Pakistan’s education emergency

Published: March 31, 2011
The writer is a researcher pursuing a doctorate at the University of Melbourne

The writer is a researcher pursuing a doctorate at the University of Melbourne

The latest official report concerning the overall education situation in our country makes for rather grim reading. The Pakistan Education Task Force report on the educational emergency squarely recognises the lingering inadequacy of education policymaking and implementation.

Despite six decades of reiterating lofty aims, the target of providing all citizens with the basic capacity to read and write remains elusive, even in the 21st century. Consequently, one in 10 of the world’s out-of-school children are Pakistani.

The economic cost of not educating our citizens is estimated to be equal to damages that would be caused if we were struck by a major flood every year. On the other hand, the potential benefits of education are immense. For instance, just one year of education for women can help reduce fertility by 10 per cent. Unfortunately, usage of school teacher jobs for patronage purposes by politicians has diminished accountability. It is also wrong to presume that the public school system is suffering because teachers are poorly paid. Public school teachers get paid a third more than their low-cost private school counterparts. Despite this, on any given day, between 10 to 15 per cent of public school teachers are reported as being absent.

This task force report, instead, places a lot of trust in the private sector to address our educational malaise. It points out that a significant proportion of the demand for education is being addressed by low-cost private schools. However, whether private schools catering to low-income households are providing quality education remains a debatable question. Moreover, as donor attention is turning towards the private education sector, the state of government schools could become even worse.

It must be remembered that there are many parents across the country who cannot afford to pay for education, even in low-cost private schools. Private schools are also not inclined to open up in areas where there are not enough fee-paying students. Private schooling may thus not be the best option to educate poorer and more remote communities.

Analysts have long been warning that education is dangerously polarised. Since Pakistan’s elite educates its children at expensive schools in the country or abroad, education has slipped off the political agenda.

Pakistan has spent a scandalously low proportion of its GDP on education. In the current education policy, the government vowed to increase the education budget but this was not done. It may be convenient to say that Pakistan is too poor to provide the right of basic education to all its citizens. But there are 26 countries poorer than Pakistan which manage to send more children to school.

A campaign has been devised by the task force to call on all citizens to petition the prime minister to double education spending. That this campaign comes from within the government is indicative of how serious the problem has become. One wonders, however, if even this scenario is grave enough for our policymakers to make education a national priority.


Published in The Express Tribune, March 31st, 2011.

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Reader Comments (9)

  • Sitara
    Mar 31, 2011 - 10:27AM

    Do u expect this from this Gov !Recommend

  • rk singh
    Mar 31, 2011 - 12:52PM

    Pakistan should start investing in areas like education, development etc. Defence spending should come down drastically. Only then, there will be a future for pakistan.

    I guess pakistanis feel that India is a threat and spend a lot of money on arms themselves. let me tell u something plainy. India is a strong nation, but peacefull too. Pakistan can do precious little if India decides to attack (which we nevr did/never will do).

    So spend money on poor people rather than filling the bank accounts of your army men (who i feel are incompetent).Recommend

  • Amjad
    Mar 31, 2011 - 1:41PM

    There is no doubt in the fact that we are living in the era where knowledge drives the economy. The role of universities and higher education institutions in generation, distribution and utilization of knowledge is indispensible. Along with this to compete in the modern world we need the human capital particularly the youth that is equipped with latest knowledge; polished potentials; high level refine etc. The Higher Education Commission not only realized this fact but started laborious efforts to change this dream into reality. It is due to the committed struggle of HEC that Prof. Wolfgang Voelter wrote “A miracle happened. The scenario of education, science and technology in Pakistan changed dramatically, as never before in the history of Pakistan. A US educational expert Prof. Fred M. Hayward also praised the reform process undertaken by HEC Pakistan. HEC instituted major upgrades for laboratories and information and communications technology, rehabilitation of facilities, expansion of research support, and development of one of the best digital libraries in the region and so on. To name just a few, the establishment of a free access to scientific literature by high-speed Internet for all universities, the thousands of promising young scientists who were granted PhD studies at top universities abroad, the upgrade of research equipment accessible across the country and the programme of establishing new universities of science and technology, including technology prove the efficiency and the long-term benefits for the country enabled by the HEC. It is just because of the initiatives taken by HEC that quality of higher education has increased significantly, and several institutions are on their way to becoming world-class institutions. To cut it short HEC Pakistan can be labeled as a ‘best-practice’ example for those countries who wish to go at par with the developed countries through development of their human resources and establishment of an innovative, technology-based economy Recommend

  • Mango Man
    Mar 31, 2011 - 4:07PM

    Instead of spending money on nukes and arms, spend it on your kids! It is money well spent! They will at least have a future, where many have none other than becoming jihadis! They can make a living for themselves and improve your economy. India is investing an average of 70000 Crores per year on education, which we believe is still low. But it will ensure that future generations will make a better living and is already showing! Take that step, Pak, for your own good! Recommend

  • Ali
    Mar 31, 2011 - 5:28PM

    Forcing all people who live in Pakistan to use Pakistani state schools is the answer.
    That way the elite will be forced to spend more on education because they too will suffer. Prevent students below 18 leaving the country for educational purposes, that way the elite can not dodge the issue!
    The elite only care for themseleves.
    Disabanding the HEC will destroy education in Pakistan.Recommend

  • Humanity
    Mar 31, 2011 - 6:06PM

    The lack of interest in this post speaks for itself.

    Education Emergency? What education?Recommend

  • Hedgefunder
    Mar 31, 2011 - 9:29PM

    The word Emergency simply does exist in pakistan!!! Recommend

  • Cautious
    Apr 1, 2011 - 3:28PM

    Never have understood how Pakistan prioritizes things. You take the time to make sure people memorize a holy book written in a foreign language – yet you don’t spend the time to teach the same people how to read or write? You spend vast sums of money on nuclear weapons, large armies etc – yet don’t fight the Taliban and don’t have sufficient money for sewers, clean water, and other things considered basics by the modern World. You consider yourselves a modern country and something to be emulated yet the rest of the World views you as a 3’rd World Country which is a borderline failed state. It all seems a bit odd.Recommend

  • WR
    Apr 7, 2011 - 2:45AM

    @Cautious I am a pakistani, but everything you said is absolutely true. It’s short-sightedness of our leaders and their thirst for power. And a lot of the foundation has been laid in the past to define us as anti-india muslim state. Hence, they tried to emulate Arab states, the results of which were disastrous. But gradually people are trying to get back on way to recovery and progress. But it will take another 10 or 20 years to fix this.Recommend

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