Devising a Growth Strategy for Pakistan (6): Pakistan’s Education Emergency

Posted on March 12, 2011
Filed Under >Afreen Siddiqi, >Muhammad Hamid Zaman, Economy & Development, Education
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Prof. Muhammad Hamid Zaman and Dr. Afreen Siddiqi

Pakistan’s flood of 2010 was the largest in the country’s history. We still haven’t  recovered from the incredible destruction of life, property and infrastructure that it left in its wake. No one can argue that if such a calamity were to occur year after year, the existence of the country would be in jeopardy. The economic impact of a 2010 like flood year after year is no different than the long-term consequence of illiteracy in Pakistan!

This evaluation and other mind-numbing statistics were made public earlier this week by the Pakistan Education Task Force. You can find the report here. According to the report, ten percent of all the children in the world, who are not in any school, live in Pakistan. This places Pakistan second on the list of “out-of-school” children in the world. The number of children not in school in Pakistan is around seven million, which is roughly the entire population of Lahore. The numbers are even worse for adults, particularly women in rural areas, where less than a third of the female population has ever attended any school.

Our annual spending on education, which should be at least upwards of 4%, has gone down to 1.5% of our GDP. Perhaps a more shocking fact is that this amount is less than the subsidy given to PIA alone.

The report paints a very bleak, but a detailed picture of our future and our very existence as a nation if we do not do anything about fixing this mess. As we read the report (which all of us should do) and think about 2011 as an year of education emergency, we should ask ourselves two questions: why, and how?

The first question is why are we in a state that we are in? Poverty is a good answer to start with, but it not an accurate one. Roughly twenty-six countries that are poorer than Pakistan have a better education system. Perhaps we can blame the politicians, and not all of it will be unjustified. In a society where lawmakers are illiterate and proud of it, the current state of the education system should not be surprising. But the problem is much bigger and far more complex than any one individual factor. We can go for any scapegoat of our liking, or go for the flavor of the week, but the reality is that we all have not done our part in improving the system.

This takes us to our next question, how do we fix it? This is, perhaps, a more interesting yet more difficult of the two questions. We are interested in finding out what you, our readers, think? How should we address this issue?

We need a multi-faceted, integrated and a broad-based approach. An approach that starts with each home, yours and ours, at the grassroots level. At the same time there is a top-down approach, from the federal and local governments. But it sounds easier than it is. We need to pay for this. How are we going to raise a billion dollars per year (as recommended by the task force) to pay for this? Should we introduce new taxes? If we are ready to dig deep into our pockets for floods and earthquakes, why not education?

The issue of accountability and governance is also central to the fix. With nearly a fourth of our nations teachers absent from school every day, we need better accountability. The role of media, both print and electronic, cannot be understated. But we have to remember that they are not charity, and do not operate like one either. We have to come up with innovative ways of making education attractive and the discussion profitable for them. The public pressure on political parties to make education a central and core mission has to be there. The list of things that we can do is long but the time to do them is not.

Great civilizations, including that of the Indus, were lost due to great floods. Lets get to work, lest we lose ours to the flood of illiteracy.

Dr. Zaman is an Assistant Professor at Boston University and Dr. Siddiqi is a research scientist at Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

(Editor’s Note: We offer this as sixth in a series on Pakistan’s New Growth Strategy – see here and here and here and here and here. Although not directly related to the growth strategy being devised by the Planning Commission of Pakistan, the issue of education – and the results of the Pakistan Education Task Force are centrally important to that mission. We do hope you will have your say; if we do not speak up, then who will!)

27 Comments on “Devising a Growth Strategy for Pakistan (6): Pakistan’s Education Emergency”

  1. Humaira says:
    March 13th, 2011 2:44 am

    Good post. And very important topic highlighted. Fix education and many of our other problems will be automatically fixed.

  2. ASAD says:
    March 13th, 2011 2:50 am

    Excellent. Just downloaded the report. THIS is the real emergency, not the political topi dramas that all our media and blogs keep crying about. For the sake of our children, lets do something!

