Where is the return on investment in education?

Already divided among Pre- Primary (2.5-5 Years), Primary (Grades 1-5), Middle (Grades 6-8), Secondary (Grades 9-10), Higher Secondary/College (Grades 11-12) and University (undergraduate and post-graduate degrees), Pakistan’s education system is further graded into Madrissa (Religious Education), English Medium, Urdu Medium, Elite, Public and Private designations that collide with one another in objectives and outcomes.

A primary school student in Peshawar learns Pashto from his or her mother but is prohibited from using it in school. That same student must learn Urdu to be declared a Pakistani and a “normal” student at his/her school where the syllabus requires him to learn English, which is the language of education in most schools in this country. If the student is the son or daughter of an employee or businessman who works in Punjab or Sindh, “Punjabi or Sindhi” is necessary to be “compatible” with the environment.

For background purposes, it is important to note that preliminary data shows the literacy rate ranges from 96 percent in Islamabad to 28 percent in the Kohlu district of Balochistan. Between 2000 and 2004, Pakistanis in the age group 55–64 had a literacy rate of almost 38 percent, those ages 45–54 had a literacy rate of nearly 46 percent, those 25–34 had a literacy rate of 57 percent, and those ages 15–24 had a literacy rate of 72. In tribal areas, female literacy is 9.5 percent. The country turns out about 445,000 university graduates and 10,000 computer science graduates each year. And Pakistan has the world’s second largest out-of-school population (5.1 million children), just after Nigeria.

It’s important to explore the scope of all budget allocations made in the name of education by the federal and provincial governments for the fiscal year 2016-17. And it’s equally important to follow the money.

Rs. 84 billion has been allocated for education, which has become a provincial subject after the 18th Amendment and the provinces declared their separate allocation for education in the provincial budget. This includes:

  • Rs 63.59 billion for tertiary education affairs and services.
  • Rs 10 billion for secondary education affairs & services.
  • Rs 8.19 billion for pre-primary & primary education affairs.
  • Rs 1.16 billion for administration.
  • Another Rs. 79.5 billion has been allocated for higher education. The Higher Education Commission (HEC) will be assigned Rs. 5.4 billion to introduce new projects and Rs. 16.05 billion for on-going projects.

HEC will spend:

  • Rs 900 million for Indigenous Ph.D. fellowship for 5000 scholars of HEC Phase-2.
  • Rs. 500 million for Fulbright Scholarships Support Program of HEC-USAID Phase 2.
  • Rs. 350 million for the establishment of University of Loralai.
  • Rs. 300 million for Ph.D. Scholarship Program under Pak-US Knowledge Corridor Phase 1.
  • Rs. 297.81 million for strengthening and upgrading universities in underdeveloped areas.
  • Rs. 250 million for the establishment of FATA University.
  • Rs. 200 million for Women University Campuses at Pashin and Khuzdar in Balochistan.
  • Rs. 105 million for students of FATA and Balochistan.
  • Rs. 70 million for upgrading Federal Government College for Women F-7/2 to Federal Women University.
  • Rs. 50 million for the establishment of University of Sibi.

Most provinces have shown a willingness this year to make appropriate budget allocations for education. But for some reasons, Punjab maintains its negative trend of decreasing monies it allocates for education. In its ninth consecutive budget, the PML-N’s provincial government has allocated Rs 323 billion, which is 19 percent of its Rs 1,681 billion budget.

Its education budget is 58 percent of the total Annual Development Programme (ADP) allocated for the current year while last year it was 77 percent of the total ADP. The government has allocated Rs 13 billion for higher education. This will include:

  • Rs 183 million for the University of Education.
  • Rs 127 million for Lahore College for Women University (LCWU).
  • Rs 125 million for Punjab Higher Education Commission (PHEC).
  • Rs 49 million for Kinnaird College for Women.
  • Rs 17 million for Information Technology University (ITU).
  • Rs 2.4 billion for commerce colleges.

This year’s allocation in higher education depicts an increase by Rs 3 billion. But just Rs 8 million – the lowest amount – has been allocated for Government College University.

On the school education side, Rs 47 billion has been earmarked. So where does the money go?

  • Rs 1 billion for Punjab Examination Commission.
  • Rs 1 billion for Elementary Teachers Training College.
  • Rs 175 million for Punjab Education and English Language Initiative (PEELI) project.
  • Rs 96 million has been allocated for Introduction of Early Childhood Education in 1,000 primary schools.
  • Rs 73 million for Children Library Complex.
  • Rs 37 million for students of Balochistan studying in different government schools.
  • Rs 15 million for Baloch students studying in Danish Schools.
  • Rs 28 million for provision of tablet PCs to public school students

The government will spend:

  • Rs 50 billion to upgrade school buildings.
  • Rs 12 billion for Punjab Education Foundation (PEF).
  • Rs 4 billion for Punjab Education Endowment Fund (PEEF).
  • Rs 4 billion for the provision of laptops.
  • Rs 1.8 billion for non-formal education.
  • Rs 2.5 billion for Danish Schools, Rs 2 billion for Knowledge Park.
  • Rs 6.67 million for special education

In the previous year, Rs 32.8 billion were allocated for school education, which amounts to Rs 15 billion more allocated this year by the government.

But some express reservations about all of these allocations.

Qandeel Ghiass Khan, an expert in educational financing at National Institute for Quality Education (NIQE), who spoke exclusively to MORE, says, “This government is habitual of shifting funds from one end to another later like last year. Only Rs. 13 billion out of the allocated 32 billion were used. I doubt the seriousness of authorities here. Can we stop using budget allocation for media praise? Can we start using the money as aimed for?”

