Preparing the population for a modern economy

Published: August 22, 2011
The writer is a former vice-president of the World Bank and a former finance minister of Pakistan

The writer is a former vice-president of the World Bank and a former finance minister of Pakistan

For a country that now has the reputation of neglecting the development of its vast human resource, it is possible to reach a somewhat different conclusion about the preparedness of the workforce. When the data for the schooling of the young is examined in some detail, and in the context of what is occurring in other countries of South Asia, Pakistan seems well positioned to develop a modern economy. The data used here are from the work done by the economists Robert Baro and Jhong-Wha Lee at Harvard University. Looking at this data, it appears that compared to other large countries of South Asia, Pakistan is doing better in an area that could be tremendously important for its economic and social future.

In 2010, India had 67 per cent of the 15-plus age group in school while Pakistan had 62 per cent. However, it is at the other end of the educational spectrum — what educationists call the tertiary stage — that Pakistan seems to be doing considerably better than other South Asian countries.

In 1950, for India and Pakistan, the proportion of people attending tertiary institutions was 0.6 per cent. Since this has increased to 5.8 per cent for India, a ten-fold increase, and to 5.5 per cent for Pakistan, a nine-fold growth. For Bangladesh, the increase was spectacular, a twenty-fold growth. However, it is the impressive increase for Pakistan that provides the element of surprise.

Pakistan does well in one critical area — the drop-out rate in tertiary education. Those who complete tertiary education in Pakistan account for a larger proportion of persons who enter school at this level. The proportion is much higher for girls, another surprising finding for Pakistan.

With a considerably lower drop-out rate at the tertiary level, it is not surprising that the number of years students spend in school in Pakistan (5.6 years) is higher than that in India (5.1 years) but a bit lower than that for Bangladesh ( 5.8 years). For tertiary education alone, Pakistan’s youth spend more time being educated than those in Bangladesh and India.

It is in the last two decades that the real brake occurred in Pakistan. The proportion of the 15-plus age group receiving tertiary education in Pakistan increased from only 2.4 per cent in 1990 to 5.5 per cent in 2010. The proportion of students completing tertiary education in Pakistan is 41 per cent higher than that for India. Better performance, when measured in terms of the proportion of the population receiving tertiary education, matters a great deal for the economic future. As Baro and Lee point out, the estimated rate of return is very high for tertiary education, close to 18 per cent. This is only 10 per cent for secondary education and almost zero for primary education. The state, by only concentrating on primary education, is not buying a better future for the citizenry. It must make it possible to develop tertiary education as well.

The answer to the question — why has Pakistan done so much better than other large South Asian countries? — leads us into the realm of speculation. An argument can be made that the nationalisation of privately-managed education in the 1970s and the resulting expansion in the role of public education resulted in a serious deterioration of educational standards. This troubled the well-to-do segments of the population who had the means to pay for good education if it could be provided. This brought the private sector into education and its role expanded rapidly.

The demographic changes occurring in the West and the pressure on the state to pull back from such activities as education, research and innovation means that enormous opportunities are being created for the populous countries of South Asia. In light of the little noticed progress it has made in tertiary education, Pakistan seems well positioned to take advantage of the opportunities becoming available in the new economy.

Published in The Express Tribune, August 23rd, 2011.

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Reader Comments (34)

  • chu
    Aug 22, 2011 - 8:47PM

    it good to know that pakistan is doing well in education than india or all other south asian nations.If you look at ancient history, the land of takshashila (taxila) university, i.e. todays pakistan,should have been a leading torch-bearer in education, but nowadays, it seems it is only excelling in bomb making, suicide bomber making and terrorist making schools.

    by the way what exactly is tertiary education and what are the tremendous opportunities exist due to it?Recommend

  • Meekal Ahmed
    Aug 22, 2011 - 9:27PM

    Good grief, Sir, an acutally positive article about our blighted motherland! What a relief.


  • White Russian
    Aug 22, 2011 - 9:27PM

    “… Pakistan’s youth spend more time being educated than those in Bangladesh and India.”

    May be this is the reason behind the dismal state of public life in Pakistan. Our youth spend more time in “getting educated” at low quality public institutions of tertiary education.


  • Aug 22, 2011 - 10:23PM

    By tertiary education do you mean Madrassa education and clergical training?


  • M Ali Khan
    Aug 22, 2011 - 11:22PM

    Wonder if these statistics also include the sudden surge of MNAs and MPAs suddenly getting degrees in last 10 years to be eligible for election ;)


  • N
    Aug 22, 2011 - 11:55PM

    Forget India and Bangladesh, what are we teaching our young in these tertiary schools? How productive and inclusive are they when they graduate? Do their skills and outlook make them useful? Let us assume they are, what are our leaders doing to put these educated masses to work?