  3. Ghani says:
    March 13th, 2011 3:03 am

    Very powerful post. Specially with the images. We need to get this message out to everyone. Must say, I was also surprised by some of these facts. Specially the myths which I have also believed. I guess we have been saying all this to ourselves to make excuses for not doing anything about it!

  4. Asma says:
    March 13th, 2011 3:06 am

    Congratulations to Pakistaniat and Dr. Najam for again highlighting such an important topic that everyone is forgetting and getting excellent experts to write on it and present it in such a strong and beautiful way that the message is totally clear and strong. This is what we need, good development communication so that people wake up to this emergency. Well done ATP!

  5. Rimsha Rehman says:
    March 13th, 2011 3:29 am

    Its undoubtedly very good.The facts mentioned are quite informative and astonishing. But question is how and when this all will be implemented? Is there any resolution made yet?

  6. Faisal says:
    March 13th, 2011 6:04 am

    The emergency is real. But that is not news. We all know it already. The question is what to do about it. I am afraid neither the task force nor this post answers that.

  7. shahid says:
    March 13th, 2011 6:45 am

    Education is seeking, teaching and help the young people discover the truth.
    One must have an open mind for evaluating various possibilities that the other viewpoint may be right.
    This essentially requires non bigoted liberal and possibly a secular attitude.
    To start, there is need for good truthful text books.

  8. HaroON says:
    March 13th, 2011 8:43 am

    I think some of this is too dramatic. Education is touted by everyone as the biggest problem but I am not sure if this really is. Its not as if those who are educated have been all model citizens of Pakistan.

  9. Aisha says:
    March 13th, 2011 8:51 am

    I am a true believer that grassroots is the only way to have any kind of movement and change for the masses as far as education or any other movement goes. When those who need and want it the most, demand it and come up with ways to obtain it, only then will there be any kind of real change. They are then the change-makers, not us, the educated elite who like to come up with fancy prescriptions, as we proclaim them from our ivory towers. The grassroots movements in our country are strong, we need to be able to support them, nurture them – only then will there be true progress. Let us all find and support those who are leaders in their own, rural, urban or similar communities.

    The points brought up in this piece are noteworthy and outline the issues well. But, these facts/stats are essentially nothing new, have always been there, continue to be as mind numbing as always, and frankly get worse day by day. Most people who work in the field of development know the issues and the fixes and have known them for decades (nothing new) – the fixes are not the issue, it is an issue of will – but the question is: “Who’s Will”?

    I am actually quite stunned by the naive response for ‘why’ we are in the state we are in by the two authors of this article. It is not because of poverty or because of inept politicians or because ‘we’ have not improved our system as they state. While I’d prefer to be optimistic and positive, I feel we need to be harder on ourselves if there is to be any hope. Our society has collectively failed. Our civic ethos is pale, as guided by the prevailing values our educated, landed and economic elite exhibit. Our youth is disenfranchised. I do agree that we have to make institutions more accountable, but that will only happen if the society as a whole already is that way to start with. We are not there yet in the least. We can’t blame just politicians for not being accountable. On a collective basis, we are not holding ourselves accountable and no one here will pay $1B for education. Taxes are a perfect example of the way Pakistani’s feel about ‘giving back’ towards the betterment of society, country and economy – it illustrates the lack of civic duty we feel towards our country on the whole. In a country where people (those who can actually financially afford it, mind you) revolt from paying small businesses a sales tax or GST [this happens all the time in small shops all over the big cities 'mein kyuN tax duN?], how should they be handled? Are they punished, arrested, jailed?

    In a country where opulence drools from every home and driveway of the elite, fewer than 2% of these same people in Pakistan pay any kind of income taxes! [you can see this article for more details on this: How are you going to change the mind of a people who’s moral compass is so terribly flawed, self interested and cannot even enact in one civic duty honestly like paying their income tax?

