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Rethinking policy

The 2018-2019 Economic Survey of Pakistan indicates that Pakistan has apportioned only 2.4 percent of its GDP to education sector; lowest in the entire region.

Previously, during 2016-2017, only 2.2 percent of the GDP was assigned to this sector. Contrary to this minor increase of 0.2 percent, public expenditure in the education sector increased to 18.6 percent during 2016-2017 and 2017-2018. Pakistan is lagging in education and has showed little progress on human development indicators (HDI).

In Pakistan, during 2017-2018, the literacy rate accelerated on a snail’s pace to 62.7 percent as compared to 60.7 percent (2017-2018). An increase in literacy rate is recorded in both men and women. In men, an increase of 0.9 percent was recorded – from 71.6 to 72.5 percent. In women, a 2.2 percent increase was recorded – from 49.6 percent to 51.8 percent.

One of the major reasons for this low literacy rate is the transfer rate of students from the lower to the middle level, and then onward promotion to upper level classes. In order to tackle the drop-out ratio and increase the transfer rate, the government needs to reframe the policy where underperformers are pulled up.

The government should appoint counsellors or tutors or, based on performance, a current staff member may be assigned additional responsibility with added pay incentive to provide extra support to the weaker students, and to pull-up these underperformers making them fit for promotion to higher classes.

In the US, in order to deal with underperformers in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) subjects, the SAGA Innovations programme was initiated. In this programme, tutors were hired and placed in schools in Chicago and Lawrence. During this programme, additional classes of STEM subjects were arranged for weak students, and they were bound to solve additional exercises.

The programme was impactful to the extent that not only did the performance of students improve but the overall ranking of the schools also jumped up, with the schools finishing among the top seven percent best-performing-schools in Massachusetts.

The government needs to adopt a more pragmatic approach considering a promotion-based financial support fund for parents. The parents of students who are promoted to the next class should be provided with a monetary incentive, encouraging them to send their children to school and monitor their academic progress. In this way, the transfer and enrolment ratio will go up positively.

A similar strategy was adopted by policy scientists in the US, EU and France in order to increase the enrolment ratio of migrants and Hispanics. Embracing this progressive agenda proved vital for the upheaval of the economy at the time of the Great Depression as more skilled workers were added to boost the economy of the US.

The urban-rural divide and the poverty gap is pushing parents to keep their children stay away from school. Poverty-stricken families are finding it hard to fulfil routine dietary requirements. This factor transcends to their children, and as the burden of choice between feeding children and sending them to school is put on the parents the decision outright goes in favour of feeding children first.

A free lunch programme for school children, such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and the National School Lunch Program (NSLP) were introduced in the US. In these programmes, free food was tied-up with attendance, and about 13 million children were covered. The government, here in Pakistan, needs to launch such programmes. However, it will have to adopt a strict approach to monitor and stop incidents of ‘lunch shaming’ where school authorities openly defame and taunt children for being hungry and asking for free food.

Another important aspect is to build the technical abilities of the students. Schools and colleges should teach a technical subject in addition to traditional course work. In this way, skilled workers will float in the job market, covering the labour deficiency. Pakistan is likely to face economic dislocation if labour force deficiency is not proactively handled before projects related to CPEC.

A consolidated effort is required to pull-up these underperformers by providing tutor support, financial leverage to those parents who are sending their children to school, and to deal with the poverty crunch by building the skills-base of the students. Once back on track, the potential of these underperformers could be utilized to make them count in the progressive economic growth of Pakistan and of the entire region.

Farid Ullah Khan, "Rethinking policy," The News. 2020-01-08.
Keywords: Education policy , Labor deficiency , Academic progress , Financial support , Human development , Economic survey , Education sector , Literacy rate , Economic dislocation , STEM , NSLP , CPEC