ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — Getting paid to go to school seems almost too good to be true. This dream, however, is a reality in Pakistan which recently began issuing small cash allowances for basic resources to the lowest income families, as an education incentive for those with young students.
The National Income Support Programme (BISP) gives money specifically intended for basic necessities such as food, medicine and education fees. Every family, identified by female head of house, is allotted 1,200 rupees per month, which converts to approximately 12£ or $19.50. An extra 200 rupees is available for each child actively attending school, though up to a maximum of three per family is allotted for.
Though this practice started experimentally in 2008 as a quick response to an economic crisis, the program has since flourished, and now gives provisions directly to 4.7 million families, effectively benefiting an estimated 28 million individuals. Financial support from the UK enabled assistance to 235,000 families last year alone, and hopes to increase that to roughly half a million by 2020.
BISP has seen considerable structural changes between 2013 and 2014 after appointing the new chairman Enver Baig. He essentially aims to redesign the organization’s operations so as to safeguard against potential corruption and streamline its resources to those most in need. One improvement was the implementation of ‘Benazir’ debit cards to transfer cash so as to cut the cost of paying postal carriers. Another, will be to identify the demographics and families most in need.
“In a preliminary step, the government will conduct a poverty survey to identify ‘the poorer of the poor in the country,’” stated Baig upon appointment.
These new safety nets are coming none too soon in Pakistan, a country where 60% of the population lives below the poverty line while 21% of which live on less than $1.25 a day, according to the World Development Indicators (WDI). Focusing efforts on educational resources is a good investment, as most of the country’s young adults are stuck in unstable situations due to illiteracy and a lack of basic labor skills.
Currently, 49.5 million adults are illiterate in Pakistan, the majority of whom are women, labeling the nation as having the 3rd worst literacy rate in the world. This number is expected to reach 51 million by 2015, ironically the same year the UN Millennium Development Goals initiative is set to assess its progress thus far.
Statistics in Pakistan show that access to education is in direct correlation with their climbing poverty rates. Over 70% of upper and middle class men and women have completed secondary school, in contrast to only 16% of boys and less than 5% of girls in the poorest sector.
In terms of improvements to its education system, Pakistan has seen fairly slow progress. The most recent surveys show that 5.5 million Pakistani children were out of school last year and that number is growing. On the Educational Development Index, it ranks 113 out of 120 countries.
This is in part due to the small amount of money designated towards education by the government, which was as low as 10% of the total budget in 2010. Social programs such as BISP are, however, starting to receive vast funds and government support in an effort to reverse this trend and emphasize education as a national priority.
Other common grievances expect to be positively addressed through BISP, such as gender oppression which is also noted in the Millennium Development Goals. As a strategic choice, the monthly allowances are only handed out to women, thereby empowering their position as heads of house and in charge of family financial decisions. The higher the household cash flow, the lower the amount of girls who will be pulled out of school or pushed into early marriages as well.
One recipient in rural Hyderabad, Noor Bhari, praises BISP for the resources it has provided for her family, as well as the family of her daughter-in-law, Sakina, who also relies upon the government allowance. Together they live in a crowded house with 11 children while Bhari’s husband looks for work as a field laborer.
Bhari says, “The BISP card prevents us from going days without food. We manage to get the basic necessities and feed the children.”
Sources: GOV.UK: Reaching the Poorest through Cash Transfers, GOV.UK: Education Brings Hope for Children, UNESCO, The Express Tribune: 5 Million Children Out of School, The Express Tribune: New Look Anti-Poverty Scheme to Undergo Restructuring
Photo: MSNBC Media