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Value of education

Published Nov 04, 2016 01:00am

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PROVINCIAL governments have been trying to get every child enrolled in school. Public education systems, across all provinces, have gone through a plethora of reforms in the last couple of decades to achieve higher enrolments. Teacher salaries have been increased, more infrastructure facilities have been provided, there is more monitoring of teachers, teacher recruitment has been made more transparent, and a lot more has been spent on teacher training. Enrolment drives are conducted almost every year. But we have not been able to achieve universal enrolment as yet. This has been a puzzle for governments: why are the last 10-15 per cent of out-of-school children, in the relevant cohorts, so hard to bring into the system?

A variety of reasons have been cited: there are not enough schools (especially for girls), schools are too far away and transport costs are high, some children are needed at home for housework, some households need the income children bring in through their work, etc. There is some literature that even cites the low value some parents put on education and/or cultural/religious factors that might limit enrolment.

There is another way of looking at the problem as well. We should ask: why is such a high proportion of children in Pakistan in school at all? To me this is more of a puzzle than the fact that 10-15pc of early age cohorts do not attend school. If we ask the question this way, we can make more sense of the phenomenon of dropouts as well.


Why are the last 10-15pc of out-of-school children, in the relevant cohorts, so hard to bring into the system?


We know that the quality of education we give to the majority of children in schools, other than to the small percentage enrolled in high-fee elite private schools, is very poor. The Punjab Examination Commission (PEC) results for Grade 5 and 8 illustrate the poor levels of learning in most children. ASER surveys also show that Grade 5 children have difficulty doing Grade 2-level work. Why should children then come to school? Why should they waste time in school and not drop out early to try to find other things to do?

We know that some 50-60pc of children who appear for matriculation examinations fail them. A large proportion of children who enrol in Grade 1 do not make it to Grade 10. But even after this sorting, if a child is going to fail the matriculation examination after remaining in school for 10 years and there is a high probability that that is going to happen, why should a child and his parents have put in the 10 years of effort?

We also know that even after matriculation it is not easy to get any jobs now. So, even if a child is successful in getting through matriculation examination, his/her chances of landing a good job are not high or even reasonable.

Unemployment rates amongst graduates are also very high in Pakistan. The economy has slowed down, government jobs have all but evaporated and manufacturing has been languishing for a long time now. The Middle East used to provide relatively lucrative options but new job opportunities, even at semi-skilled level, have become limited. Most of the jobs created in our economy over the last couple of decades have been in the service sector. But, by and large, service-sector jobs are low-skilled jobs and they do not offer decent career progression for sales agents, runners for delivery companies, sales staff in shops and hosts in restaurants. The youth bulge, much talked about, with millions of young people entering the working age, is going to make it even more difficult for young people to get jobs in a slow-growing economy.

The situation for girls is even more problematic. Only 20pc or so of our female population joins the active workforce. For those who do look for work, teaching seems to be one of the few professions that is acceptable to families. But with the youth bulge and in an economy that is not growing fast enough, restrictions on choice of profession further depress prospects and returns on education. Most teachers working in the private sector do not even make minimum wage levels through salaries. If economic returns are a significant factor in people determining if they want to get educated and how much, low perceived or real returns should depress the demand for education.

The demand for education is not for jobs only. Many consider education to be a basic right and many feel that having an educated citizenry is a prerequisite for good governance and effective working of a democracy and society in general. This might be true. But such a case has never been made at a popular level in Pakistan. If we felt that having every child educated is necessary for the future of this country, would state and society not have made a stronger case for it?

The demand for private education is strong in Pakistan. If the returns on education are low, as I have argued here, what explains the demand for private education? My conjecture, and this requires more research, is that parents are buying lotteries (low-probability, high-impact events) by sending their children to private schools: most of them will not get high returns, but some will. When you send a child to a private school, you have a chance of being among the select few. But it will lead to disappointment for most.

Education, despite all the rhetoric, continues to be a neglected sector. Bringing children to schools is not education. The main issue was always that of giving quality education that would lead to better outcomes for individual recipients as well as society. We have so far failed in that. No wonder many children do not remain in school. In fact, many more would probably not even come if they had realistic expectations about the returns they can hope for from the education they are receiving.

The writer is a senior research fellow at the Institute of Development and Economic Alternatives and an associate professor of economics at Lums, Lahore.

Published in Dawn, November 4th, 2016



The views expressed by this writer and commenters below do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.


Comments (20) Closed



A pAKISTANI PARENT Nov 04, 2016 01:27am

I as a parent can say that, parents are not buying lottery ticket by sending their kids to private schools. Parents have been put in this spot by the our successive governments. There is no focus and effort to develop good quality public education system. I live in a big city and out community does not have a public school so what are we supposed to do? Like most parents, we buy education, I using this terminology because primary education (k-12) is for sale in Pakistan. People buy what they can afford. It is also the case in health care and other basic needs.

