Education sector: shortfall on development side alarming

By Zubeida M ustaf a

THE Sixth Five-Year Plan describes education as “a vital investment in human resources development.” It concedes that the performance of the education sector in Pakistan has remained “utterly deficient.”

In a bid to correct this deficiency, the government has adopted a strategy which seeks to increase the funds allocated to education, to change the distribution of available resources among various subsectors — so that there is greater expansion of primary and technical education while spending on higher education is kept down — and to place greater emphasis on female education.

Now that the first year of the Sixth Plan is over, it should be an instructive exercise to evaluate the government’s education policy especially with a view to ascertaining as to what extent its professed guidelines have been adhered to.

An important yardstick to measure the government’s commitment to education is the financial allocation it is prepared to make to this sector. It is a generally acknowledged fact that Pakistan’s spending on education has been dismally low — being 1.5 per cent of the GNP in 1982-83, when UNESCO has recommended 4 per cent for Third World countries. The government’s education budget for 1983-84 had shown a slight improvement in this respect and that year education spending stood at 1.7 per cent of the GNP.

Although the total expenditure on education has registered a nominal increase, the rate of growth has by no means been satisfactory. At the present rate it will fall far short of the Sixth Plan targets.

Since the Plan has onlv laid down the total amount targetted for education until 1988, without showing planned annual outlays, it is not possible to assess the annual expenditure against the Plan’s target for each year.

However, seen in the context of the overall five-year targets, the expenditure for 1983-84 and 1984-85 is not what one should reasonably expect it to be if the targets are to be met. In fact, the shortfall on the development side is alarming.

The Sixth Plan has laid down a target of Rs 40.4 billion for the recurring expenditure on education and of Rs 18.8 billion for development. In two years, (1983-85) the government has spent and budgeted Rs 12.9 billion for recurring expenditure and Rs 3.3 billion for development. In other words, nearly 32 per cent of the target for recurring expenditure has been met in two years but only 16 per cent of the development target has been fulfilled.

This does not augur well for the expansion prospects of education. In some of the provincial budgets (such as Punjab and NWFP) the development spending on education earmarked for 1984-85 is actually less than the revised estimates for 1983-84. The effort to change the pattern of inter-sectoral spending in education has not been entirely successful either, though a marked shift is perceptible. While the targets for primary and technical education have not been met, the ratio of spending in the education budget on secondary education and colleges has been higher than was planned.

The table given below shows the ratio of government’s spending in 1983-84 on different sub-sectors of education.

 

The failure to attain these ratios, especially for technical education, has serious implications. Since the government’s policy is to put a freeze on higher education and expand primary education, it is important that it provides opportunities for the widening stream of students to pass out of schools by setting up trade institutions and polytechnics.

Expansion

The expansion of technical education is, therefore, vital to absorb the school-leavers, if we are not to be faced with the problem of a host of unemployed young people without sufficient education and raining for employment. The trade schools, 200 of which are to be opened in the Plan period, have yet to be set up in significant numbers.

What is most depressing is that after the completion of the first year of the Plan, the targets set for the opening of new educational institutions and for school enrolments appear to be beyond reach. The rate of expansion has also slowed down. For instance, only 6 per cent and 5.8 per cent of the total number of new primary and secondary schools planned under the Sixth Plan were actually opened in 1983-84. Similarly, enrolment figures are not very encouraging either. Only 3 per cent and 14 per cent of the targets laid down for additional enrolments in the primary schools and secondary schools were met in 1983-84.

Enrolment

Since the small increase in the education budget has been absorbed by inflation, the pace of expansion in terms of institutions opened and enrolment has been extremely slow. In fact, it was much slower in 1983-84 as compared with the previous year.

For instance, primary school enrolment grew by 2.9 per cent in 1983-84 (it was 4.9 per cent in 1982- 83); middle school enrolment by 3.7 per cent (9.6 per cent in 1982-83); high school enrolment by 9.8 per cent (74 per cent in previous year); vocational institutions enrolment by 6 per cent (8 per cent in 1982-83) and college enrolment by 7.9 per cent (37 per cent in 1982-83).

Another important trend is that except in primary education, the rate of expansion of institutions is slower than that of enrolment. For instance, in 1983-84, middle school enrolment grew by 3.7 per cent but the number of institutions went up by 2.6 per cent; high school enrolment by 9.8 per cent but institutions by 3.5 per cent; vocational school enrolment by 6 per cent but institutions by only one per cent and college enrolment by 7.9 per cent and institutions by 2.8 per cent.

In other words, there is more crowding in the different educational institutions today than before. This is also confirmed by the deteriorating teacher-pupil ratio in all these institutions.

This is obviously affecting the quality of education being imparted in these institutions. Even more dismal is the pattern presented by the professional colleges and the universities.

In keeping with the official policy of putting a freeze on higher education, no new university or professional college has been opened since 1981-82, but pressure on enrolment in these institutions could not be contained, as should have been anticipated. In fact the rate of growth of enrolment was higher in 1983-84 than before. Thus enrolment in the professional colleges grew at a rate of 4 per cent in 1983-84 (it was 2 per cent in 1982- 83). Likewise the corresponding figures for the universities were 3.9 per cent and 0.008 per cent.

These figures point to the overcrowding in the universities and medical and engineering colleges. If laboratory and library facilities do not grow proportionately in these institutions, education is bound to suffer.

Primary education

Primary education falls in a class of its own. The number of institutions has expanded at the rate faster than that of enrolment. In fact, in 1983-84 enrolment was higher by barely 3 per cent when the schools increased by 4.3 per cent (4.9 per cent and 12 per cent respectively in 1982-83).

This can, however, give a distorted picture. The actual position is that enrolment in the primary sector is not expanding as fast as it should (compare with other subsectors given above).

The number of institutions appears to be big because of the mosque schools which have been established in disportionately large numbers mainly since the last year of the Fifth Plan. For instance in 1978-83, of the 18,000 primary schools set up over 8,000 were mosque schools. The Sixth Plan also aims at setting up 32,000 mosque schools out of the total of 44,000 primary schools to be set up.

Female education

Enrolment in these schools, which provide education only upto Class III, is low. Hence a rapid rise in their numbers by no means indicates a corresponding expansion of primary education or the raising of educational standards.

Women have rightly been identified as a target group by the education planners in Pakistan Their literacy rate stands at 16 per cent which is much lower than the 36 per cent for men. But enrolment of girls at the primary and secondary levels has not grown, as planned, to meet the targets of 60 per cent and 16 per cent participation rate of girls in primary and secondary education by 1988.

Only 2.5 per cent and 4 per cent of the targets for additional female enrolment in primary and secondary schools in the Plan period were met in 1983-84. This makes it unlikely that female education will receive the boost it is supposed to get.

In conclusion, it can only be said that the government has not spent as much on education as it had announced it would. Likewise, due to financial constraints this sector has not expanded sufficiently in the first year of the Sixth Plan. This can be expected to affect the Plan implementation and will, in the net analysis, lead to serious distortions.

Source: Dawn 07 July 1984