The General’s Report Card: Education under Musharraf

11 Jun

Investment in education in developing countries has been shown to produce a variety of desirable outcomes, including a reduction in child mortality, lower fertility rates, and lower gender inequality. Funding for education, however, suffers deeply, especially in South Asia.

Given that education is a broad topic, I have split the analysis into three non-exclusive parts: funding for education, literacy, and primary education.

For the analysis, I rely on data from three sources: Statistics Division of the Government of Pakistan (Federal Bureau of Statistics), Ministry of Economic Affairs and Statistics, Government of Pakistan, and Institute of Statistics at UNESCO (World Bank, UNDP use its data). Data from the sources sometimes conflict and in a small set of cases are wildly different.

Funding for Education

While the exact figures differ (details below), all available data show that between 1999 and 2006, Pakistan spent on average less than 2.5% of its GDP on education versus 3.6% by other countries in South Asia and 3.4% spent by other “low-income countries.”

Over Musharraf’s tenure, expenditure on education rose slightly, from 1.84% of GDP in 2000 to 2.25% in 2005 to 2.59% in 2006. Expenditure on education (as the percentage of GDP) under Musharraf, however, still compares poorly not only cross-nationally but also historically. Average expenditure on education stood at 2.7% plus during Bhutto’s second term, between 1993 and 1996. Musharraf’s regime, however, did do better than Sharif’s regime during which expenditure plummeted to below 2% of GDP. Cross-nationally, Pakistan compared poorly to its South Asian neighbors (about a percentage below India and generally below Bangladesh) and lagged significantly behind many other countries, including Iran and United States.

Education expenditure measured as the percentage of government expenditure rose appreciably between 2004 and 2005 from about 6.4% to nearly 10.5%. However in 2006, when the expenditure rose again to 12.5%, it was about six percentage points behind Iranian expenditure, a narrower gap than the 12 points wide chasm in 2005. Musharraf government’s spending on education averaged 4% behind Bangladesh’s expenditure, which remained steady between 14 and 15% points from 1999 to 2005.

Education expenditure is by no means uniform across the country, and aggregate statistics hide much of the regional and within-region variation. Expenditure on education in Pakistan is the prerogative of the provincial government. The Punjab government which swam in money during the Sharif era and allocated up to 31% of its budget on education, spent a declining proportion on education under Musharraf. Reflecting American money and priorities, investment in education by Balochistan’s provincial government went up post 9/11. Most budgetary allocation to education was spent on furnishing recurring expenses, and only a small proportion (less than 8%) on development (Husain, etc., 2003).

Adult Literacy Rate

Increases in literacy have been a major success of the Musharraf era. The overall literacy rate (10 years & above) was 54% in 2005–06, an increase of 9 percentage points over five years. (The more conventionally reported 15+ year literacy rate is slightly lower at around 50%. The increase in that statistic is unknown.)

The literacy rate for non-poor went up from 51% in 2001 to 59% in 2005 whereas for the poor it improved from 30% to 40% in the same period. The gender gap, however, remained significant and persistent—a 26% gap between male and female literacy in 2001–2002 versus a 23% gap in 2005–2006. As always, regional literacy rates varied widely. The female literacy rate in Balochistan was a shocking 15% in 2001–2002 and only rose to 20% by the end of 2005–2006. NWFP fared slightly better, increasing by 10 percent from the abysmal 20% rate in 2001–2002. The literacy rates compare quite badly with countries like Iran where the corresponding figure is 82% for men and 76% for women. India’s literacy rates were at least 10% higher, and the growth in literacy rates (after accounting for differential starting points) was more impressive. The Musharraf era growth in literacy rates, however, compares favorably historically within Pakistan.

Primary Education

Only 60% of primary-age children in Pakistan attend school, a much lower rate compared to neighboring countries. Moreover, the gender gap is large. There are only 56 girls to every 100 boys enrolled in primary education.

Average new enrollment in primary schools was about 3.42 million in 2000 and 5.04 million in 2005–2006. Growth in primary education enrollment, after accounting for population growth, stands at about 1.4 times. However, the situation remains stark. Out of the 20 million children between five and nine years of age, only about half of them are currently enrolled in primary school. And girls make up much less than half of that number, according to the figures.

Nearly 80% of the students who enroll in primary school ever reach Middle School and only about half of the students who reach Middle School go to High School. This attrition rate has remained about constant under Musharraf.