    We will go blue in the face repeating articles like this, or asking 10,000 people to sign petitions. Civic mindedness and duty to country begin at childhood where we teach our children to give back, respect public spaces, volunteer, obey the law, be honest…I don’t see these values overflowing in abundancy in Pakistan; they have to be built, cultivated & sustained over generations and not overnight or after just 1 or 2 natural disasters – I do see these values in countries in Europe, the US, China – all of them are doing well in these sectors, it seems. Unfortunately – until a fundamental change sweeps the psyche of Pakistanis – the ones who are able to be the models for change, and in turn, change-makers, there is little hope as we lack follow through and commitment. Raising awareness is a great step, but I feel we already know that there is an “Education Emergency” – we really must move beyond this late epiphany. Grassroots movements like madrassas spring up where there are no schools provided by the government, and where the need is perceived. The PEOPLE find ways to compensate for this lack. The fact that 6% of children GO to madrassas should be the scary part of the sign on this post, not that “ONLY 6%” go there! Why are they needing to go to madrassas in the first place?

    The first way to bring any kind of change or reform to Pakistan is to first cut off our dependencies. We have a failed state, surviving on a drip called foreign aid which is pegged to the ‘war on terror’. When we are forced to enact progress ‘sans’ aid, that is when we will have to find innovative ways to survive and run our country’s finances & institutions on our own. Then, perhaps we will follow how the other ‘economic success story’ countries did it – like S. Korea, Indonesia, Malaysia, etc. These countries realized how important investing in educating their children was if they needed to be less economically dependent on other countries and did so because they didn’t survive on sheer foreign aid. When the people’s own, hard earned income is collected for taxes, then the people will FIGHT harder to make sure their government is held fully accountable, since there will be no other outside source of financial aid to bail them out or line their pockets. When accountability sets in because the population demands it in earnest, then perhaps we will have the ability & moral grounding to demand accountability in other sectors and institutions like education, true land reform, rule of law, etc. We are not ready to demand this yet – we have a lot of work ahead of us before we earn that right.

  10. ShahidnUSA says:
    March 13th, 2011 10:29 am

    Well done Aisha!

    Considering English is also a Pakistan’s official language and I don’t know if this is important to any but it is important to me, the incorrect ‘pronunciation’ of the commonly used words by most of the politicians and ministers,

    words such as

    Law as Laa
    School as sacool
    measures as myer

    Do they not know or they don’t care?

  11. Brian says:
    March 13th, 2011 10:33 am

    Rants such as in earlier comment aside, the fact is that education is a commodity. Like any other commodity it works on supply and demand. The question is what does education gain you. If you think it will be a good investment you will invest in it, otherwise you will not. In Pakistan it is in fact NOT a good investment. Education does not change people’s life because there is nepotism everywhere. Change that and people will themselves respond with higher personal investments in education.

  12. Osama Yawar says:
    March 13th, 2011 2:22 pm

    Being a student of Computer Science , what i feel is that our education system have been completely collapsed.When ever i think about my future the first thing that comes in my mind is “How Much I Will Earn ?” and “How I Will Get The Job?” . Now the point is that those who are taking education have no other task rather than making good money and feed there parents when they get old. So whats attracting them towards education is Money Money and Money .

    Now lets talk about the poor people who really cant afford education.What they know is the same as other people think that education have nothing to do except making good money in future , So instead of spending lacks on education they use their children for work.

    The question arises “How to change their minds ? ” . Well first of all we (People of Pakistan with Government Of Pakistan ) should work for the betterment of government schools because the more good environment you get the more good and intelligent students you can produce.Secondly , government should focus on fundings for those who really cant afford it or in other words education should be free specially in government school and last but not the least the most important thing is the implementation of “Child Labor Laws ” which is the most difficult thing to do due to poverty ( Its another detailed discussion ).

    Another most important thing is the availability of good schools and colleges in rural areas with highly qualified faculty. According to a news channel ” A girl had to travel 12 hours for giving her matriculation board exams at Lahore , Punjab “. Similarly the upgradation of the education system is very important that is the introduction of updated books , making student work more practical rather than the “RATA” system and also changing the minds of students by providing them such atmosphere that they do not take education as a burden as its most common thing in our students.

