billion in 2016-17 to Rs50.9 billion.
However, the provincial government claimed that education was a top priority this year, too, with an overall increase of 24%.
Balochistan: The provincial government allocated Rs45 billion for the education sector in the financial year 2017-18. The allocations show that within the current budget, primary education is the largest claimant. The allocation in the budget for 2017-18 is Rs15.9 billion, which is 42% higher than the previous budget. Interestingly, it is only 1.3% higher than the revised budget. The budget allocation for 2017-18 is less than the revised estimate of 2016-17 by 18.7%. There is an increase of only 4.3% over the expenditure in 2015-16.
AJK: In the total budget of Rs94.4 billion for 2017-18, presented to the Azad Jammu and Kashmir Assembly, the share of development was 25%; and the share of education in the development budget was Rs1.7 billion, or the fifth largest with a share of 7.3%. This amount is nearly twice the amount of Rs852 million actually spent in 2015-16. Even the revised estimate for 2016-17 was Rs943 million. However, whether a jump of 88% in 2017-18 can be effectively utilised, is open to question.
Higher education: The publication of Quacquarelli Symonds World Universities Rankings 2017 in the start of November 2017, saw only one of our 180 plus universities included in the top 500 universities, at 431st place on the list. In the world University Ranking last year (2016), issued by the Times Higher Education, not a single Pakistani university made it to the top 500, whereas only three universities were included in the top 800.
One should not wonder at this state of affairs keeping in view the fact that despite passage of over seven years, all federating units and other territories have not constituted their own higher education commissions. Until now only Punjab and Sindh have set up their own HECs, while Balochistan, Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, Gilgit-Baltistan and Azad Kashmir failed to make substantial progress on this front, even in 2017.
Dozens of universities and colleges all across the country remained headless through most part of the year 2017. Only in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, no regular vice-chancellors and pro-vice-chancellors were appointed to top 10 universities and colleges of the province for months.
Medical education crisis: Medical education in the country faced back-to-back crisis in 2017. Entry test results for admissions to medical universities and colleges in Punjab had to be cancelled after a leak of question papers. The test was conducted by the University of Health Science (UHS) Lahore, in Punjab, and in Sindh, the National Testing Service (NTS) was responsible for the task.
Punjab Minister for Specialised Healthcare and Medical Education Khwaja Salman Rafique confirmed to the media that a racket was involved in the heinous offence of providing papers to specific aspirants. Members of the racket were employees of UHS, doctors, academics and others.
Legislation: After the 18th Amendment, the education sector has been devolved to the provinces. Under the law, the four federating units and other territories are bound to legislate on Right to Education (RTE) in pursuance of the said article. However, despite passage of over seven years, the process of legislation has not been completed. Either the provinces have failed to legislate on the right to free and compulsory education for children or implement the legislation in letter and spirit.
The plight of the disabled: The Lahore High Court (LHC) took notice of torture of special needs children in Punjab after some videos emerged on social media and then private TV channels, showing staffers manhandling special children. At least two such videos emerged in October 2017, in which bus conductors were seen torturing children of Gung Mahal School for the Deaf and Dumb — a government institute in Gulberg.
Besides these special occurrences, there was no change in the conditions for the physically challenged students in the country in 2017 compared with the previous year. At least on three different occasions, visually-impaired persons staged protest demonstrations in Lahore against the government authorities, calling for education facilities for them and implementation of 3% job quota reserved for the disabled, and regularisation of their jobs in letter and spirit.
Curriculum reforms: In December 2017, the Global Education Monitoring Report 2017-18 of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO), expressed concern over school textbooks in many countries, including Pakistan, glorifying war and military heroes rather than teaching peace, non-violence and reconciliation. However, all four provincial governments as well as the Centre have failed to make a comprehensive strategy on curriculum reform so far.