No surprises though
Pakistan has been making all sorts of worrying headlines for some time now. From terrorism, militancy and insurgency to polio, water shortage and hurdles in doing business; statistics point at Pakistan steadily declining on all sorts of important indicators. In this backdrop, the Pakistan Social and Living Standards Measurement Survey (PSLM), conducted by the Federal Bureau of Statistics (FBS), puts the federal and provincial governments in an even more awkward position. The literacy rate, never Pakistan’s strong point, has apparently dropped another two percentage points in the outgoing year.
That is not surprising, really, considering how little attention education gets in the annual budget. Turning things around will require a long and sustained effort, which will need large financial allocation with proper monitoring and evaluation. Its results will not show immediately. But the government’s priority list comprises more near-term measures. It is far more willing to spend on mega projects whose glitter and glamour is easier to appreciate. That is why motorways and power plants get a quick go-ahead from the finance ministry, but more pressing problems, just like education, are not addressed. Reportedly, similar reasons have led to the financial freeze on the National Action Plan (NAP), which is why it never got off the ground.
There is more bad news. It’s not just education that has suffered. Health has dropped just about the same percentage points over the last year. However, some of the report’s reasons for these problems seem a little overblown. Education, it says, dropped a notch primarily because of flood-related dislocations, etc. While there’s no denying the ravages of the floods, education is a far deeper, and far older, problem. It has never attracted much attention from policy makers and financial lords in Islamabad. It bears noting that these unimpressive numbers come despite very lax measurement standards. Just people who can read and write in one language pass the test, which means there is a lot more trouble beneath the surface. This is one reason, among others, that most in the periphery and many in the centre are forced to send their children to madrassas, which has its own spillover. We could never learn from countries like Malaysia, which were able to turn around so strongly because they first invested in education, and subsequently had a large and wide human resource base to rely on. The government must tackle both education and health on war footing. Nothing less will do.