Pakistan has doubled its budget in recent years, but enrollment has stagnated. As a result of the inefficient use of funds, access to quality education for children across the country stands compromised.
In recent years, the federal and provincial governments have undertaken numerous reforms with varying levels of success. Despite their efforts, a lot remains to be done to get kids into school and improve learning in the classrooms.
To address these educational challenges, the efficient and effective use of the available budget for education is key.
Note: The defence budget does not include military pensions, the cost of the nuclear programme (estimated at $747 million by the Stimson Center), or military operations in FATA.
Since 2010, education has been a provincial responsibility. Hence, Pakistan's education budget is derived by summing up the federal and individual provincial budgets.
Provinces have allocated 17pc to 24pc of their budgets for education in 2016-17. (The provincial budgets for 2017-18 will be released in the coming weeks).
The ‘current budget’ is for salaries and operational costs (non-salary), whereas the ‘development budget’ is for the construction and rehabilitation of schools. Recent history suggests that provinces tend to under spend on development and non-salary budgets, but overspend on salaries, so that they end up utilising most of the education budget.
Unesco recommends that countries disburse 15pc to 20pc of their budgets on education. The global average is 14pc. Compared to its total national budget, Pakistan spends 13pc.
In Pakistan's case, this spending amounts to 2.83pc of the GDP on education. According to Alif Ailaan, an additional Rs400 billion on education is needed this year to increase spending to 4pc of GDP, bringing the education budget to Rs1.2 trillion.
Cutting a federal programme or collecting more taxes may help Pakistan towards that target. Cutting a federal programme or collecting more taxes may help Pakistan towards that target, but the dilemma of solving the education crisis will persist.
While Pakistan has doubled its budget and brought it closer to military spending, enrollment rates have stagnated.
Parents will send their kids to a private school, charging a few hundred rupees a month, if they can afford it. Nearly 40pc of students in Pakistan go to private schools. Their parents spend as much as the government does on education and tuition. If we add what Pakistani parents spend on education, Pakistan’s education spending exceeds 4pc of the GDP.
Children are out of school in Pakistan because they get so little out of going to school. Teachers are either absent, or present, but not teaching.
The 2015 report of the independent Annual Status of Education Report (ASER) finds that only 44pc of third graders in rural schools (public and private) can read a sentence in Urdu. Of those who stay in school through fifth grade, only 55pc can read a story in Urdu.
It is a similar story for science at a grade four level. In 2006, 67pc of students scored below average in the National Education Assessment System (NEAS) assessment of fourth grade science. The situation further deteriorated in 2014, when the most recent iteration of the NEAS assessment divulged that 79pc of students had scored below average.
The majority of children aged five to nine in Pakistan are in school. That’s 17 out of 22 million kids, according to the National Education Management System. Improving literacy and numeracy rates for them is our best shot at convincing the parents of Pakistan’s five million out-of-school children aged five to nine that school is worth it.
Private school teachers are paid $25 to $50 per month. Government school teachers are paid $150 to $1,000 per month, according to a paper by SAHE and Alif Ailaan. Government school teachers have more education and training than private school teachers.
In light of the difference in teachers' salaries, private schools spend less than half of what the government does per child. However, according to LEAPS, children who go to private schools are one and a half to two grades ahead of those in government schools, depending on the subject.
The danger of increasing the budget without a plan is that it could all go into salaries for non-performing teachers, as has happened in Sindh.
Sindh’s budget has octupled (increased by a factor of 8x) since 2010.
Meanwhile the salary budget has gone up 12 times.
Pakistan is also inefficient at spending money set aside for building schools. The “development budget” that is allocated for this purpose goes unspent year after year.
Pakistan is under-performing even at its current budget levels. The solution is not dramatic budget increases, but making sure the budget we have is translating into schools where children are learning.
Instead of asking the government to double the budget, we should ask them to double the efforts for improving quality of learning for children who have been in school for years.
Nadia Naviwala is a Wilson Center Global Fellow and author of "Pakistan's Education Crisis: The Real Story." Nadia tweets at @NadiaNavi
Ahmad Ali is a Research Fellow at the Institute of Social and Policy Sciences (I-SAPS). Ahmad tweets @ahmadaley