Making education work: The governance conundrum

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Globally, 123 million youth (aged 15 to 24) lack basic reading and writing skills; 61 percent of them are young women. Photo: UNDP/Pakistan

Pakistan is one of the few countries that spend just around two percent of their gross domestic product (GDP) on education. The actual development expenditure on education is another problem- on average, 82 percent of allocated funds are used on non-developmental items.

In Pakistan, as in most developing countries, the impact of education investments is usually discussed in very simplistic terms. The measure of performance and the subsequent outcomes are seldom questioned.

Good governance—setting up performance benchmarks, systems of monitoring and accountability, and budgeting and distribution formulae can considerably improve institutional effectiveness and results in the education system.

Tracking expenditure and ensuring responsible spending are essential. So is the process through which budgets are prepared and distributed across different geographic areas. Is there a formula that accounts for education poverty? That guides resource allocation to different districts?

An example from district Dera Bugti illustrates the severity of education inequality across the country. The district’s net enrolment ratio stands at 12 percent, survival rate and literacy rate are 9 percent and 16 percent, respectively. The highest corresponding figures in the country are of Islamabad, which are 76 percent and 89 percent.

There are also gender-based disparities. The gender parity index for primary education in Pakistan is 0.9 as compared to 1.02 for Nepal and Bangladesh, 0.98 for India and 0.99 for Sri Lanka. A structural mechanism to distribute resources to different districts based on a multi-dimensional poverty index would help address such inequalities, which are otherwise destined to rise.

Good governance in education promotes effective service delivery. There is an urgent need for a sound performance measurement system that goes beyond measuring simplistic factors such as the use of funds, enrolment and students’ examination results. Such a system could use a set of key performance indicators for various tiers within the education system.

Countries like Colombia and Mexico have introduced online ‘dashboard’ systems that provide real-time information and updates. Senior political officers use them to assess the effectiveness of implementation strategies.

The Government of Punjab has also established such a system for the Punjab Education Sector Reforms Programme. The Ministry of Planning, Development and Reform is considering a similar mechanism for its Vision 2025 and next five-year plan. A sound performance management system could instil a culture of accountability.

Pakistan would do well to learn from the experiences of other countries and invest in its statistical systems to provide timely data and analysis for informed decision making in education.

Lastly, the political context of education plays a crucial role in determining whether any plans or strategies can or will be implemented. Indeed, some of the most innovative education interventions in the world stemmed from the special interest of the political elite. Sustainable improvement in education will remain a distant dream unless the people demand, and the politicians deliver. 

A full version of this blog was originally published here.