Government role in Pakistan education
Education is not only a basic human right it is also critical for socio-economic development. This is a universally accepted fact and the purpose of this article is neither to restate it nor to elaborate on the dismal state of education in Pakistan.
It is common knowledge, after all, that Pakistan has amongst the poorest educational indicators in the world. To quote just one report - Unesco's Education for All Global Monitoring Report - Pakistan is ranked amongst the top three countries in the world that have the highest number of out-of-school children. The issue of quality comes later, yet presents an equally dismal picture - even when compared to neighbouring South Asian countries.
Realising the crisis we face in this important sector, the government has recently constituted the National Task Force on Education. The purpose of this article is to reiterate, from an economist's perspective, the crucial role of government intervention in this sector - something that we have come to disregard over the past few decades under the influence of neo-classical economic philosophy (that itself is being challenged in the wake of the recent financial crisis) - and to suggest how blind reliance on the private sector, without any regulation, can have dire consequences on both the achievable quality of education as well as its affordability and access to it.
Education is a commodity in economic terms, but it differs from other commodities because of its public nature. To put it differently, unlike other goods, investment in education not only yields private benefits in terms of higher earnings but also social benefits that spill over into society in several ways: a farmer may become more productive through basic numeracy and literacy skills; a literate woman may be able to take better care of the health needs of her family; and an educated person may potentially be a better citizen who is able to exercise his political and social rights.
Standard economic theory tells us that investment in such activities that yield positive externalities, if left to the individuals and markets alone, will always lead to underinvestment. This is because individuals, while making investment decisions, take into account the private returns only and not the social returns.
This results in the level of investment being less than what is desired from a societal perspective. So in order to encourage individuals to invest in education, the government needs to subsidise education - particularly basic education where the social returns are higher than at any other level. The Pakistan government has, in general, been targeting the education sector through supply side interventions and inadequate attention has been paid to the demand side.
Subsidising education, which can take several forms such as subsidies in school fees for low-income parents or the provision of free meals in schools, essentially targets the demand for education - something that the government may want to look into. Then, if we are concerned about equity in education - a highly desirable goal from a policy perspective - we need to remember that leaving everything to the market will not achieve this goal, as markets may be efficient but equity is not their concern.
Despite this clear and justifiable role of public intervention in the provision of education, the government has, over the years, been abdicating its responsibility in favour of an unregulated private sector.
While the private sector has played a crucial role in filling the vacuum left by the public sector in providing quality education, it nevertheless leaves a lot to be desired. High-quality private education remains outside the reach of the majority, and the unfettered drive for profit in the private sector has led to virtual cartelisation where a handful of elite schools exploit parents whose collective bargaining position is already weak.
What is the role of the 'Private Schools Association' in the free market, for example, when there is no such association for parents to enhance their bargaining position?
Given the huge societal and national stake involved, private schools need regulation to ensure that they are meeting certain pedagogical standards. The private sector needs to realise that education is serious business and that it is accountable. Currently, private schools are not accountable to anyone and can, to take just one example, set or raise school fees at will.
Teachers are rarely trained and poorly paid even in the best of private schools, which charge full fees for summer vacations but spend hardly a penny on teacher-training. Why not devote a few weeks during the summer vacations to training teachers? And why do schools charge full fees during the summer when their running costs and utility bills are minimal?
Most schools in Pakistan, including elite schools, do not have a teaching philosophy that meets current international standards. Syllabi are often outdated and it is at the absolute discretion of the school administration to follow whatever teaching strategy it thinks appropriate. Some schools, for instance, have gone to the extent of using advanced syllabus ahead of the relevant class, although research shows that teaching a child something he is not mentally ready for may be counterproductive.
Given some of these undesirable features of private-sector education at particularly the school level in Pakistan, it is crucial that the government provide quality education on the one hand, and regulate while encouraging the private sector on the other.
