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Education & the budget

it a household's, a corporate entity's or a government's - is not just a document containing a collection of figures indicating the financial status of the one to be guided by it. It also reflects the priorities and preferences of its author. This is more so in the case of a government which has the power and resources to address a wide range of issues to do the maximum good to the maximum numbers. Hence, the budgets presented by the federal government in Islamabad and the four provincial governments speak volumes about where we are heading. The sector which is one of the most important and deserves close examination in the context of the budgets is education because of its strong impact on the potential of citizens, the productivity of the economy and its multiplier effect on every walk of life.

In order to display their commitment to education - considered to be a yardstick of a government's concern for public welfare - our rulers have conventionally boasted of the growing education budget. A few months ago it was promised that the education budget would be raised to four per cent of the GDP in the incoming financial year. This has not happened. It would have called for a massive increase in the allocations for education to reach that goal. Spending on education continues to stagnate at the level of two per cent of the GDP. However, it also needs to be pointed out that simply a massive injection of funds in the education sector without enhancing capacity and instituting checks and balances to control corruption has proved to be a futile exercise. Take the case of development spending on education in Punjab. The budgeted allocation for development in 2006-07 (Rs9.3bn) was not utilised fully and the revised estimates for the year stand at Rs4.2bn. Similarly, Sindh showed Rs12.7bn as the revenue expenditure on education in 2006-07 but this had to be revised to Rs11.8bn. Even worse is the case of the growing embezzlement in the education sector as illustrated by numerous ghost schools, falling standards of education, schools without adequate physical facilities and the high rate of teachers' absenteeism.

Another matter of deep concern is the government's misguided approach to the various sub-sectors of education which betrays its utter lack of understanding of the educational needs of the country. Primary education has been wilfully neglected with the bulk of the provincial education funds going to the tertiary sector. The higher education sector continues to be the blue-eyed boy of the federal government which funds it generously. It appears that it still has not dawned on our policymakers that primary schooling determines the quality of university graduates and not the other way around. It is shocking that teachers' training has hardly received the emphasis it deserves. Even more surprising is

the trend to spend large amounts on the infrastructure than on the improvement of education. The impression one gets is that the governments are happy with the present state of things. They want the private sector to produce a small elite of highly educated men and women whose number would suffice to run the country's top tier. They are not convinced that good education is the birthright of every child born in Pakistan.
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