Roshan Nov 04, 2016 01:44am

"Education should not be for earning money , it should be for life " . The statements seems old-fashioned as today everyone glance at the first part of statement and completely neglects the later one .

brighton rodeo Nov 04, 2016 05:37am

Providing good education resources is a living problem all over the world. Fair assessment to reward the successful is very important because it keep engine of progression moving. Private education system is run by professional and are accountable for the result of the students. Local government schools are not supervised right and accountability is not considered to reward the good teachers. Some body has to change the culture how the people discharge their responsibility.

illawarrior Nov 04, 2016 06:24am

Yes, education of the citizenry is prerequisite for good governance, and this is exactly why Pakistan doesn't embrace it. Those in power, want to keep that power, and educating the poor, will change that.

tousif Latif Nov 04, 2016 07:40am

Without accelerating the economic growth rate and diverting resources to human development this bleak scenario cannot be reversed.Private schools promptly respond to market demands where as government schools still have to face bureaucratic whims.Our policy makers donot know the ground realities,they fail to respond to local needs.

Pak Nov 04, 2016 10:25am

about 5000 schools of Education Department in Punjab have been handed over to the Punjab Education Foundation, means to "Save Money", "Not Children".

Tahir Nov 04, 2016 10:26am

I see two problems with our education system. The fact that our course work is so out of date that anyone doing bachelors is not only unemployed but unemployable. We are lagging behind with the universal standard and are second worst when it comes to literacy rate. That would be the first factor - Lack of quality of education. The second would be poor unstable economy! Of course I will take my children out of school if I don't have anything to eat in the evening.

The solution would be one size fit all standard of education introduced for every school be it public or private; making it mandatory for government officials to enroll their children in public schools - which is a far cry for now. And introducing civics as a subject because lets just agree that we need that.

Tahir Nov 04, 2016 11:14am

@Pak You should see PEF progress before making that comment. They are doing a splendid job.

Ali Nov 04, 2016 01:15pm

We spend the least on education in the entire region, and what we do spend is spent ineffictively.

The PML-N promised 4% of GDP to be spent on education. We still spend the same now as we did before they came into power. i.e. about 2%

No one has even raised this issue with the government. That shows yuo how little we care about eduction.

Noshin Nov 04, 2016 03:23pm

The situation is even worst with multiple grade teaching in public sector primary and elementary schools

Noshin Nov 04, 2016 03:25pm

And the percentage criteria for recruitment of educators is ordeal .

Noshin Nov 04, 2016 03:34pm

Poor pattern of hiring teachers of grade 9, 14 &16 fr public sector schools. successive policies has flaws in it likewise the punjab educators policy of 2013-14, 2015-16 and the educators policy of 2017 as well especially across punjab.

Noshin Nov 04, 2016 03:34pm

@Tahir no

Noshin Nov 04, 2016 03:39pm

Poor pattern of hiring teachers of grade 9, 14 &16 fr public sector schools. successive policies has flaws in it likewise the punjab educators policy of 2013-14, 2015-16 and the educators policy of 2017 as well especially across punjab.

jamalML Nov 04, 2016 04:03pm

@illawarrior This is exactly the reason. Those who in power educate their childern well by sending them abroad. And these people with big degrees n things end up controlling the population, ans the cycle goes on. In india though, education is the only thing you need, if you are a good student, youll reach the top.

a PARENT Nov 04, 2016 05:13pm

I agree with the writer cent per cent. Education has more or less become a business and instead of giving quality education, people look toward it as a way of earning money. Some schools just keep teacher for few months do not pay them and then put them out.

KASHMIRI BOY Nov 04, 2016 06:15pm

Problem is that there is not a right person for right job. Teachers are appointed on political affiliations. Not a deserving man is getting job. thats why quality of education is going low and low.

@rana Nov 04, 2016 06:50pm

if a government is giving 22 thousand to a primary public school teacher, then how can you expect him to show 100 percent of his/her commitment. for your knowledge they all are graduates mean they have got education worth 16 years.

Farrukh Rehman Nov 04, 2016 11:30pm

Quality education is tantamount to be conceptual reading and learning rather than rote learning which is deeply embedded in our syllabus. Therefore a student who gets through this rote learning system brings up a narrowed vision in comparison of those who pass through conceptual study system. There is a need of uniform academic syllabus which an O'level and Urdu medium both can understand and respond. We also need to raise the level of Metric Board and Urdu medium student so that they can compete in international markets as well

Jahanzaib khan Nov 06, 2016 05:27pm

Govt can achieve its goal by giving free and equal education to every individual of the society and to create more opportunities for the recipients