When the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) government presented its latest budget in Punjab, it was hoped that the ruling party’s experience of governance would lead to prioritisation of the important sectors, of areas that are essential for societal development on myriad levels. However, this was not the case and the PML-N led provincial government, keeping in line with its past policies, reduced the budget allocation for education in Punjab. According to an analysis by the Non Governmental Organisation, Alif Ailaan, the allocation for education in the provincial budget was 26 percent in 2013-14, and it was decreased in subsequent budgets to the current 18.6 percent. Needless to say, this is cause for concern as the education sector is far from the developed level that it should be in the province. In fact, most of the development indicators point towards the abysmal state of education in Pakistan, and there has been an absence of any signs of improvement. In light of all this, it is indeed absurd that the Punjab government decided to decrease the allocation for education rather than increase it.
The PML-N is often blamed on focusing too much on cosmetic appearances by building grandiose road structures. The reduction in the budgetary allocation for education in Punjab reflects this perception, and gives it considerable credence. While it is true that roads and communications infrastructure is essential for economic development, prioritising it at the expense of education can have disastrous consequences. For one, in the absence of qualified human capital, economic development would not be able to take off and all of the investment in road infrastructure would get reduced to an illusory effect that is hiding beneath it an underdeveloped and poverty stricken country. More importantly, illiteracy breeds intolerance and extremism, and as Pakistan is fighting its war against extremism, focus on providing quality education to deprived areas is needed in order to shrink the space for extremists altogether. While it is true that intolerance is a general feature of Pakistani society, which is not just limited to deprived areas, even that cannot be tackled if reforms in the education sector are not brought about that inculcate critical thinking and accepting difference. The issue of education woes does not merely stop at budgetary allocation for education, but it is also important to formulate comprehensive policies over spending of the allocated funds. The analysis by Alif Ailaan pointed out that out of the Rs 32.8 billion for education last year, the Punjab government has only been able to spend Rs 14 billion. This shows that not only is the budget for education decreasing in Punjab, but also the funds allocated are not even being spent wholly. This reflects the vacuum in education policy making in Punjab. Hence, in the absence of meaningful reforms in the education sector that are laid out by a well-formed policy and supported by adequate funds, the abysmal state of education in Pakistan will continue to persist. And in order to fix this, the Punjab government needs to realise the importance of giving education its due share in the provincial budget.