    The reason why students prefer Cambridge System rather than our Board System is that they focus more on practical work rather that the RATA system. They make student use their minds but here in our system we have to learn word by word and write it just for the sake of good marks.I still remember that i read a story “Taimur Aur Chunti ” in my URDU BOOK when i was in class 2 and my younger brother after many years is reading the same story. So these are the minor points that can bring major changes.

    It is not difficult to improve our education system but all we have to do is to sacrifice by giving time for such things. We all are focusing on making money instead of thinking about the one sitting besides us.We have nothing in our mind except thinking of our own self. The reason is none other but “YOU” and “ME”.

  13. Gardezi says:
    March 13th, 2011 9:25 pm

    Excellent initiative. Info may not be new but it is presented powerfully and reminds people of what is really important here. I salute ATP again for highlighting this in such a nice way. I just signed the petition that goes with this campaign and hope others will also do it here. The target is 10,000 signature and is already above 6000. So please do how your support for education in Pakistan:

  14. S. says:
    March 13th, 2011 10:23 pm

    What is so special about this issue. Is this really our big problem. I think ATP is like always distracting attention from real issues. It writes nothing about NAB head’s forced removal by our corrupt supreme court or about how PML(N) is sabotaging democracy and all the important politics in Pakistan. Instead you take up these non-issues that are not urgent and could be dealt with later, like this education or like bridges or short stories. For Gods sake, Pakistan’s future is being messed up by Nawaz Sharif and Ch. Iftikhar and THIS is all you can think of!!!!!!
    I have really stopped reading ATP for this reason that it makes these unimportnat things into so big. I now read LUBP only since it is about REAL Pakistan issues. Please, everyone, boycott ATP and move to LUBP:

  15. ASAD says:
    March 13th, 2011 10:27 pm

    At least read the article you are ranting about. The authors actually say that those alone are NOT the problem!
    And where is anyone defending madrassars. The stats in the report just say that they are NOT the dominant place of education. Drawing room experts love just blaming them. It is not as simple as that

  16. Bilal says:
    March 13th, 2011 11:34 pm

    We are living in times where technology is filling the gaping void left in education. The following is a recent TED talk given by Khan Academy’s founder on how Khan Academy aims to provide a world class education for free to anyone, anywhere:

    Our challenge is to take this knowledge base and make it available beyond the constraints of the internet and even electricity. Brick and mortor type investments are a thing of the past.

  17. Deeda-e-Beena says:
    March 14th, 2011 12:01 am

    A disappointing Post coming from MIT and Boston University scholars in Education!

    What it tells us:
    (1) Things are really bad for education in Pakistan.
    (2) We (who?) should do something before it is too late.

    Honestly, Doesn’t everyone know about these 2?

    What is not there is the very Title of the Post viz. “DEVISING A GROWTH STRATEGY…………..”

    I looked with a microscope and discovered ” No Strategy “in this Post!
    By now all the predicaments, pitfalls and impediments are well known. Let us not regurgitate.

    Let us Move to the next level!
    Devise a Strategy to combat!

    Scholars Please Help!

  18. March 14th, 2011 12:08 am

    @S: Why do you think education is not the real issue , Its like a shock to hear a person saying thing like ” Instead you take up these non-issues that are not urgent and could be dealt with later, like this education or like bridges or short stories.”. Well, Sir the root cause of all the issues is education. Time has changed now , if we improve our education system now then trust me tomorrow you will not find any leader like the one we are having right now and none such issues will be created.

    I am running an organization called “Youth Hope Organization” in Peshawar and i have seen my self the change in youth. They are now aware of all these issues but still what they focus on is the betterment of education just because that is the root cause.One of the heads of our sister organization that is “Organization For Youth And Development” raised voice for the betterment of education in Pakistan in Scotland at a conference of all the organizations in the world representing youth. That guy was none other then a simple MBA student. We have another example of a young student of Pakistani descent, Ali Moeen Nawazish was the first in the world to do 23 A Level subjects.

    What do you think? Cant they be good leaders or will they do the same as the present leaders are doing?

