By Zubeida Mustafa
In a welcome departure from past practice, the Federal Finance Minister for State listed education as the first priority of Government policy in his budget speech on June 3. The next priorities were identified as rural development and power generation.
It is encouraging that after a long period of neglect, education should figure as a major concern of the Government. This is also reflected in the massive increase of 68 per cent in the Federal Government’s development budget for education for 1989-90. It has increased from Rs. 1.17 billion in 1988-89 to Rs. 1.97 billion for the coming year.
The PPP Government’s commitment to education notwithstanding, the overall budgetary situation in respect of this sector points to the financial constraints faced by the planners. The provinces which finance primary, secondary and college education have not been in a position to match the Federal Government’s generosity. In some provinces the education development budget has had to be slashed.
In the Sindh ADP for 1989-90, education is to receive nine per cent less than what it did in 1988- 89. Likewise in Balochistan the development budget for education will be scaled down by 29 per cent in 1989-90. This comes as a cause for serious concern in view of the fact that the rate of literacy in Balochistan is the lowest in the country. It is only 11 per cent. Sindh has the highest literacy rate among all the provinces but the rural areas are quite badly off with a literacy ratio of 15 per cent.
Punjabs’ ADP shows a nominal increase of 1.6 per cent in 1989-90 for education. The NWFP is the only province where the development budget for education shows a respectable increase of seven per cent for 1989-90.
The Federal and provincial budgets have cumulatively earmarked Rs. 20.6 billion for education in 1989-90. This is an increase of 15 per cent over the corresponding figures in the Revised Estimates for 1988-89. But nearly 75 per cent of this amount will be spent on meeting the current expenditure on education.
The increase in the recurring expenditure is unavoidable. As development projects are completed expenditure on them is transferred to the revenue budget. Moreover, normal increments and inflation also boost up expenditures under this head.
But if expansion in the education sector is to keep pace with the growing needs and the backlog of illiteracy is to be cleared up, the development expenditure must be increased phenomenally. In 1988-89, the Government’s development budget for education would have actually declined had it not been for the aid received from the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank for education projects. In that context it reflects positively on the Government’s education policy that the Federal and provincial ADPs 1989-90 show an increase of nearly 19 per cent over the previous year. This is more than the 14 per cent rate of increase of the last few years.
It has not been disclosed how much foreign aid will be received for the education sector.
In 1988- 89 the provinces received Rs. 1124.3 million from the international agencies. The amount could be bigger this time. In 1988-89, the Government’s record in terms of achievement of physical targets was satisfactory in the primary and secondary education sectors. Achievement was 97 per cent for the opening of primary schools, 96 per cent for mosque schools and 100 per cent for upgradation of primary and middle schools.
But the number of children enrolled in primary classes inched up marginally by 162,000. The Seventh Plan lays down a target of 4.5 million additional enrolment in the 5-9 years age group in five years to reach the enrolment ratio of 79.7 per cent. The enrolment rate will have to be stepped up substantially if the Seventh Plan target is to be achieved.
The year 1988-89 was beset by many constraints. The new government which took office after the death of General Ziaul Haq and the November elections was in no position to introduce major policy changes in mid-year. The budgets announced in December when the newly elected Assemblies met followed the same pattern as had been laid down in the budgets presented by the caretaker government in June 1988.
It is significant that in spite of severe financial constraints the Government has managed to increase its budgetary allocations for education in 1989-90. The education budget as a percentage of GNP in 1988-89 was 2.69. It should be higher in the incoming year.
But it needs to be stressed that higher funding by itself is not enough. To make an impact on the education and literacy sector the Government must concentrate on increasing the school enrolment ratio in the 5-9 years age group, so that the schools are more intensely utilised. With the establishment of new schools, the ratio of students per school has been falling because enrolment has not kept pace with the opening of new institutions. This basically calls for greater public mobilisation. A political government, that is a popularly elected one, is obviously better qualified to motivate the people to send their children to school.
There is also an urgent need to reverse the high dropout rate. Nearly 60 per cent of the children leave school before completing primary level and promptly lapse into illiteracy. This trend can be halted at no extra cost by sprucing up the educational system with the aim of introducing more efficiency and integrity in teaching and providing motivation to the students and their parents.
The importance of addressing the problem of illiteracy in a meaningful way cannot be overemphasised. The literacy rate in estimated to be 30 per cent today. This is dismally low. Greater efforts and commitment are required in this field. The details of the Government’s literacy programme and its funding have not been announced so far. One hopes it will receive the attention it deserves.
Finally it should be pointed out that the quality of education imparted in the country has been deteriorating rapidly. This does not call so much for additional funds as for the optimum utilisation of funds by checking leakages, on account of corruption, inefficiency and low productivity. These are political issues rather than an economic problem. Being the head of a political government with its power base at the grassroots level, the present leadership should concentrate on mobilising the message for literacy and education while improving the quality of the facilities available.
Source: Dawn 1 July 1989