Given that it is going to take a generation to bring state education in Pakistan to anything on a par with most of the subcontinent, every little effort helps. Thus it is that we welcome recent developments in Punjab, which include a long overdue upgrade in the payscale for teachers in primary schools, and the recruitment of around 43,000 new teachers. There are to be 36,000 additional classrooms by 2018 and the power supply of 5,000 schools will be shifted to solar energy, which was overdue given the abundance of sunlight in Punjab generally. Punjab is partnering with the British Department for International Development (DfID), which is funding 5,000 of the new classrooms. An attempt at improving education quality by monitoring the performance of 5,000 poor-performing schools and transferring them to a public-private partnership if they fail to improve, is also welcome — but there are caveats.
That there is an education crisis is undeniable and it is not confined to a single province. There are again going to be cries that Punjab gets the icing on the cake and the other provinces have to make do with whatever crumbs come their way. To a degree this is true, but donors and governments look to spend their money wisely in straitened times. For DfID, putting British taxpayers’ money into education in Punjab is a reasonably safe investment — there is a proven capacity to spend effectively, much of the money will actually get where it is supposed to go and not leak away via corruption (even though some will) and the downstream improvements are sustainable. Education improvements will now mean a better educated workforce down the line, with obvious economic and socio-cultural benefits — but in terms of national development, the divide between Punjab and other provinces is only going to widen unless similar interventions are made elsewhere. Sindh and Balochistan remain pitifully under-resourced educationally, Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa less so and we would be heartened to see an uptick in their educational fortunes in the near future as well.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 29th, 2016.