  • amit
    Aug 23, 2011 - 2:08AM

    sir ji india literacy rate is 74.04% in latest 2011 gensus, search google and pakistan literacy rate is 57% so sir ji please do not compare india with pakistan or bangladesh.your information is wrong.Recommend

  • Asad
    Aug 23, 2011 - 3:05AM

    Mr. Amit,

    Mr. Burki is referring to literacy rate of a specific population group i.e children over the age of 15, not total literacy rate (by which we get the stats you presented).


  • sayed
    Aug 23, 2011 - 3:33AM

    Tertiary education is high school or college level, which in return provides countries with knowledgeable workers or semi-skilled workers–something every developing nation needs to prosper. Simply writing your name or reading it a literacy test in India, Pakistan, and etc and done by international institutions doesn’t mean your nation will prosper.


  • fahim
    Aug 23, 2011 - 4:33AM

    what nonsense comparison. Please choose a component your size for a comparison. India, with 1.3 billion people has hundreds of limitations, in terms of language, geography, economic status, religion, caste, grades of poverty, infrastructure, social differences, the list goes on. What excuses do we have? Another poor article that puts our head in sand, search for one tiny little fraction where some % is more than India and then immediately shout loud that we are doing great and will defeat India. Does the author have gone to these schools and seen the quality of education? or the curriculum of what hateful, wrong history is taught there ?


  • Arzoo
    Aug 23, 2011 - 5:34AM

    @amit: Amit also please note that here in Pakistan the definition of “education” is also different than in India or Bangladesh or, actually, most of the world. The Pakistan’s Government considers anyone that can sign their name (as opposed to ‘angotha chaap’) as educated.


  • Sajida
    Aug 23, 2011 - 7:48AM

    Does literacy mean he RRRs? That is not a strong point in South Asia.
    In India even college graduates are considered unemployable so what does that say about benefits of literacy level?
    @amit do not get all excited. The literacy figures for the cuntries mask incomeoptency.
    India Graduates Millions, but Too Few Are Fit to Hire
    75% of Indian IT graduates are unemployable

  • khanman
    Aug 23, 2011 - 8:12AM

    Pakistani children need quality education not just better education so they can be productive in the society and compete in the modern world.


  • khanman
    Aug 23, 2011 - 8:15AM

    well India has “angotha chaap” educated ministers too like we do.


  • amit
    Aug 23, 2011 - 10:33AM

    sajida india Unemployment rate is 9% and pakistan Unemployment rate is 15 % so pleasr do not cinpare india with pak


  • BruteForce
    Aug 23, 2011 - 11:40AM


    You are actually very right. The average Engineer coming out of various Engineering Colleges in India is not considered employable.

    But, they do get hired. They are provided training inside the companies. Last year TCS hired 50000 people and trained them. 50000! That is a phenomenal number. I’ve attended such training programs and let me tell you they achieve what they set out to do.

    There are some elite Engineering Schools in India too like the IITs and some magnificent research institutions like the IISC. They take the initiative in building technological base in India.

    Just imagine, a guy who gets rejected at the IITs in India can bank on Harvard and MIT into accepting him. To think that the guy who created Infosys is a IITian- Narayan Murthy, and the guy who is leading the anti-Corruption movement Arvaind Kejriwal is an IITian tells you the kind of talent IIT produces.

    India has a very very bright future. When you empower people they come up with innovative ways to beat the inherent disadvantages.


  • Chethan
    Aug 23, 2011 - 11:55AM

    It is good to see that India and once upon a time part of Pakistan (Bangladesh) are considered most of the times as benchmarks for Pakistan’s comparisions, but ill competition is bad. People of Pakistan need to think beyond India, Bangladesh, Israel and US to truely achieve its dream country of prosperity.


  • vasan
    Aug 23, 2011 - 12:34PM

    Just one simple question. Does the statistics quoted by this author include “madressa graduates” also as tertiary educated like it is done for the validity of MNAs in Pakistan.
    Thank god, we dont have any Hindu madressas, buddist madressas and Christian madressas in India.
    Coming onto the validity of tertiary education in India (and as well in Pakistan) we all produce only degree holders and not engineers or scientists. In India, it takes almost 2 more years to convert these degree holders to knowledge holders by the various training programmes of the corporates. But nonIT degree holders, I really dont know.


