Article 25-A of the constitution of Pakistan stipulates that the provincial governments provide free and compulsory education to all children between the ages 5-16 years. Pakistan, a country marred by education crisis has allocated a meager budget - only 2% of the GDP - to education. It is hence not surprising that Pakistan failed to achieve the Millennium Development Goal (MDGs) of universal Primary education and gender equality (MDGs 2 and 3). As we now gear up to achieve the more rigorous post 2015 development agenda, particularly SDG 4 and its targets, it is imperative that urgent action be taken in order to make education accessible to all children by investing more financial resources in the education system.
The statistics pertaining to education in Pakistan are of grave concern and indeed reflective of the inadequate spending and ineffective utilization of funds. Pakistan has 25 million children, aged 5-16, out of school, of which 13.7 million (55%) are girls. Net enrollment rate at primary level is a meager 64% with merely 23% girls enrolled at the secondary level. The problem of education in the country is multifaceted with scores of issues contributing to these appalling numbers for example, gender discrimination, inadequate sanitation facilities, lack of access to schools and unqualified teachers.The 2015 Annual Status of Education Report (ASER) data shows that 40% of government primary schools don’t have drinking water, 48% don’t have usable toilets and 37% don’t have boundary walls.
These problems result in low levels of learning and consequently result in low enrollment rates and high dropout rates. As per ASER (2015), 58% of girls between the ages of 5-16 cannot read sentences in Urdu, Pashto or Sindhi and 59% can’t do basic subtraction.
Post the 18th amendment to the constitution of Pakistan, the subject of education has been devolved to the provincial governments. The responsibility of adequate spending on education thus lies with each of the respective provinces to be able to fulfill Pakistan’s national and international commitments to education. In a positive step, most of the provinces have allocated significant amounts of budgets for education. For fiscal year 2016-2017, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) has been the only province that has increased the share of education in its total provincial budget, making it the province with highest education budget allocation for the second consecutive year. Out of the total 505 billion rupees worth of provincial budget, the KP government has earmarked 143 billion PKR for education – 28 percent of the total budget compared with 24.6 percent in fiscal year 2015-16 . Sindh has allocated 20 percent of its total budget (Rs176 billion out of a total of Rs869 billion budget) followed by Punjab with 19 percent budget allocated for education (Rs313 billion out of Rs1,681 billion). The allocations in both these provinces have slightly decreased from the previous year – 20 % in Sindh and 19.8 % in Punjab respectively. In Baluchistan however, the share if education budget has substantially decreased. After six consecutive years of increasing the education budget from 10 percent in 2010-11 to 20 percent in 2015-16, the government drastically slashed the allocation to 17 percent (Rs49 billion out of Rs289 billion) in 2016-17.
Budget for Education Development-Provincial Trends
Typically, the portion of the education budget set aside for development projects is low across all provinces of Pakistan; however Punjab has taken a step in the right direction by increasing its development budget significantly from 15.3 percent of the education budget to 20.1 percent this year, the major development initiatives including provisions of missing facilities, reconstruction of dangerous school buildings as well as provisions of IT labs and information communication technologies. Following Punjab’s lead is KP with 17 percent share of the development budget despite a 1.3 percent decrease from last year. Sindh has seen an increase in the development budget from 8.8 percent last year to 10 percent in fiscal year 2016-17. Baluchistan again lags behind with a considerable decrease in development budget from 20.7 percent last year to 13 percent in the current year . Even more problematic than a low development budget however is the lack of utilization of this budget. The expenditure of development budget across provinces has remained low in the previous years. For example in fiscal year 2014-2015, the expenditure for all provinces was low, Punjab having the lowest expensed development budget of only 46 percent.
The recurrent education budget entails the budget allocated for ongoing expenses that occur on a daily basis. Also called the operational budget, this budget includes two types of expenses, i.e. salary and non salary (utilities, taxes e.t.c) . In Pakistan, all provinces earmark a major portion of the education budget for recurrent expenses. Amongst the provinces, the highest share of the recurrent budget had been recorded for Sindh, i.e 91%, for the year 2015-2016. Punjab followed with an 85% percent share for the recurrent budget; whereas Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan were recorded to have allocated 81% and 79% respectively in 2015-2016. A similar trend was followed for the current year’s allocations with Sindh allocating as much as 90 percent, followed by Baluchistan with 87 percent, KP with 83 percent, and Punjab apportioning a little under 80 percent recurrent expenses.
Usually it is seen that most of the recurrent budget is allocated for salary expenditure as opposed to non-salary budget. Non-salary disbursements entail operation, maintenance for routine activities of the department and its subordinate offices. At the school level, the non-salary budget includes allocations for items like classroom consumables, repair of furniture and other petty repairs in schools. Sometimes this budget is routed through school based governance platforms such as SMCs, PTAs, PTSMCs and School Councils the terminologies used in various provinces. This may be through School Specific Budgets (Sindh) one time Consolidtion Grants -SMC grants ; Non-Salary Budgets (Sindh) etc.
Keeping in mind the importance of the non-salary budget for operational expenses in schools, the allotted budget for the purpose has been quite low. The trend was similar for non salary budget in 2015-2016 with the highest share, in Sindh i.e. 23% of the recurrent budget; Balochistan followed with a 15% share where as Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa earmarked 14% and 9% respectively of their recurrent budget for non salary expenditure.
It is encouraging to see KP apportion a significant amount of the recurrent budget for non-salary from Rs8 billion in 2015-16 to Rs14 billion in 2016-17 so as to ensure quality education services for students. The spending on all other provinces however is still tilted grossly in the favor of salary expenses. In Baluchistan, the non-salary budget has been reduced by nine percent compared with the previous year, the salary budget constituting 88 percent of the total recurrent budget in the province.
Given the challenges related with lack of infrastructure, maintenance and learning materials in classrooms, in Pakistan especially when it comes to the education system, it is imperative that each of the four provinces allocate a higher percentage of their budgets for development purposes as well as non-salary operational costs.