When the Rs2.96-trillion budget fiscal budget for the year 2012-13 was announced amidst chaos and anarchy by Finance Minister Abdul Hafeez Shaikh various measures to provide relief to the taxpayers, increase in salaries and pensions, control inflation and minimise the fiscal deficit were unveiled. The allocation for Public Sector Development Projects (PSDP) was increased by 19.5 per cent to Rs873 billion from Rs730 billion of the previous fiscal year. The hike, on the surface, appeared to be quite substantial and one could even be fooled into believing that that perhaps this year health, education and welfare sectors were not neglected.
Education, which remains one of the most deprived areas of development in Pakistan, also falls under the domain of this neglected sector (PSDP). According to a recent survey conducted by United Nations International Children's Emergency Fund (Unicef) an approximate number of 7.3 million children in Pakistan do not attend schools. The figure only includes primary school-aged children as the overall number of Pakistani children missing schools hovers around 20 million.
Increase in funding for education is generally a rare phenomenon in countries like Pakistan and calls for much appreciation from all the quarters of the society. However, many educationists have contradictory opinions.
Abbas Husain, Director of Teachers’ Development Centre (TDC) said, “I have been analysing the budgetary allocations for education since 1980s and the share education receives is not the only issue. A lack of transparency and accountability in our system remains the core issue, which is why I am certain that even if the funding is raised by 50 per cent, the status quo will not change.”
Husain’s research signifies that most of the funding procured by the state-owned institutes is utilised for infrastructural developments such as building more toilets, whitewashing the building and replacing old tiles with mosaic flooring.
“The urgent need is neither assessed nor investigated upon. We do not need infrastructural developments if the staff is not educated enough to teach the students. Teachers’ training is the most important facet of educational development which unfortunately is given no importance whatsoever,” added Husain.
If I have to be completely honest, I would say that as the percentage of PSDP goes up, the level of corruption quadruplesAnother teacher, who has served as principal at one of the most respectable institutions in Pakistan, on condition of anonymity said, “It is absolutely true that nothing is being done to improve the standard and quality of education in Pakistan. The major chunk of the allocated funds will be utilised for salaries of teachers who do not deserve to be paid at all. Most of them sit at home and are never bothered about the welfare of Pakistani students.”
“If I have to be completely honest, I would say that as the percentage of PSDP goes up, the level of corruption quadruples,” she added vehemently.
According to Husain the problem lies in the way the funds are budgeted and channelled. He said that the areas that are in dire need of development are the education policy, curriculum and syllabus development, teachers’ training, pupils’ experience in the classroom and examinations.
“The constitution empowers us all to acquire education and we have one of the best curriculums. So no work is required in drafting the policy or developing curriculum, however, we must improve the syllabus and equip our future generation so that they are able to deal with the technological advancements,” said Husain.
Husain is of the view that the education budget should be allocated under the aforementioned headers so that transparency and accountability can be ensured. However an educationist, on condition of anonymity, very pessimistically said, “Corruption is so deep-rooted in our system that there is simply no refuge. Accountability and transparency can be easily bought in Pakistan.”
A teacher, who has over 35 years of experience of teaching at state-owned institutions, on condition of anonymity said, “The issue is neither allocation of the budget nor the funding. The issue is the fact that the allocated funds never reach the schools. The higher-ups embezzle funds and if someone tries to lodge a complaint, he/she is terminated from the service. So we all maintain a code of silence.”
She also believes that if only 25 per cent of the allocated funds are provided to the government schools, the state of affair will improve immensely.
Pir Mazhar-ul-Haq, Provincial Minister of Education and Literacy, Sindh, had similar views; however, he is hopeful and believes that the provincial autonomy will bring about positive and proactive reforms.
“We have established Directorate of Inspection and Monitoring which will look into the issues of teachers missing schools and other problems that state-owned schools lack in terms of resources. Every district will have a separate in charge officer who will be dedicated to monitor the progress and problems,” Mazhar-ul-Haq told Dawn.com.
A government teacher, however, feels differently and is of the view that the provincial setup will only result in creating more job postings for the corrupt officers and will further inflate their bank accounts.
Mazhar-ul-Haq also said that the problem regarding lack of teachers’ training programmes is also being addressed as the provincial assembly had recently passed a bill to establish Sindh Teachers Training Development Authority.
“With the help of foreign assistance, we have selected two colleges in Karachi and Hyderabad in which an estimated number of 100 teachers are being trained by the professors from University of Michigan,” he added.
However, the provincial minister still believes that lack of funding is an important issue which hampers his team’s work greatly.
A senior research analyst from the State Bank of Pakistan, who has several years of research experience on federal budget shared his findings on condition of anonymity and said, “The initial PSDP figures quoted by the government are generally inflated. Most of the time the funding is slashed to finance other projects or to minimise the fiscal deficit so the increase really does not mean anything.”
It seems ironical that in a country where PSDP funding is much needed, it is sacrificed for less important tasks.
The lack of resources is an important issue, however, the apathy that the masses have towards education plays an integral role in further deterioration of the situation.
“When a kid goes home and complains about teachers missing schools, then why do not we all, as parents, protest or meet the authorities? Most of us have become apathetic towards the situation. Behavioural change must be instilled in the masses which should convey the message that education is as important as eating and sleeping, otherwise there is no hope for us and our future,” said Husain.
The problems are all so apparent; however, corruption and lack of governance models are instrumental in creating further hurdles in establishing a progressive and educated society. It is wise to say that an uneducated society is one of the most important reasons why our society has degenerated over the past few decades. Intolerance, socio-cultural problems and militancy can easily be traced back to illiteracy and lack of appropriate education.
Robert Frost very aptly said, “Education is the ability to listen to almost anything without losing your temper or your self-confidence.”
Perhaps measures to ensure primary and secondary education will help Pakistan to get out of the vicious cycle of intolerance that is one of the most important reasons why Pakistanis have been unable to excel as an educated society.
The author is a reporter at Dawn.com.