Will the people of Punjab stand up for education? Because the government just cut the budget - again
“The mind once enlightened cannot again become dark.” (Thomas Payne)
In the midst of so much uncertainty there is one thing in Pakistan that can be predicted with absolute confidence: administrative policy. We can rest assured that the average reprobate and hanger-on populating the federal and provincial assemblies will do everything possible to prevent the nation from progressing. Case in point: the Punjab Assembly has cut the budget allocation for the education sector from 21% in the last fiscal year to 18.6% for 2016-17.
Furthermore, the allocation of 21% in the last fiscal year was 3% down from the previous year, which in turn was down 2% from the year before. So, since 2013, Punjab has cut a total of 7.4% allocation from education.
Let’s see what glorious strides have allowed the Punjab Assembly to justify these cuts.
The last major release of literacy statistics was the Pakistan Economic Survey (PEC) which used data from the Pakistan Social and Living Standards Measurement (PSLM) study completed in 2015.
According to this survey, Punjab had increased its overall literacy by 1% between 2012 and 2015 missing each and every target set by local or foreign agencies. Worse yet was that female literacy actually declined by 2% during this period of time.
The Punjab Government has woefully faltered in making any meaningful strides in adult literacy. As the survey shows, almost 40% of the population remains illiterate.
On paper, the Punjab Budget looks like it does every year. You would think that the Hanging Gardens of Babylon and the Panama Canal would pale in comparison to what the folks on Mall Road are conjuring up next. The obsession with building roads and infrastructure is commendable (and is the one thing that actually appears to materialise from paper) to the extent that it does not take away from other crucial sectors. This, unfortunately, is exactly what is happening. The allocations in the Annual Development Program (ADP) have significantly been increased for roads, railways and other infrastructure projects at the expense of education.
Ultimately the issue is that Pakistan is yet to understand the importance of education. We can build as many highways, bridges and metro rails as we want but if we do not have a workforce with the knowledge and skill to generate and sustain a robust economy, they will crumble in our faces.
Education is not just attaining a certification or degree; it is the basic building block of a country’s economy and civil society. It is the road out of poverty and disfranchisement. It is the light that can help banish extremism and bigotry.
Education, especially university education, enables the growth of the middle class which in turn increases tax revenue, market potential and investment. It is the only thing that can transform a society both economically, as well as intellectually. This is what the member of the Punjab Assembly must understand. Unfortunately, an enlightened and educated society is not in the best interest of those who are beholden to vested interest and whose careers rely on the politics of biradari, cult and corruption.
It is futile to hope for any better from the current administration. The people of Punjab must think long and hard before casting their vote next year and pay extra attention to those who put education at the forefront of their agenda.