The government's program seeks to address current weaknesses in tertiary education such as low and inequitable access, income and regional disparities, poor quality and relevance of programs, research performance, and weak governance. — Photo by AP

KARACHI: The World Bank approved a $400 million loan on Friday for Pakistan's flailing education system, one of the world's worst where the country spends less than 1.5 per cent of its gross domestic product (GDP) on schooling.

The World Bank said $300 million would go to projects at the university level and $50 million each for provincial reform projects at the primary school level in Punjab and Sindh.

“Pakistan's transition to a middle-income country in the global knowledge economy of the 21st century will depend critically on the country's intellectual and human capital,” said Rachid Benmessaoud, World Bank Country Director for Pakistan.

“To achieve this objective, Pakistan needs to upscale its entire education system.”

This loan comes at a time when Pakistan is going through what the independent Pakistan Education Task Force (http://educationemergency.com.pk/) said was an “education emergency” and what many think is the country's most pressing long-term challenge.

In December 2010, Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani announced that 2011 would be the “year of education”, but according to the task force, which is working with the UK Department for International Development, Pakistan spends less than 1.5 per cent of its GDP on education — less than the subsidy for Pakistan International Airlines , Pakistan Steel and Pakistan Electric Power Company.

According to figures from Unesco and other non-governmental organisations, roughly one in 10 of the world's primary-age children who are not in school live in Pakistan, placing Pakistan second in the global ranking of out-of-school children, behind Nigeria.

Thirty per cent of its population lives in “extreme educational poverty”, having received less than two years of education. Thousands of schools have no running water or toilets, and more than 20,000 don't even have physical buildings. And on any given day, 15-20 per cent of all public school teachers don't show up to work.

The task force says the economic impact of the Pakistan's poor education system is as expensive as last year's devastating floods, which caused about $10 billion in damages, every year.

Pakistan needs to spend an additional 100 billion rupees ($1.17 billion) each year to reach the Millennium Development Goal for education by 2015, which it currently has no chance of reaching, the task force said. That's a 50 per cent increase in current funding.

A lack of education and opportunities are also cited by security analysts as a major source of grievances against Pakistan's civilian government. These grievances are often exploited by militants to recruit foot soldiers.

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