Education Reforms in Indian Union Budget 2017-2018: What Pakistan Can Learn From Them?
On 1st February 2017, Indian Finance Minister Aryan Jaitley presented the Unionist Budget of India for the year 2017-2018. The very next day, newspapers in Pakistan were brimming with the news of 10 percent hikes in Indian defense budget, allocating INR 2.74 trillion against INR 2.58 it had allocated for last fiscal year. While the arms race between two arch-rivals intensified in 2016 following the Uri-attack, it was expected that mounting political impasse, diplomatic tensions, and border clashes would further raise the defense share in the proceeding annuals budgets of both countries. Now with India’s rise in the defense budget, Pakistan will fear more security challenges from the neighbor, thus bounding it to further augment its defense budget to cater the needs of the growing armed forces. However, there are other features of Indian budget as well that got shrouded by defense budget hikes but demands serious attention of Pakistan’s policy experts. And when I said ‘serious attention,’ I didn’t mean in the sense of inept competition rather for the good emulation of Indian policies that might prove beneficial for Pakistan as well.
The opinion on the India Unionist Budget 2017-2018 seems to be divided on whether the government has indeed managed to make good for the big pain endured by the country over the demonetarization policy since November 2106. However, the budget has been unanimously cheered for its fiscal reforms in the fields of education, youth empowerment, and employment opportunities. Jaitley took immense pride while declaring that government will take revolutionary steps this year to boost the quality of education in the interiors of the country and make the youth employable. From focusing on learning assessment in schools and revamping higher education regulator University Grants Commission (UGC) to allow more autonomy for setting up of a national testing agency to conduct higher education entrance exams and freeing nodal education bodies from tedious administrative work, Jaitley touched the sensitive points in the country’s ever expanding education sector. Furthermore, he devised a new system of measuring annual learning outcome in the schools. The primary emphasis through this scheme is to improvise flexible curriculum in different setup and to promote science education and creativity through innovative local content. Moreover, Jaitley plans to foster Secondary Education by the creation of an Innovation Fund that will encourage local innovation for ensuring universal access, gender parity, and quality improvement. This will include Information and Communication Technology (ICT)-enabled learning transformation programs in 3,479 educationally backward blocks in the country.
Last but not the least, the real consummate adroitness of Jaitley can be assessed from his plan to leverage information technology by launching SWAYAM platform with at least 350 online courses. SWAYAM is an indigenous developed Information Technology (IT) platform that facilitates hosting of all the courses, taught in classrooms from 9th class till post-graduation to be accessed by anyone, anywhere at any time. All the courses are interactive, prepared by the best teachers in the country and are available, free of cost to the residents in India. The aim is to enable students to attend the courses taught by the expert faculty virtually; acquaint with the high-quality reading resources available; participate in discussion forums; take tests and earn academic grades. These online courses will not only familiarize the youth with the necessary technological knowledge required for further education but will also enhance their prowess professionally, engendering the young people to create opportunities of self-employment in current tide of unemployment in the country. Overall, the latest budget has pegged an outlay of Rs79, 685.95 crores for the education sector for the financial year 2017-18, up from Rs72, 394 crores in 2016-17 indicating a 9.9% rise. Of this total outlay, Rs4635625 has been designated for the school sector and the rest of higher education.
This is not the first time Indian government has put painstaking efforts to make their education sector grow. Despite managing to increase allocation, education sector budget remains far from 6% of the GDP, which is desired by the education sector. Therefore, the government has added flamboyancy in the budget by giving education sector the share and reverence it deserved.
