The economic rationale for investment in education was thus well established by the early 1980s.
According to the traditional view in the development debate of the 1960s, land, labour and capital were identified as the main factors of production and within these, the focus was on expanding capital by increasing investment to at least 15 per cent of GDP to achieve an average growth rate of five per cent per annum.
By the early 1970s, however, the definition of capital was broadened to include human capital. Investment in education, it was pointed out on the basis of several studies, created better skills and together with research for improved technology, would lead to higher productivity and faster economic growth. The economic rationale for investment in education was thus well established by the early 1980s.
The launch of the Human Development Report by UNDP in 1990 was another landmark in the conceptual framework for development. Pioneered by late Dr. Mahbubul Haq, the report prescribed supplementary criteria for determining performance called the Human Development Index (HDI). The Index built on four indicators: Life expectancy at birth, adult literacy rate, combined primary, secondary and tertiary gross enrolment ratio and GDP per capita, assigned a maximum value of 1 on the basis of which countries are categorized into High (above 0.8), medium (between 0.) and 0.8) and low HDI (below 0.5). This concept emphasized that human development was not just a means to more rapid economic growth but also an end in its own right.
The transition of the world towards a knowledge based economy and growing competition in the wake of globalization, has further magnified the importance of human resources in general and of education in particular as a key element in the process of social and economic transformation. Key indicators of progress in the coming decades will not only include the overall level of literacy, but also the proportion of skilled workers in the total work force, the percentage labour force employed in different sub-sectors of communications and the investment being made in research and technology. Only societies which have acquired the required knowledge and skills will be able to compete in the global markets.
The state of education in Pakistan
Overall investment in education in Pakistan is still very low, despite repeated commitments by successive governments to reach the UNESCO target of four per cent of GDP. Public spending on education in Pakistan, as a percentage of GDP is only 1.8 per cent which is the lowest in South Asia and has in fact declined from the peak of 2.5 per cent reached in the mid 1990s. Several Asian countries had already exceeded by the year 2000 the UNESCO target of four per cent of GDP. India (4.1 per cent). Philippines (4.2 per cent), Iran 4.4 per cent). Thailand (5.4 per cent). Malaysia 96.2 per cent).Because of a combination of high population growth and low expenditure on education, the average level of adult literacy has moved very slowly from 26 per cent in 1981 to an estimated 57.7 per cent in 2010. If this average is broken down between urban and rural areas, between males and females and between different provinces, the wide disparities reflected in the dismal average becomes even more glaring. The rate of literacy for rural females in 2010 was only 22.5 per cent in Baluchistan, 20.3 per cent in Sindh. 29 per cent in KPK and 40.2 per cent in Punjab, yielding a national average of 34.2 per cent for female literacy. With this level of female literacy, the programme for population control will have only limited chances of success.
Despite a three fold increase in Pakistan’s GDP over the last 30 years, there has been no corresponding improvement in social indicators. Pakistan was 127th on the global ranking of the Human Development Index for 2010 among169 countries.
Moving from the quantitative to the qualitative aspects of human development, the situation is even more depressing. On UNDP’s Technology Achievement Index based on indicators like enrolment of science students, patents and royalties, and access to telephones, internet and electricity, Pakistan’s rank is 0.17, compared to 0.20 for India and Sri Lanka, 0.31 for Brazil, 0.4 for Malaysia and 0.67 for South Korea.
In the past few years, HEC and the Provincial Governments have taken many initiatives in the field of education but there are many structural problems and institutional obstacles that have affected the implementation of well meaning policies and plans in the past. Unless these obstacles are tackled, the new plans and reforms will not yield the expected results and targets. Four such problems areas and obstacles are discussed in this article.
Shrinking fiscal space in the provinces
The quality of education depends largely on the quality of teachers. The quality of teachers can be improved by recruiting teachers on merit on the basis of periodical competitive examinations and by offering higher grades to teachers with higher qualifications.
Similarly, the system of examination has to move away from memorizing certain lessons to a more systematic assessment of understanding, reasoning, originality and creativity so that the system of teaching, learning and testing becomes an integrated process. At present the conduct of secondary and higher secondary examinations is centralized under various boards of education. Under this system the students are taught by one teacher, the examination papers are composed by another teacher, without knowing what has actually been taught and a third teacher marks the examination papers. There is no provision to include an assessment of the projects undertaken by the students or individual attainments of a student during the year. Examinations are largely based on text books and tend to be quite repetitive. That is why students are not encouraged to go beyond studying (in fact memorizing) certain portion of the text books. Even laboratory experiments are reduced to memorizing relevant passage from the lab manuals.
A gradual shift to the semester system of teaching and assessment in the system of higher education is necessary to improve the quality of education in Pakistan. The conceptual framework of the National Curriculum 2000, prepared by the National Committee, with the participation of many outside experts is a very forward looking document but its implementation has been adversely affected by recent controversies over text books and the Agha Khan Examination Board.
Another and more serious form of inequality springs from the strong multi dimensional divide between English medium and Urdu medium systems of education. In the recent past, this divide has been further accentuated by the rapid expansion of madrassahs schools, offering religious education and catering to the educational requirements of low income groups. These three streams of education not only provide education under very different systems but also lead to divergent views and opinions about political, economic and international issues, often hostile to each others. This state of affairs, unless corrected through a more unified system of education, can lead to greater polarization in society, threatening the very unity of the federation.
Reform of educational administration
For primary and secondary education institutional reforms have to move in two directions: major decentralization of responsibility from the provincial to the district and lower levels and association of civil society with the planning and implementation of education, including management of educational institutions, at all levels. As is dramatically illustrated by the success of many private NGOs in establishing good quality schools for the poor, there is a growing pool of businessmen, educational experts and social workers committed to the cause of education. They can play a major role in upgrading the quality of public education.
Finally, education is the most important route to overcome unemployment and poverty. That is why the time seems ripe to incorporate in our laws, the right to education as a basic human right and give investment in education the highest priority in managing the Pakistan economy.