On the other side, Sindh has broken all previous records when it comes to budget allocation for education. Rs 160.7 billion –28 percent of the total budget of Rs. 869 billion – has been allocated for education, with an ADP allocation of Rs17.2 billion for 225 new schemes in the four major sectors of education (higher education, technical education, special education and medical education).

This year’s allocations show an increase of 11.2 percent above last year’s allocation of Rs144.5 billion. The allocation for salaries has been increased by 7.4 percent, while non-salary expenditure has been increased by 23.8 percent.

The ADP 2015-16’s allocation was Rs 13.2 billion divided four ways:

  • Rs 10 billion for the education and literacy department (ELD).
  • Rs2 billion for universities and boards.
  • Rs1 billion for Sindh Technical Education and Vocational Training Authority (STEVTA).
  • Rs200 million for special education.

Like Punjab, The ELD allocation has been increased by Rs 3 billion, despite the fact that last fiscal year the department only utilized 57 percent of its budget.

Imdad Ali Bughio, a professor of economics at the University of Jamshoro spoke with MORE and explained that last year in Sindh, Stevta used 52 percent of its budget, universities, and boards 37 percent, while none of the special education budgets was spent.

The PTI-led provincial government in KPK has allocated Rs 125 billion for non-development and development expenditures in education. This amounts to 24.8 percent of the total budget. Of this, Rs 21.7 billion is for development. On the development side of the ledger, the share of elementary and secondary education is 78 percent of which Rs the provincial government will spend 19.07 billion, and Rs 9.8 billion will be given to the district government. Around Rs 6 billion has been allocated to create 16,960 posts to ease access to education.

The remainder of the budget will be spent on building 100 new primary and secondary schools for girls and boys, setting up 500 computer labs in government higher secondary schools across the province and repairing flooded and earthquake-hit schools.

The scholarship program Stoori de Pakhtunkhwa would continue with a monthly stipend of just 200 rupees for 400,000 students. Because law and order is of concern, a criminology and science department will be set up at the University of Peshawar with new budget money. A sub-campus of Bannu University will be set up in Lakki Marwat. The Ghulam Ishaq Khan Institute of Science and Technology will have an academic block in Swabi. And academic block and a sub-campus of the University of Engineering and Technology Taxila will be built in Upper Dir.

But last year in KPK, as in other provinces, allocated funds went unutilized.

Ahmad Nawaz Khan Tareen, a social activist and director of an active NGO in Peshawar, told MORE that in 2015-16 the Home and TribalAffairs Department utilized just Rs 960.95 million of the Rs 6.37 billion that was allocated, which amounts to 20 percent of utilization. Not a single penny was released for 82 construction projects in the Home Department. To make Peshawar secure under Safe City Project, a sum of Rs 250 million was allocated in budget 2015-16. Despite the release of Rs 100.61 million, not a single penny was put toward this project. Likewise, 100 million rupees were allocated for Peshawar Prison; surprisingly nothing was released for this project of prime importance.

To boost security at province’s seven high-risk jails, Rs 50 million were allocated. Although 10.25 million rupees were released, nothing was spent on the construction of security posts in prisons. Similarly, European Union funded Access to Justice Program for which Rs 387.6 million were allocated, not a single penny was released for this program in 2015-16. The project remained only on paper.

No payment was released for the construction of schools of investigation and intelligence despite an allocation of Rs 10 million. Moreover, the project of improving facilities for the women and juvenile sections in the prisons in the province’s jails also did not receive a single penny despite the allocation of Rs 30 million.

The Balochistan province’s budget-making process was hampered after mega-corruption scandals were unearthed. The arrest of the finance secretary and the transfer of the major position holders in the finance department made it seem impossible for the departmental newbies to prepare an adequate budget. Somehow, though, the province still managed to develop and present an outlay of Rs 277.56 billion.

The share for education in this budget is Rs 42.67 billion, or 14 percent of the total Rs. 289 billion. The province, already with the lowest education literacy rate, has shown its willingness to fund education. There are more than 7,000 multi-grade (1 to 5), single-room schools with just one teacher in Balochistan. These schools have no boundary walls, and there is no such thing as individual attention or security.

The Balochistan government plans to establish three medical colleges in Khuzdar, Loralai, and Turbat. While no new schools will be built, but it is planned that 70 middle schools be upgraded to high schools in different areas of the province. 80 primary schools will also be upgraded to middle school level.

The government also plans on distributing laptops among students and has allocated Rs. 500 million for the laptop distribution scheme. In order to boost education in the province, 14,000 students will be given scholarships to pursue studies at national and international institutions.

Last year more than 75 percent of the budget was spent on salaries etc., whereas, just 25 percent budget was dedicated to development of the education sector. This is the province with 1.7 million children not in school at the moment even though the government declared an educational emergency last year and vowed to ensure the implementation of Article 25-A of the Constitution (providing mandatory and free education for all children).

The problem, in reality, is not about out-of-school children, but with school children who are still in school, at least at the moment. The dropout rate is so high in Balochistan schools that out of 1.3 million children, only about 50,000 students appear for metric examinations each year.

On the whole, the picture is dark — from budget allocation to budget utilization.

We are continuously failing in proper utilization of the allocated funds, to the dismay of helpless people of Pakistan and to the joy of the nexus of corrupt bureaucracy and crooked contractors, who earn huge commissions and kickbacks when large remaining funds are hurriedly spent before the closure of financial year.

Until we start spending our rupees more wisely — and on our most-valued human resources — we might as well be living in the Dark Ages.

We are neither a rabbit nor a tortoise…

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