On the contrary, defense and infrastructure in Pakistan annual budgets have always acted as ravening beasts gulping the share of education every time. The latest budget of 2016-2017 was the first time in Pakistan’s history when the education budget was increased 11% than the preceding year budget. The government of Pakistan has earmarked PKR 84.19 billion for Education Affairs and Services in the federal budget for 2016-17 against PKR 75.57 billion it had allocated for last fiscal year, showing an increase of 11 percent. According to the budget documents, PKR 79.5 billion has also been earmarked for Higher Education Commission (HEC) including PKR 21.5 billion under the Public Sector Development Program (PSDP) and PKR 58 billion on account of current expenditure, showing an increase of 13 percent as compared to PKR 51 billion earmarked for 2015-16. This step has been lauded by policy analysts who previously reprimanded the education reforms for being side-stepped by all governments. However, there is still a dire need to expand educational reforms on next level, to entrench the roots of currently half-thriving education sector in the country. The public universities of Pakistan have consistently failed to mark good standing in the World University Rankings and those which managed to appear in the last rows are mostly in a bad condition. With PKR 79.5 million allocated for Higher Education, it should be spent on making new public universities in relatively smaller cities of the country. Furthermore, the government should plan each year to work in at least five public universities and colleges to reach the level to meet international standards.
Apart from this, there is a drastic need to foster scientific research and impart information technology (IT) education at the post-secondary level. When the Indian Prime Minister Modi was standing among the CEOs of tech majors in Silicon Valley to boast about the Digital India initiative, Pakistanis were feeling proud of their seventeen stories tall Arfa Karim IT Tower, standing on the busiest road of Lahore, their single most proof of the nascent IT industry of Pakistan. There is a need to build many such towers comprising of Software houses and IT universities in different cities of the country. Also, the government should plan to introduce Information and Communication Technology-enabled learning as an important strategy to make learning engaging for students across all public schools. With this integration of the use of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) into schools’ curriculum, children competencies for learning will develop according to the needs of technological era of the 21st Century.
Furthermore, the Indian initiative of accommodating students to savor free online courses facility via SWAYAM platform is the perfect epitome to follow. Pakistan government should also work to initialize such initiative providing free education certificates in the field of IT, Space and Astrophysics, Aeronautical Engineering, Computer Science and others. Moreover, to enhance the entrepreneurship skills in the youth, the government should also introduce training programs on leadership, business management etc. This will not only help to quench the thirst of education seekers but will also acquaint them with necessary skills required to nurture professional and entrepreneurship skills.
This brings us to the question that why educational reforms are needed in Pakistan? Why there is a need to curtail some portion of the defense budget and spend it on to education sector?
The answers are very straightforward ones. Improving education is imperative for growth and any effort to retrench education reforms will plummet the growth rate of the country. According to The World Bank Report on Education and Economic Growth, it has been stated that each additional year of education increase wages by an average of 10%. Also, an extra year of attending school can raise a country’s GDP on average by 0.5% annually. It is an ineluctable reality that an educated populace catalyzes economic growth through multiple channels. Only with a critical mass of adequately trained engineers, plumbers and electricians can help Pakistan successfully build its infrastructure. More educated citizens also mean better governance and improved health outcomes.
Pakistan’s educational report card shows ample room for improvement. The World Economic Forum’s Human Capital Index, which takes into account educational quality in addition to access, ranked Pakistan 118 out of 130 countries. The latest United Nations Human Development Report states the adult literacy rate (those 15 and over) of Pakistan as touching 55% with normal years of schooling just below eight years. The overall literacy rate of the country is 58% that is way behind the Millennium Development Goals (MDG) target of 88%, which was to be achieved by the end of 2015. Furthermore, despite an increase in the 2016-17 education budget Pakistan’s current expenditure on education is the lowest in South Asia. The country spends only 2.2% of its GDP on education, the lowest among all South Asian countries.
So, Pakistan Finance Department should realize that even if they plan to hike its 2017-2018 defense budget by 15% that will be a minuscule number as compared to India’s hikes as its 10% increase in the defense budget would require a 60% percent hike to compete on the same level. So why indulging in already lost competition? Why not investing somewhere that will surely bear fruits if not instantly but definitely in long-run. Investing in the defense budget is not wrong unless it’s not done at the cost of some other sector. Education reforms should be given a significant share of upcoming budget with the plan to accrete the proportion of every proceeding budget. While there is no precise recipe for achieving long-term growth, we do know that high-quality education is a core driver. The education reforms in Pakistan is a long Marathon, and the only way to reach the finish line is by sprinting through it.