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Can fat education budgets improve our system?

Asim Siddiqui

We often get to hear that the government is not spending enough on education sector. Experts point out that the government should spend about 4% of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) on the education sector to resolve the existing problems.

Currently, Pakistan spends about 2% of its GDP on education (which is close to Rs. 633 billion or $6 billion of its $304 billion economy).

However, the increase in education budget is not a magic potion. Even if Pakistan starts allocating the desired amount of money, as it is trying to do, our core problems will still remain intact. Why would that be? The answer being the rampant corruption in the system.

Higher allocations in budgets do not necessarily mean actual spending or investing in the right solutions. Pakistan needs much more than just that – more money and finding out workable solutions to elevate low education standards.

It is true that Pakistan’s neighbors are gradually going ahead in terms of their education budgets. Among the regional countries,

India spends around 3.2% of its GDP on education, Iran 3.7%, while Nepal and Maldives spend around 4.7% and 7% respectively.

A news story from The Express Tribune stated, ‘[W]ith a huge increase in allocation for education, things look good for literacy in Sindh.’ It, therefore, seems as if a mere allocation for public utilities, such as health and education, in the budget alone suffices for a celebration for this grief-stricken, down-trodden, and broken-hearted nation.

According to the statistics, Sindh government reserved Rs. 111 billion (over $1 billion) for education in the budget for the year 2012-2013. Five years later, in the present year, it has almost doubled to a whopping Rs. 202 billion (close to $2 billion). Yet, has

any positive change been witnessed in the education sector in recent years? We should ask this question in the case of other provinces, too.

Nevertheless, The next question is: where does all the money go?

Dr. Pervez Hoodbhoy, a retired professor from Quaid-e-Azam University Islamabad and a renowned public intellectual, repeatedly says “spending more money will not help create a more peaceful country. Only a change in the content of education can move us in that direction.”

The blood of corruption flowing in the veins of education sector has remained unchecked for numerous reasons. Firstly, the elite bureaucracy responsible for shackling the monster of corruption turns a blind eye towards issues relating to education because, luckily enough for them, they are as good a deal unrelated, and therefore indifferent, to it as their own children.

Secondly, the few who take their responsibilities seriously and exert themselves in this regard do not receive adequate assistance from law-enforcement agencies, because again – corruption.

A common man rejoices over an increased allocation in budget for education, believing that this might brighten his kids’ prospects, and so does a rogue government school administrator for his own. The point I am trying to make here is simple. When the allocation for education gets thicker, the opportunities for more embezzlement materialize.

The aforementioned assumption is evident from the fact that we recognize the dilapidated institutional buildings more as ghost-hunting sites. Corruption did a great service to paranormal television, no?

But in the favour of our national honour, it has been proved as a spigot sucking all fuel from our academic hull; blister in our feet hampering the gait of scholarly venture. Worst appeared when those charged with the responsibility of instilling knowledge and ethics in budding scholars, corrupted themselves, aiding this moral havoc even more.

Is corruption the only problem?

As a nation, I think that we should for once take ourselves through an introspection. For quite long now, we have been conditioned to blame corruption for our own shortcomings, both on a personal and societal level.

Consider, for instance, immorality vacates the face of our motherland and we no longer have the chains of corruption existing to haunt our prospects. Then, where do we stand?

Now, immediately after being held free, we toss our heads here and there and become conscious of the fact that in the absence of any inhibiting force, we lack inspiration to move ahead. As per the words of Mirza Ghalib,

ایماں مجھے روکے ہے تو کھینچے ہے مجھے کفر

کعبہ میرے پیچھے ہے کلیسا میرے آگے

What the great poet hints at here is the paradox between motives pertaining to an individual. This is the very dissonance taking place when a choice is being made. So, to move straight to the point, do we possess that vigour, wisdom or leadership that represents a nation striving in the cause of education? Are we ready to move in a direction after emancipation from the ties of corruption? Does there exist a forward-moving force?

Stop for a second again, and peruse your thoughts upon distinguished and popular figures in the country. You will find everyone from social media sensations to enthralling cricketers and from bewitching film-actors to dedicated politicians. What you would not find in this country is an educational leadership and practical academic leadership.

It is a pity that a nation whose founder was so curious about intellect and education himself and which borrowed its ideology from Allama Iqbal, a voracious advocate of human greatness and civilization, faces a dearth of local intelligentsia.

American author Stephen Covey, who shot to global prominence for his book ‘The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People’, believes that people want golden eggs from the goose but are not willing to feed it. In other words, today minds are not being reared locally to meet the deficit of educational intelligence necessary to transpire as an educational leadership tomorrow. While so, everyone wants a well-professed professional in their home.

As a nation, we must desire for the corruption to end only when we rectify ourselves. What good a corruption-free scenario can do if our girls are deprived of education in the name of early marriage? Are we trying to raise a generation that is able to guide us in the future? If the answer to the above questions is “yes”, then only we merit complaining about corruption.