The following article has been published in Daily Nation, dated 15th June 2015
(E-Paper (Print Edition): http://nation.com.pk/E-Paper/lahore/2015-06-15/page-9)
Education: The neglected step child?
By: Omer Zaheer Meer
For almost four decades after independence, Pakistan was economically ahead of its’ arch-rival and estranged neighbor India despite the huge market and mass of the latter. 1990’s brought about the reversal with India leaping ahead and now reaching a situation where it has placed itself much ahead of Pakistan economically. While we often refer to the economic exploits of India and commonly cover reasons such as the IT boom and missed opportunities by Pakistan, have we ever thought that perhaps the real reason was education?
Yes, education that has been neglected by every succeeding Pakistani government. On the other hand, the Indian policy makers realized the importance of quality education and ensured appropriate steps were taken to develop their huge human resources, on the basis of which their current economic apparatus is booming. Their continuous investment in education bore fruits and placed India as a leader in IT outsourcing from where it really took off. Rather than becoming stagnant, Indians continued to invest in education with substantial results in bio-technologies, medical and education industries besides others.
On the other hand, while Pakistanis continue to outshine Indians and most of the world on an individual level, the overall state of affairs of its education sector, particularly public sector education, remains dismal. While we often criticize the rising unemployment levels, the lack of quality human resource availability remains a concern for local businesses. Most business owners complain that even the available human resource is not up to the international standards they’re competing against. Add to this the high illiteracy and we are faced with a dire situation demanding immediate corrective measures.
Infact, if you look at all major economies, with the exception of most Gulf countries relying on oil, they’re based on educated and trained human resources. Gone are the days when hard labor alone could turnaround national economies. Without continuously developed and upgraded education, no nation can hope to compete on the modern global stage. What’s more inspiring is that being a Muslim seeking education is mandatory even at the cost of hardships.
Furthermore as the right to education is a fundamental right of every human being recognized by the United Nations, perhaps the member countries should sought to deliver this key right to their citizens. The good thing is that the decision making circles in Pakistan have started saying the right things about education, of late. The problem is the lack of implementation.
All major political parties in Pakistan acknowledge the above facts and affirm their commitment to improving the human resources development in the country via education to ensure less disillusioned youth are attracted to extremism fuelling law and order problems for the nation. Similarly owning to political competition when Mian Shahbaz Sharif led Punjab government proposed substantially increasing the education budget, a feat it did not actually achieve, the PPP’s federal government proposed a budgetary allocation of 7% which was again something of a political statement which was not implemented.
However, it were the high hopes from the electoral promises of Mian Nawaz Sharif led PMLN in the 2013 general elections campaign with promises of 4% allocation of the GDP (not the budget) to the education sector that made segments of intelligentsia excited. Unfortunately it was again not to be. While the 14% increase for education in the 2015-16 budget proposed through the finance bill is a positive step in the right direction, the promised height of 4% of GDP still remains a dream.
Infact the manifestos of all major national parties including PTI and PPP committed to increasing the budgetary allocations for education. The upcoming Sindh and KPK budgets would reveal how much of those promises would be kept. Moreover, post 18th amendment the education sector has largely been within the ambit of provincial governments. This is not to make light the significance of a proper federal allocation to education sector setting a precedent and direction for the provinces to pursue.
What’s tragic is that although it is an established fact that investment in education lays the long-term foundation for economic prosperity and reduction in acute poverty, none of the parties in power have been able to meet their promised increases for the education to date. Unfortunately, election promises have become wish lists. Revenue constraints are almost always cited as a major constraint despite under-utilized budgetary allocations in several sectors including developmental. While one can respect the genuine constraints, perhaps better management of available resources can free up additional revenues for the neglected education sector. Similarly the ever increasing allocations to political gimmick based schemes can serve the nation well if utilized in educational sector.
Rightly or wrongly, some argue that given the improved quality of life, political awareness and a demanding populace resulting from a higher outlay on education, the traditional political class particularly from the rural belts across all political parties, ensure that the declared goals to invest in education by their respective parties are not met. Their common interests in this case ensure an unwritten alliance across the board. It is upto the policy makers and top leadership of these parties to take corrective measures to dispel this notion.
One thing is for sure, if we want to develop Pakistan into a sustainable and independent modern economy, there is no other option but to invest heavily in education and human resource development. This in due time will rid Pakistan of the both extremes it is currently facing as a properly educated nation would realize and implement the way of balance being the best course, as told to us by the greatest leader of all times, Prophet Muhammad PBUH.
The author is Director of the think-tank “Millat Thinkers’ Forum”. He is a leading economist, CFA Charterholder, experienced fellow Chartered Certified Accountant and anti-money laundering expert with international exposure who can be reached on Twitter and www.myMFB.com @OmerZaheerMeer or firstname.lastname@example.org