    Sir, Education is one of the biggest and common issue of any country of the world. I appreciate ATP for what they are doing and yes i agree , the issues you mentioned are issues as well but not that focusing than this issue.

  19. Gardezi says:
    March 14th, 2011 12:16 am

    @Deeda e Beena and otehrs
    Maybe you are over-reacting. This is a blog post, not a strategy document. It is highlighting the need to do something. Do you disagree with that message. If not, why the anger. We we ourselves do not have specifics then why think that a mere blog post will. But let us heed their call and start all thinking about this. What would be so bad about that!

    Why make everything an emotional personal attack, even when we agree with what is being said?

  20. Taimur says:
    March 14th, 2011 3:17 am

    I find the list of myths and truths most interesting. So many of those myths are what people cite to explain the problem and they lead to inaction. At a basic level I do think it is simply a question of money and if we really consider education important then we start spending on it. A monitoring of quality in education is the second suggestion I would make.

  21. Anwar Shahid says:
    March 14th, 2011 9:38 am

    Inspired by your valuable feed l on Education Emergency I have the following to submit in this regard.
    -What we need only is an Eidhee in Education..full time dedicated trust worthy and capable of macro management.Funds will follow to the Trust worthy.
    We need some one who can bring such trust worthy people young or old around to deployed according to their capabilities..
    -We have a growing reserve of the experienced and educated people who might be mobilized to make use of their capabilities…
    -If it is an emergent situation which infact it is why not deploy the army for help in this regard.The Armed Forces. are stationed in every part of the country and they might find a reasonable role to play in this regard.
    people might feel happy to send their children to the schools where the armed forces are doing a noble work.
    This might help in bringing out the rate of drop out and absentee rates of the teachers.
    -We might develop one curriculum for all system to be taught through electronic medial all over the country utilizing the best services of the teachers in every field.A state net work like ATV can be reserved for this purpose.
    mobile net work is no being used for all purposes,It might be best utilised for Educating the people by devising ways and means accordingly.

  22. Saadia says:
    March 14th, 2011 10:39 pm

    Very nice post and presentation. We need to keep highlighting this issue and make it the highest priority. I disagree with those who think we know this already. NO WE DONT. If we did, we would have been acting differently!

  23. Gabban says:
    March 15th, 2011 3:04 am

    Dr Zaman saheb and others,

    There is really all in Pakistan
    that is required for a good country.

    It requires no strategy actually …
    what is required to be done overnight
    is to literally do away with ISI and bring
    the army of Pakistan under civilian

    Lo and behold ! watch the country race
    to progress, growth and prosperity.

    The ISI and the army of Palistan as they are,
    are scourge.

    They are bane and pain.

    Pakistan has not benefited by them. they are
    required … Period

  24. Humaira says:
    March 15th, 2011 6:12 pm

    Actually, there is also a lot of good happening in education in Pakistan. Specially in low cost private education which is giving better schools to middle and lower classes in greater number. Need more, but lets also celebrate what is good.

  25. Turab says:
    March 15th, 2011 11:35 pm
  26. Shamsa says:
    March 18th, 2011 3:07 am

    Education is our biggest challenge but until this security situation is tackled nothing will happen

  27. S.Syed says:
    March 20th, 2011 10:38 pm

    Very informative report with statistical data support, I must say and very directive towards the root cause of our problem which is even bigger than the floods at present and ongoing disaster since many years. I am calling it a disaster because of the implications of poor planning so far shared in this article and problems due to negligence in many areas requiring educational development. In my opinion the most important issue that we have to look at is “why are we in a state that we are in?” and ” how to fix it?”. Many of us address to the first need that we need to know why we are in this state and what has cause this decline in educational standards and its provision. Lots of causes and their effects have been discussed about educational emergency in Pakistan and reforms required at grass root till the federal and local government level. I will emphasize on two areas to cope with current situation first is to provide primary education to children specially in rural areas , second to invest in Teacher’s Development and then towards follow up and support (the word accountability seems more political) to help improvement in primary education and Teachers development.

Have Your Say (Bol, magar piyar say)