Our recent Human Capital Review highlights that quality education for all children in Pakistan will require a different approach and substantial financial efforts, estimated to be 5.4 percent of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP).
Low public spending on education, combined with limited effectiveness at producing positive student outcomes, such as universal school enrollments and effective learning, limits Pakistan’s citizens from more actively participating in economic and social activities and contributing to productivity and economic growth. The challenges –notably the large number of out-of-school children and high learning poverty–seem complex the costs of addressing them unsurmountable. Nevertheless, there are actions Pakistan can take to change this trajectory.
Pakistan’s education sector faces critical challenges, which are believed to have been deepened by COVID-19 and the 2022 Floods. These catastrophes have only added to the world’s second-highest population of out-of-school children, which was at 20.3 million before them. Even before the pandemic, Pakistan had 75% Learning Poverty, which means that prior to the floods it started with already a very high percentage of 10-year-olds that cannot read and understand a simple age-appropriate text. The most vulnerable are disproportionately affected by the sector’s challenges. For example, learning poverty is highest for the poorest, and the most impoverished children – mainly in rural areas – are more likely to be out of school.
A different approach would require using available information to better target education programs in order to maximize the impact of limited resources.
For example, conversations and analyses tend to group all out-of-school children into a single category. This severely limits the effectiveness of policy actions to reduce out-of-school children. Understanding the different characteristics of out-of-school children will help, and here are some of them:
- The majority are girls. Before the pandemic, 37 percent of girls and 27 percent of boys aged 5–16 were not in school.
- They are more likely to live in rural areas. About 35 percent—or 15 million– rural children aged 5 to 16 were out of school, compared with 20 percent –or 4.4 million–of urban children. This gap has remained constant over the past two decades.
- They tend to be older. More children are out after primary school. During the 2018/19 school year, 40 percent of secondary school-age children were out of school (40 compared to 25 percent of middle school-age children and 23 percent of primary school–age children.
- The number and share of out-of-school children drastically differs across provinces. About 53 percent of all out-of-school children live in Punjab and 23 percent in Sindh. That is almost 14 million. However, Balochistan and Sindh show the country’s highest provincial rates of out-of-school children.
A different approach not only targets out-of-school children more effectively, but also calls for a relentless focus on learning in everything the education sector does. The statistics in Pakistan are telling: 65 percent of students still need to achieve a minimum proficiency level in reading by the end of primary education (Learning Poverty Brief).
There are several barriers to learning. Research points to outdated teaching practices, lack of quality and availability of pedagogical material, difficulty transitioning from languages spoken at home to the language used in schools, and teacher shortages. In addition, poverty, undernutrition, lack of school readiness, and distance to school make learning more challenging for students.
A different approach and implementing programs for impact would require at least three elements. First, it requires policies and solutions tailored to the characteristics of distinct groups of out-of-school children to maximize impact. For example, bringing children who are in the 13-16 age range and who have never been in school to regular school does not answer their needs. Alternatively, providing these children with literacy, numeracy, and life skills would support their needs in life.
Second, it requires focusing on what works. There is plenty of evidence from Pakistan and elsewhere that highlight the policy options and programs that are the most cost-effective to increase enrollment and learning, but prioritizing which ones to implement is critical. Third, it will require increasing the efficiency and level of public expenditure, this can be achieved by targeting funding every year to where education outcomes are the lowest.
There are several tested and impactful approaches that Pakistan has used successfully and that can deliver results at a reasonable cost. These can be scaled to expand educational services for children in Pakistan.
A few examples here can have a real impact. First, public-private partnerships have worked in Punjab. They can be expanded to cover more children in other levels of the system, particularly middle school, but be better regulated. Second, public and community schools can be revamped and improved, ensuring teachers are present – including consideration of double shifts when appropriate in the public sector. Third, multigrade classrooms should take true multigrade approaches in terms of funding, planning, and pedagogical execution. Making multigrade more effective is necessary to make rural education affordable and impactful. Several countries have done it successfully, including Pakistan, in the past.
Finally, the Human Capital Review provides a back-of-the-envelope estimate of how much Pakistan would require to keep all children in school – with gains in quality: 5.4 percent of GDP. This is assuming increases in efficiency in the public sector of 20 percent, for example, by using more targeted programs, investing in cost-efficient programs, and minimizing the use of high-cost, low-impact programs such as laptop distribution with no underlying pedagogical strategy.
An increase in expenditure is necessary from the low base of 2.5 percent of GDP Pakistan currently spends on education. Expanding levels of education should go in parallel with a serious effort to increase the efficiency of public expenditure in access, quality, and equity. Just bringing children to school is not enough. They must learn the skills to contribute to their own lives, families, communities, and country.
Source : World Bank