  • gp65
    Aug 23, 2011 - 12:51PM

    Nice article. Some key perspctives that appear to be missing are:
    1. According to the author’s own data, India’s literacy amongst the 15+ is higher than Pakistan, the proportion of people attending tertiary institutions is also higher. These are raw metics where India is ahead. Also 1 million Pakistanis currently get university graduation. The number in India is 14 million annually. The population in India is 6.5 times that of Pakistan and the number of university graduates is 14 times.

    Besides that the quality of higher education institutions should also be looked at. IITs and IIMs are recognized throughout the world. I do not believe there is an organization within Pakistan that has similar name recognition.

    Finally look at the structure of the economy. It can be argued that mercantile and service exports are a good surrogate for the nation’s comparative advantage. 95% of Pakistan’s exports consist of textiles and food items. In India to reach the 95% you would have to include gems and jewellery, pharmaceuticals, petrochemicals, automobiles, leather products in addition to textile and food products. Besides India has a vast service export (almost 50% of mercantile export) that includes tourism, IT offshoring, business process outsourcing,healthcare, R&D hubs for multinationals in the areas of small automobiles, chip design, pharmaceuticals,While the Pakistani IT exports have started significantly growing, none of the other areas appear to be growing.


  • Abhi
    Aug 23, 2011 - 2:54PM

    The author didn’t get details about analysis and numbers and I couldn’t get it from web easily so my below coment are only speculations.

    having better number of year in school doesn’t meen that there are more students doing higher study. It could also indicate that poor people are not even sending their children to primary school and only the parents who can afford for education upto higher level are sending their childres to school.
    This is also clear from the fact the population wise india has more % of people in higher education (5.8%) compare to Pakistan (5.6%)

    So this proportion of number of people dropping at lower level vs number of people dropping at higher level actually tells that primary education is the neglected area in Pakistan.


  • OB
    Aug 23, 2011 - 5:09PM

    The author has a point. I have worked with many South Asian IT/Technology colleagues in UAE, Europe, India and Pakistan and Pakistanis seem to fare well. There is a streak of independant thinking and innovation which is not that prominant in junior professionals of other South Asian origins. I have my own theory on this anecdotal evidence as well as personal experience.

    Pakistan offered S&T and HEC scholarships to bright graduates and bound them to return to Pakistan for a period of 5 years after their higher education. Most of those who returned, taught in the universities and higher education institutes, bringing with them methods and curricullum from abroad. That had an effect on other lecturers as well as the entire system. While many who do come back to serve their bonds migrate after its completion, they do leave behind a very positive impact.

    India has relied heavily on foreign scholarships and their local scholarship schemes do not seem to have a strong bond for the scholars to return. I have even heard that Indian scholars are encouraged to stay abroad. Foreign scholarships generally converge to bilateral agreements between scholars and sponsors usually lasting upto the duration of study. Therefore, the feedback may proportionately be less in the Indian tertiary education system.

    I would like the readers to correct me if they think or know otherwise.


  • abc
    Aug 23, 2011 - 5:32PM

    The author has not accounted for brain drain in Pakistan.


  • Aug 23, 2011 - 8:32PM

    India lags behind its neighbors, Pakistan and Bangladesh, on human development indices like life expectancy at birth and mean or average years of schooling and gender parity, a United Nations Development Program (UNDP) report released last year said.

    On gender parity, Pakistan ranks 112, ten places ahead of India at 122.

    Titled “Real Wealth of Nations: Pathways to Human Development”, the report had a global launch and was released at the UN in New York by UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon.

    According to the report, life expectancy at birth in India is 64.4 years, while in Pakistan it is 67.2 years. In Bangladesh, life expectancy is 66.9 years.

    Similarly, mean years of schooling in India is 4.4 years while in Pakistan and Bangladesh it is 4.9 and 4.8 years respectively.



  • Roy
    Aug 24, 2011 - 10:50AM

    Wrong comparison.

    If you look at the report mentioned in the article, Data for India is from 1991 whereas Data from Pakistan is from 2006.

    India is miles ahead of Pakistan in education.


  • Tony Singh
    Aug 24, 2011 - 3:32PM

    @Riaz Haq:
    Good now that you know you people are more educated than us, impart some of it to likes of Hafiz saeed and Zaid Hamid who are living in mrdivial. ages. (Is education sae kutch dhung ka karo). Stop producing terrorists and suicide bombers. Or is that also a part of education proccess in Pakistan?


  • sarcastic
    Aug 24, 2011 - 3:52PM

    @Tony Singh….stop the stereotypes and make some constructive point, if you have any. Its not like we have a shortage of educational institutes here. Go to uni’s like LUMS and IBA and you will be amazed by the international standards in Pakistan.


  • Abhi
    Aug 24, 2011 - 5:06PM

    Good sarcasm!


