April 9th, 2021
By Rehan Piracha
A campaign has been launched to call for greater investment in education to stem drop out of a further one million children from schools amid the COVID pandemic in the country.
Pakistan no longer has the luxury to focus on bringing the colossal pre-pandemic figure of 22.8 million out-of-school children into schools but must now actively strategize to prevent a roll-back on important gains made vis-à-vis education, especially girls’ access to education in the last decade, said Areebah Shahid, Executive Director, Pakistan Youth Change Advocates (PYCA) at the launch of the
“Inaction can result in millions of more Pakistani children dropping-out of schools,” she said. The virtual event was aimed at garnering support of key influencers from all walks of life to ensure that education and the future of over 80 million Pakistani children does not take a backseat during COVID.
Sharing findings and recommendations of a white paper by PYCA on Public Investment in Education: Covid 19 and other Past Emergencies, Asim Bashir Khan, author of the white paper and an economist and public financial management expert, told participants that irrespective of emergencies and natural calamities, the federal and provincial governments are regularly curtailing development spending on education in their annual budgets.
“Cuts in education budgets and more specifically within the education development expenditure are a routine practice and have little to do with the fall-out of emergency situations such as the on-going pandemic,” he added.
To elaborate this point, he stated that the most recent budget (fiscal year 2020-21), for instance, seems to be a continuation of past trends rather than a result of the fall-out of the COVID emergency. Except Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, the non-development expenditures, as usual, saw an increase in all the provinces and at the federal level. In the same realm, while Khyber Pakhtunkhwa was unparalleled in terms of its planned increase in the education development portfolio, which it enhanced by 46.2 per cent; Sindh and the federal government introduced meager increases of 7.7 per cent and 1.4 per cent in education development respectively.
However, Khan said, there is little justification for this meagre spending on education development after the government itself claimed that the economy was recovering from the impact of the pandemic. An early and sustained path to economic recovery coupled with international monetary support in turn means that the state does, in fact, have the fiscal space to prioritize development spending on education and other social sector subjects, he added.
Khan said that an estimated investment of Rs 12 trillion will be needed to educate all of the 22.8 million out-of-school children in the next 10 years. The government has spent about Rs 6.5 trillion on education in the last ten years, he said. Pakistan has to at least double spending on education by 2030 in order to come out of this state of emergency, he said. He recommended that the federal and provincial governments introduce needs-based budgeting, broaden tax net, allocate certain portions of GST to education development, and establish education dashboards for budgeting. He also called upon the government to direct banks to provide soft loans to parents whose income has been affected by the pandemic to meet expenditure of their children’s education.