Education, Development, and Change
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Sunday, July 4, 2010

Development Indexes

By Dr Shahid Siddiqui
Dawn, Monday, 05 Jul, 2010

HUMAN development is a significant component of the notion of development. Development that does not enhance the quality of individuals’ lives is incomplete in its essence.

Renowned Indian economist Amartya Sen links the idea of development to freedoms. It is this human and social development that prepares the human capital which is vital for any society. The concept of human development underlines the areas of education and health. Highly developed countries have effective systems of education and health since they realise their significance. In Pakistan, however, we observe a narrow view of development as every government makes claims about economic development but completely ignores the areas of education and health.

Since its birth, Pakistan has faced challenges in the education and health sectors, which it has not been able to overcome. At the governmental level there is merely lip service and no serious effort is made to bring about positive changes in people’s lives. Education, which is considered to have a close link and positive correlation with development, is dealt with in a casual manner. A number of policies in this regard were announced by different governments but they were not supported by the political will of the state. There were no effective inbuilt monitoring systems or accountability mechanisms. The result was that some heavily funded educational projects could not materialise.

The seriousness with which the state regards this issue can be gauged by the fact that Pakistan’s allocation for education is the lowest in the region. The most recent allocation for education in Pakistan is 2.1 per cent of the GDP, which is less than Bangladesh (2.6 per cent), India (3.3) Iran (4.4), Nepal (3.2), Thailand (4.5), Malaysia (4.7) and Indonesia (3.3). This low allocation for education has resulted in Pakistan having the lowest literacy percentage in the region. The country’s current literacy rate is 57 per cent as compared to Sri Lanka (90 per cent), Malaysia (92.1), China (93.7), Vietnam (92.5) and Nepal (57.9). This low literacy rate contains further problems of rural/urban and male/female discrimination. In Pakistan, the male literacy rate is 69 per cent while that of females is only 45 per cent. The Gender Parity Index (GPI) is 0.64, which shows a sizeable gender gap. Similarly, there is a wide difference between the urban and rural areas of the country.

A number of schools remain in a miserable condition. According to statistics provided by the Economic Survey of Pakistan, “37.7 per cent schools up to elementary level are without boundary wall, 33.9 per cent without water facility, 37 per cent without latrines and around 60 per cent are without electricity.” This pathetic situation reflects the low priority our governments have assigned to social development in Pakistan.

It is shocking to note that while other countries have been increasing budgetary allocations for education, in Pakistan we see a decline. In 2006-07 the allocation for education as a percentage of GDP was 2.5 per cent. It dropped in 2007-08 to 2.47 per cent, to 2.1 per cent in 2008-09 and two per cent in 2009-10. This is a highly disturbing trend. Yet even this low allocation is seldom fully utilised, mostly because of complex bureaucratic procedures and the lack of organisational capacity. Similarly, there is always scepticism about the appropriate use of funds.

Health is another important aspect of human development. Like education, it is a much-ignored area in Pakistan. Instead of a rise in the allocation for the health sector, we see a decline during the past three years. In 2007-08 the health expenditure as a percentage of the GDP was 0.57. In 2008-09 it dropped to 0.56 and in 2009-10 fell even further to 0.54. Such a meagre amount being allocated for the important area of health is simply appalling.

Some of the health indicators speak for themselves. In Pakistan, for example, the life expectancy rate is 66.5 per cent, the infant mortality rate per 1,000 is 65.1 per cent and the mortality rate for children under the age of five per 1,000 is 95.2 per cent. These problems are likely to be further aggravated by the high rate of population growth in the country. In 2009, the annual percentage population growth in Pakistan was 2.1, higher than any other country in the region: India 1.55, Sri Lanka 0.94, Bangladesh 1.29, Nepal 1.28 and China 0.66.

The growing population and low budgetary allocations are perpetuating the miseries of the common people. According to figures quoted in the Economic Survey of Pakistan, in 2009-10 one doctor is available for every 1,183 individuals, one dentist for 16,914 individuals and one hospital bed for 11,592 individuals. Such insufficient healthcare facilities in modern times are simply embarrassing.

This brief review of two important components of human development suggests that the situation in Pakistan is far from satisfactory. There is need to work on these fronts on an emergency basis. We have seen a number of policies, plans and projects fall prey to political interests and bureaucratic formalities. Basic education and health are the fundamental facilities a state is obliged to provide to its citizens. Claims of development remain incomplete and deceptive if there is no improvement in the lives of the people. Such qualitative improvement is closely linked with the quality of education and health indicators.

The writer is a professor and director of the Centre for Humanities and Social Sciences at the Lahore School of Economics and author of Rethinking Education in Pakistan.

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