  • pardesi
    Aug 24, 2011 - 5:18PM

    are suicide bombers counted as graduates too?


  • Sajida
    Aug 25, 2011 - 12:03AM

    @BruteForce India has a bright future? Not with its demographics!
    Doubts over India’s ‘teeming millions’ advantage
    about engineering companies. Your response reminded me of of article I read about getting dregs of dregs!

  • amit
    Aug 25, 2011 - 1:13AM

    phir compare kiya india ka failed state no 10 ke sath .pak half % population dont go to school my friend. and your provide link is 2006 . and is bassed on india 2001 gensus my friend india is change and economy is also change . plesse see 2011 statics then talk.heheheRecommend

  • gt
    Aug 25, 2011 - 11:14AM

    I have interacted intensively with, and taught, graduate students from Pakistan, Iran, Iraq and India, on various government scholarships at Utah State University; also students from India, Bangladesh, Nepal, and other countries, also at the graduate level, at Yale. I think I have a reasonable grasp of various types of students from a variety of backgrounds.

    It is very difficult to make generalizations. I had one exceptional agricultural student from Pakistan, funded by a government program who combined scholarship with quality of character. Beside him were his cohorts who were absolutely vile human beings, and I can imagine that they will have risen high in government service!! A complete waste of fund money! The same goes for the Bangladeshi & Nepali contingents.

    The very incompetent Iranians, of course, returned home, and the very competent did not! The very competent Indians, not necessarily good human beings, did return, but with the aim of leveraging their degrees to pursue non-academic goals. I think this is a great misappropriation of scarce academic funding that has become a menace in India: using connections to secure foreign degrees at good schools, at the cost of those who might have pursued academic or research careers.

    Burki is very foolish and blind, and trapped by his own set of idiocies. I long have been deeply concerned by the lethal absence of trained thinkers in the agricultural & biological sciences in the subcontinent as a whole, especially Pakistan, India and Bangladesh. More than any other issue, the flawed cropping systems and the distortions created when agriculture is harnessed to solve fiscal deficits rather than meet human needs, are problems that are irrevocably damaging Pakistan’s soils. water resources, and human ecology. These are areas where we immediately can intervene to bring positive change instead of giving way to despair. And we must, because of the massive population increase. Therefore talk of tertiary or any education is meaningless unless we immediately set about finding practical ways to endure the coming population spurt. Where shall we find the qualified agricultural scientists we lack, can Burki answer me that?


  • BruteForce
    Aug 25, 2011 - 6:02PM


    Pakistanis and the World have predicted doom for India for a long time. The fact is that is the fastest growing economy in the World and creating enough jobs to satisfy the millions coming out onto the job market every year.

    India is a land of paradoxes and it grows in patches. The South of India is much more advanced than the north and there is an acute labour shortage, which is being filled up by people from the North, for example.

    Institutions like Goldman Sachs, IMF, UN and WB expect India to grow and manage its population, unlike Pakistan.

    A Country which can grow at 8% for a long time will reduce poverty and lower its population growth. But, a Country which grows at 2.5%, when in fact it needs to grow at 7% to create enough jobs, will falter.

    The question is can the geography of India support such a huge population? The answer is Yes. Can Pakistan? The answer is no. Many in Pakistan are already talking about water wars with India, for example. The resources in Pakistan will simply run out.


  • allasia
    Aug 26, 2011 - 3:06AM

    I dont understand this Pakistani infatuation of comparing themselves with India. If they did not spend billions of dollars to fund their useless army which never won a war but always started them (when I say win, I mean achieving the objective with which the war was started viz capturing Kashmir or stopping secession of Bangladesh) Pakistan could have become a South Korea in all respects. Instead, every time a little calamity strikes it first blames India for causing it and then goes around with ever increasing begging bow. India on the other hand is instead of going around with a begging bowl, is actually helping other countries. India spent one and half billion dollars in Afghanistan building its infrastructure. What did Pakistan do? Wake up Pakistan before it is too late. Allah (SAW) says he will only help those who help themselves.Recommend

  • The Indian
    Aug 31, 2011 - 1:57PM

    I don’t get the data in this article. I’m under impression that Pakistan hasn’t conducted a survey in many years, so the author can’t know the fine details of the numbers he is talking about. In india’s last survey, our education was 74%, which means that with the exception of UP and Bihar, all other states have all children in school. If India’s student base (%wise) is wider than Pakistan, then isn’t calculating and comparing % of people in tertiary education a bit of a misleading exercise.

    I’m not trying to prove that India is better than Pakistan but that the data that is used in this article look dubious.


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