ISLAMABAD: The question that plagues us: what are the significant factors that shape a nation’s progress or deterioration? In recent times, we have seen a different point of view on mainstream and social media about the Rawalpindi/Islamabad Metro Bus Project.
The people of Pakistan are divided into two on the issue of the metro bus against education. However, reality of the fight between the two is actually based on statistics.
The total cost of the Metro project, as per government, is approximately Rs50 billion. As a substitute of spending Rs50 billion on the bus service, we could have used these funds on our education, despite the fact that our official figures say that our literacy rate is 58%.
The state of education in Pakistan is terrible compared to other countries. Currently, Pakistan has the world’s second-highest number of out-of-school children at the primary level.
According to an Alif Ailaan report, there are 25 million out-of-school children in total. Out of these, around 5 million are between the ages of five to nine (at primary level). Furthermore, out of these, almost 500,000 belong to Rawalpindi and Islamabad
In a broader context, the statistics of constructing a school are shown in the table:
The cost for a primary school infrastructure is Rs13.8 million. Additionally, primary schools have six classrooms, 240 students and nine teachers to teach various subjects required.
The total staff is assumed to consist of a head teacher, nine teachers, a clerk, gardener, peon, gatekeeper, sweeper and a school maid. The combined salaries for the staff will approximately be around Rs100,000 per month.
Therefore, 240 out-of-school children need a cost of Rs13.9 million for enrolment.
At present, adjusting 0.5 million out-of-school children of Rawalpindi and Islamabad at the primary level will need approximately 2,076 (500,000/240) schools. And the complete cost of building a school is Rs13 million.
So the flow of whole information is that Rs288.5 billion is required for the construction of 2076 schools. On the other hand, we have used Rs50 billion for the Metro and cost of a single school is 0.0139 bn.
The value shows that government can only build 360 schools (Rs50 billion/Rs13.9 million). Moreover, if each school has 240 students then the total students going to school would be 84,600.
Consequently, instead of using Rs50 billion on the bus project and facilitating 135,000 people daily, the government can give priority to 86,400 out-of-school primary children by sending them to school.
How do we define benefit?
Writing and calculating the whole scenario does not mean to criticise infrastructure projects but just to apprehend the priorities. Currently, the government should be focused on education, science and technology.
Our social indicators are showing a downward trend over the past few years. The politicians are not statesmen; they are more concerned in short-term investments like roads, mass transits, flyovers specifically metro projects, but are averse to spend money on education. This is because education is a long-term commitment which does not generate instant benefits.
The government’s knack for promoting short term investments is rigid as each one of those 86,400 children will benefit the nation in a ‘far-fetched future’.
South Korea is an ideal example for this discussion. It is considered in the G-20 countries because it invested heavily in its education sector in the 1960s and 1970s and is now reaping the dividends.
Its GDP is several hundred times more than Pakistan. This is the time for a new strategy and effective education creates a population with both the skills and the mind-set needed to create economic progress.
Government officials should need to fund and execute education that instructs core skills in reading, math and technology and which also goes ahead of memorising information. There is a need to open up learning opportunities to students from lower-income and rural families – by broadcasting television lectures on an Educational Broadcasting System.
They should introduce test-free semesters in all middle schools to give students some relief. Government should ease the burden of education costs by providing free education – covering admission costs, tuition fees and text books.
The writer is a researcher at the Sustainable Development Policy Institute
Published in The Express Tribune, July 6th, 2015.