Education as it has always been in Pakistan

Crunch times like the present affect education the most
Jan 29: Pakistan has under-invested in education to a notoriously large degree. Worse, the sector has consistently under-utilised whatever money was allocated. This is how the education sector has always been, policy rhetoric and donor-speak notwithstanding.

And this is how it seems it will continue to be if some recent actions and inactions are any guide - a university here, a cadet college there, while girls' primary schools burn where they are needed most.

Crunch times like the present affect education the most. While the Higher Education Commission (HEC) funding has been slashed, this does not signify that elementary education is now a priority. As ever, the sector lacks direction. In a land obsessed with the power to post and transfer, appointing heads of the HEC and the education division/departments is a matter that can wait. Primary education has no champions, nor any constituency. A.Q. Khan has argued that mass education does not lead to a developed state. He cites the Sri Lankan case of universal literacy and primary school enrolment. But he will be hard pressed to quote any example of a country which has Pakistan's literacy and enrolment ratios and happens to be developed. Despite its running civil war, Sri Lanka at least has a much higher Human Development Index than Pakistan.

Higher education did get a champion in the person of Atta-ur-Rehman. In a matter of five years the allocation that used to be in millions became billions. To get around bureaucratic resistance and political opposition he got a chancellors committee headed by Musharraf himself. This committee decided that the allocation for higher education should rise by 50 per cent every year. He freed himself from the education ministry and got his own principal accounting officer. Most important, he was able to protect the unspent money also by having it declared non-lapsable.

Chancellors who happened to be governors were used for lobbying. For instance, three governors once wrote to Musharraf that the chief economist of the Planning Commission, which happened to be this writer, was anti-HEC. What was I doing? At the project approval meetings, I used to put the emphasis on teachers and students rather than construction and point out the neglect of social sciences. The result, however, was that the deputy chairman of the Planning Commission, himself a former executive director of the HEC, banned the economic appraisal of the HEC projects altogether.

The point is that higher education had a champion, and allocations, but no vision. It was a huge lobbying effort gone astray. The lesson is that the mere allocation of money is not enough. The sad part is that the enhanced allocations were at the expense of primary and college education. As a whole, annual allocation for the education sector remained under two per cent of the GNP from 2001-02 to 2006-07. It rose from 1.49 per cent of the GNP to 1.86 per cent. Out of a total increment of 0.37 percentage point in the entire period, 0.27 went to higher education. Let it be admitted frankly that allocations for education are unlikely to move beyond two per cent of the GNP until the tax/GDP ratio is jolted out of its present stagnation. Policy has to focus on priorities and effective spending.

Priorities were determined by the founder of Pakistan himself who believed that knowledge as a force was more powerful than the sword and that in no country had elementary education become universal without compulsion. Again, the first All Pakistan Educational Conference was told: "Education does not merely mean academic education. There is immediate and urgent need for training our people in the scientific and technical education in order to build up our future economic life, and we should see that our people take to science, commerce, trade and particularly, well-planned industries. But do not forget that we have to compete with the world which is moving very fast in this direction. Also I must emphasise that greater attention should be paid to technical and vocational education."

No less relevant are his thoughts on cadet colleges: "I know the conservative British mind ... that the only method in this world by which you can get suitable boys for a military career is the public school system. Now let me tell [them] that there is no public school system either in America or in Canada or in France or in Germany or any other country that I know of." As a matter of fact, the intake of the services from cadet colleges is extremely limited. This did not stop the education division from allocating about Rs1bn to 13 existing and nine new cadet colleges in the current year's budget which on the whole declined in absolute terms.

In short, visionaries like Jinnah would prefer to give priority to compulsory universal primary education, non-elitist education, professional, commercial and technical education, and just enough to generalist education, with no discrimination between the sexes.

By Dr Pervez Tahir - The writer, a former chief economist, is now Mahbub ul Haq Chair at GC University, Lahore. (Dawn)


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Karachi University seminar
Karachi: A seminar on the life and services of Maulana Mohammad Ali Jauhar will be organised at the University of Karachi on January 31.

According to a university announcement, Sindh Minister Rauf Siddiqui will be the chief guest and Karachi University Vice-Chancellor Dr Pirzada Qasim Raza Siddiqui will preside over the programme.

Meanwhile, the university also extended the date for submission of enrolment forms and fee of BL/ LLM till Feb 3 for the academic session 2008-09. Ppi


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