Only then will quality standards be met and education provided in a transparent and affordable manner. Annual or biannual audits of private schools are urgently required to make sure that schools are not making undue profit under the excuse of providing quality education. Teacher-training must be made mandatory and a legal minimum standard should be set in terms of teachers' salaries.
One hopes that the newly formed task force on education will consider these matters while formulating policies in a sector that will ultimately determine the fate of this country. DawnYour Comments
Blind teacher who made life easier for her students
Karachi: Though the world in front of her eyes is dark, she decided to, or perhaps, this is what convinced her to, enlighten the lives of other sightless people.
Shazia Hasan, 35, is a computer teacher at the Ida Rieu School and College for the Blind and the Deaf, who made life easier for the blind students of the college when she introduced a screen reading software in the school. The software, known as JAWS, gives oral instructions and information to its users, telling them all the details, such as the type and size of the font, and color of the text.
"I wanted to tell that whole world that people like me, no matter not having the eyesight, don't have any limitations. We are independent, equally gifted, and can do anything that we want to," a determined Shazia said.
She lost her eyesight at a tender age of eight years due to a disease, Glaucoma, in which the optic nerve is damaged, leading to blindness. "Initially, I was very confused and was disturbed, and did not know what to do. But then, slowly, I started living with blindness." After that Shazia got admission at the Ida Rieu School, and did her bachelors.
During the time, she developed an interest towards computing as her father owned a shop and sold computers. Her interest grew when she attended a three-month workshop on the software JAWS given by a British trainer. So impressed was Shazia that she traveled to the UK, purchased the software, and introduced it in her school.
"I was very happy as the software opened a new dimension in my life, linking me with the world of the web. I felt that I had to do something for the others, and this was it, a gift from me to my students," she added.
She calls this her life's biggest achievement so far. She proudly said that 11 of her students have got jobs in the field of Tele-marketing in one private bank, two in another bank, and around 10 of them have got jobs in KESC. "I wanted to produce role models, and I am happy to say that my dream is coming true," she said.
Where Shazia has reached today could not have been possible, had she not had the support and unconditional love of her family. "Apart from the family, the faith in the Almighty made me stronger and stronger as I always believed that Allah would never be unjust to His people."
Meanwhile, Shazia said that there was a lack of awareness in the society regarding the issues faced by the blind people, which is why they were neglected and not paid attention to.
"For this purpose, I also became the program manager for the school's Teachers Resource Center, which organises workshops, and trains parents, teachers and other people regarding treatment of the blind," Shazia added.
She loves traveling, and has been to many countries across the world, such as the US, Iran, Iraq, Syria and others. "The learning process never ends for an individual, even for a blind person. I have done a number of courses, including courses in html, networking, and MS-office and recently in business English."
Women like Shazia are surely a paradigm of excellence. She seemed very satisfied and proud for where she is standing today. "I just want to convey a message that the society should change its mindset towards the disabled and try to support and rehabilitate them," she said. The news
SPLA emergency meeting
Karachi: The Sindh Professors and Lecturers Association (SPLA) has voiced its concern over the alleged occupation of the Apwa Govt Girls College (Karimabad) playground and urged the Sindh governor and chief minister to intervene into the matter.
Speaking at an emergency meeting of the association at the college on Saturday, SPLA president Prof Ather Hussain Mirza and other office-bearers expressed their concern over similar activities at two other educational institutions - Govt Secondary School and Special Children School - situated on the college premises.
Schools without headmasters
Umerkot: More than 20 high schools in the district are without headmasters while 16 headmasters and other educational staff have been waiting for promotion for two years.
Leaders of the Government Secondary Teachers Association said on Sunday that although schedule of new expenditure and buildings for high schools had been approved students were still without facilities.
More than 20 posts of junior school teachers were vacant in one high school while enrolment of students had increased to 3,200.
There is no toilet and no arrangement for drinking water.
They called upon the education minister to remove non-cadre staff and promote senior teachers and subject specialists. Dawn
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