Only 200 years ago, the difference in economic conditions among those living in different parts
of the world was minimal. It was the industrial revolution with automated means of production
that created imbalances in production levels and economic conditions across the globe.
Countries which were able to adapt to the new technologies during the industrial revolution became richer
compared to the rest of the world. The ability to create and utilise new technologies made all the
difference in economic development.
Among other things, access to quality education and knowledge diffusion made a major
contribution to this technological change in the developed world. Education has played a very
important role in developing economies and improving living standards across the globe.
Improvements in education quality and access, renewed emphasis on technical and vocational
education can contribute to the economic success of any nation.
Pakistan has huge challenges in improving the quality and access to education for its citizens.
The public education system has failed to provide quality education. The literacy rate in Pakistan
(57.7 percent) is one of the lowest in the world (144th country out of 160). Primary enrolment is
only 68.5 percent. A mere 15 percent of 15-16 year-olds are enrolled in secondary education and
enrolment in universities of 18-23 year-olds is only 5.1 percent.
Lack of motivation and absenteeism among teachers, and poor school and district management
also contribute to low qityual-education and the low retention rate. There are no incentives for
better performing schools or any penalties for very poorly performing ones. Politically motivated
teacher appointments have created a shortage of local school teachers in remote areas. Most of
the teachers appointed in the rural areas reside in urban centres and lack motivation to move or
travel to far-flung rural areas.
Pakistan has a huge gap to fill not just in improving its literacy rate which only represents
primary education but also in improving access to secondary, higher, university and vocational
education. With GDP growth peaking at between four and five percent, which is partly due to the
low rate of educated and skilled population in the country, Pakistan lacks the much needed
funding to kickstart education reforms.
Part of the gap can be filled in the short and medium terms with encouraging and subsidising
private education, especially in the urban areas of the country by taking the following steps. The
first and most urgent need is ensuring the primary enrolment rate goes up to 100 percent.
The provincial governments need to identify non-enrolled primary age children and enforce
Article 25-A for each 5-16 year-old child. Computerisation of birth certificates and enrolment
with birth certificate numbers can help in this identification and enforcement exercise.
Similarly, the government needs to set up strong independent provincial education regulators
with representatives in all districts. The regulator should assess the quality of education of each
private and public school against standard national attainment levels. The intervention through
the private sector will give the government time to introduce much-needed education reforms in
Public-sector education is vital for the long-term education needs of the country. It needs to be
reformed to meet the economic challenges and opportunities presented by globalisation and
increasing international and regional competition. Knowledge and skill diffusion can contribute
towards reducing inequalities.
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