KARACHI, Pakistan — Pakistani Taliban forces threaten the security of the state and the safety of its citizens. Separatists from the province of Balochistan fight to split the region from the country. Gangs of all sorts plague Pakistan’s largest, and arguably most dangerous, city of Karachi. The country drowns in violence. Yet, many experts identify something else altogether as being Pakistan’s most pressing problem: education. There is a crisis going on.
Near the end of March 2014, Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif announced his plan to increase government spending on education to 4 percent of the GDP by 2018. This would place Pakistan in line with a Millennium Development Goal, agreed upon by the country in negotiation with UNESCO in 2000.
But on June 3, 2014, the government revealed that it had reduced the Pakistani education budget by 11 percent, subduing some of the renewed hope the country had in its government’s commitment to fighting illiteracy.
What’s the big fuss? How badly does Pakistan really need to revamp its education sector? Is Pakistan really experiencing an education crisis, and if so, can it be fixed?
This is the beginner’s guide to the Pakistani education crisis.
Pakistani Education, The Facts:
That is the number of out-of-school children in Pakistan according to a 2013 UNESCO report. This number is the second largest in the world, surpassed only by that of Nigeria. Moreover, two-thirds of these children are girls, pointing toward the country’s growing gender disparity.
While the overall youth literacy rate in Pakistan has improved steadily, if slowly, this past decade — improving from 55 percent in 1998 to 70 percent today — the gap between boys and girls remains large. A total of 79 percent of boys between the ages of 15 and 24 are literate, while the number falls to 61 percent for girls.
And what about those children who are enrolled in school? Only 72 percent actually attend school on any given day, a difficulty compounded by widespread teacher shortages. Facilities are in poor shape; a mere 64 percent of primary schools have access to clean water. As such, it is no surprise the overall “survival rate,” the percentage of students who successfully complete primary school, stands at a paltry 50 percent.
Despite these alarming numbers, government spending on education has fallen from 2.7 percent of the GDP in 2008 to just 2 percent in 2012. And the implementation of funds varies widely from one region to another. For instance, the survival rate in the territory of Gilgit-Baltistan is impressive at 95 percent, but falters in Pakistan’s most populous province of Punjab to 56 percent.
There is no doubt that Pakistan’s education crisis is real. But how does one solve it?
Sir Barber & The Punjab Roadmap Solution:
Sir Michael Barber, educationist and former advisor to British Prime Minister Tony Blair, headed a program funded by the U.K.’s Department for International Development (DFID) between August 2011 and September 2013. He outlined clear and ambitious goals as part of his “Punjab Roadmap,” a plan to deliver serious results to schools in the province.
Through Barber’s collaboration with the Chief Minster of Punjab, Mian Shahbaz Sharif (Prime Minister Sharif’s younger brother,) the program achieved unprecedented results over its two years — especially between September 2011 and December 2012. During that time, student attendance jumped from 79 percent to 92.1 percent. Teacher presence improved from 84.7 percent to 91 percent. The percentage of facilities with electricity, boundary walls and access to clean water and toilets skyrocketed from 75.9 percent to 90.9 percent.
In total, the Roadmap saw the addition of a million and a half children to the number of enrolled students in Punjab. While Southern Punjab — particularly rural areas — still shows room for improvement, Barber’s program has demonstrated exactly what a methodical and well-monitored approach to reform can achieve.
Despite his success in Punjab, Barber still believes that funding is a major problem for Pakistan if it hopes to see such results in other provinces. The DFID’s aid boosted the country’s education budget from around 2 percent of the GDP to 4 percent of the GDP. So, perhaps it was Punjab’s progress that prompted Prime Minister Sharif to call for an increase in the education budget to 4 percent of GDP by 2018. In light of the recent budget reduction, however, it remains to be seen whether Sharif has truly committed to the goal of uplifting Pakistan from its education crisis.