Government High School, Chak No. 330/HR, is a typical example of the problems the education sector is facing in the country, currently. Physically, there are only three teachers imparting education to almost 250 students of all 10 classes and ‘Katchi’ (pre-one) class. On paper, six teachers are serving in the school, but physically the school had never seen them there together. Two of them had themselves attached to two new schools near their hometowns, as Chak-No-330 high school is situated far away from Bahawalnagar city. The third one, belonging to Dunga Bunga area of tehsil Bahawalnagar, visits the school only for one day in the beginning of each month, only to collect his salary. Being situated deep in Cholistan desert, the school is seldom visited by the education authorities to see for themselves if it is working or not.
The school did get a boundary wall when it was upgraded as a high school about 12 years back. But various parts of the wall caved in during the next years due to various reasons including rains. Two latrines were also constructed, but without provision of water. Drinking water facility is provided by a hand pump.
The acting headmaster, who does not want to be named, says no funds have ever been provided either by the Education Department or the district government for provision of missing facilities. However, authorities at the Centre claim the subject of education has been devolved to the provincial governments in the wake of the 18th Amendment. And now, the responsibility of adequate spending on education lies with the provincial government, it is stated. On their part, the provincial governments have passed on the responsibility to the district governments, after the district government system installation in the provinces last year.
According to Article 25-A of the Constitution of Pakistan, the provincial governments are bound to provide free and compulsory education to all children between the ages 5-16 years. But regrettably, almost all provincial governments have been allocating a meagre budget – only 2% of the GDP – to education since the last several years.
For fiscal year 2016-2017, Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (KP) has been the only province that has increased the share of education in its total provincial budget, making it the province with highest education budget allocation for the second consecutive year. Out of the total 505 billion rupees worth of provincial budget, the KP government has earmarked Rs. 143 billion for education – 28 per cent of the total budget compared with 24.6 per cent in fiscal year 2015-16. The province allocated 17 per cent of the education budget for development, which is 1.3 per cent less than the last year’s allocation.
According to official data, Sindh allocated 20 per cent of its total budget (Rs. 176 billion out of a total of Rs. 869 billion budget), followed by Punjab with 19 per cent budget allocated for education (Rs. 313 billion out of Rs. 1,681 billion). The allocations in both these provinces have slightly decreased from the previous year – 20% in Sindh and 19.8% in Punjab, respectively. Sindh saw an increase in the development budget from 8.8 per cent last year to 10 per cent in fiscal year 2016-17.
The education authorities claim Punjab has taken a step in the right direction by increasing its development budget from 15.3 per cent of the education budget to 20.1 per cent, the major development initiatives including provisions of missing facilities, reconstruction of dangerous school buildings as well as provisions of IT labs and information communication technologies.
In Balochistan, however, the share of the education budget has substantially decreased. After six consecutive years of increasing the education budget from 10 per cent in 2010-11 to 20 per cent in 2015-16, the government drastically slashed the allocation to 17 per cent (Rs. 49 billion out of Rs. 289 billion) in 2016-17.
As far as education development allocations are concerned, Balochistan again lags behind with a considerable decrease from 20.7 per cent last year to 13 per cent in the current year.
The recurrent education budget entails the budget allocated for ongoing expenses that occur on a daily basis. Also called the operational budget, this budget includes two types of expenses, i.e. salary and non-salary (utilities, taxes etc.).
In Pakistan, all provinces earmark a major portion of the education budget for recurrent expenses. Amongst the provinces, the highest share of the recurrent budget had been recorded for Sindh, i.e. 91%, for the year 2016-2017.
Punjab followed with an 85% per cent share for the recurrent budget; whereas Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan were recorded to have allocated 81% and 79%, respectively, in 2016-2017. A similar trend was followed for the current year’s allocations with Sindh allocating as much as 90 per cent, followed by Balochistan with 87 per cent, KP with 83 per cent, and Punjab apportioning a little under 80 per cent recurrent expenses.
Keeping in mind the importance of the non-salary budget for operational expenses in schools, the allotted budget for the purpose has been quite low. The trend was similar for the non- salary budget in 2015-2016 with the highest share, in Sindh i.e. 23% of the recurrent budget; Balochistan followed with a 15% share where as Punjab and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa earmarked 14% and 9%, respectively, of their recurrent budget for non-salary expenditures.
It is encouraging to see Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa apportion a significant amount of the recurrent budget for non-salary, from Rs. 8 billion in 2015-16 to Rs. 14 billion in 2016-17 so as to ensure quality education services for students. The spending on all other provinces, however, is still tilted grossly in the favour of salary expenses. In Balochistan, the non-salary budget has been reduced by nine per cent compared with the previous year, the salary budget constituting 88 per cent of the total recurrent budget in the province.
Given the challenges related with lack of infrastructure, maintenance and learning materials in classrooms, in Pakistan, especially when it comes to the education system, it is imperative that each of the four provinces allocate a higher percentage of their budgets for development purposes as well as non-salary operational costs.
It is not surprising that Pakistan has failed to achieve the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) of universal primary education and gender equality (MDGs 2 and 3). The state of affairs of most schools in the country is not much different from that of the Government High School, 330/HR. That’s why, the country still has about 24 million children, aged 5-16, out of school, of which 13.7 million (55%) are girls. Net enrolment rate at primary level is a meagre 64% with merely 23% girls enrolled at the secondary level.
In fact, the education problem in Pakistan is multifaceted with scores of issues contributing to these appalling numbers, for example, gender discrimination, inadequate sanitation facilities, lack of access to schools and unqualified teachers.
The 2016 Annual Status of Education Report (ASER) data shows that 40% of the government primary schools don’t have drinking water, 48% don’t have usable toilets and 37% don’t have boundary walls.
Of course, these problems result in low levels of learning and consequently result in low enrolment rates and high dropout rates. As per ASER, 58% of girls between the ages of 5-16 cannot read sentences in Urdu, Pashto or Sindhi and 59% can’t do basic subtraction.