In its series on Education Budget 2023, IFE contacted Areeba Shahid, developmental expert and lobbyist for education, to get her initial opinion on the matter. Areeba Shahid is currently leading Pakistan Youth Change Leaders and runs youth led e-magazine, Bolo Jawan, with over 13 years of experience in the development sector, she has spoken and written on various aspects of education, and has presented her briefs at various parliamentary committees to advocate for education prioritization. IFE team is thankful to her for granting us her time to interact on the matter which she thinks is most crucial at this stage.
We are publishing our interaction
Zeeba: Thank you so much for your time. May we begin by learning on how do you view the overall budget tabled by the Federal Ministry for Education this year. Can you please share the constraints and what impact will it have both on federal schools and the Higher Education Institutions?
Ariba Shahid: “Not very surprisingly though, the budget proposal for FY2023-24 is a mixed bag of modest improvements compared to its predecessor.
As far as the education sector is concerned, keeping up with past precedent, the federal budget has once again fallen short on two major accounts:
- The disparity between budgetary allocations between school and tertiary education is glaring and will continue to prevent thousands of children in the federal capital from accessing education.
- The planned public expenditure on education under the federal budget misses the 15 to 20 per cent mark by a huge margin. Even if the provincial budgets are able to meet this obligation, as they have in the past, Pakistan’s overall spending on education as a percentage of its GDP will still remain a far cry from the international standard of 4 to 6 per cent.
As we have seen in almost every budget cycle, budget estimates announced during the initial proposal stage often see several revisions as the year progresses and social sector subjects such as education often see major cuts. For instance, in June 2022, Rs. 135 billion had initially been pledged under the federal education budget. However, this was revised to 91.777 billion marking a mid-year reduction of Rs. 43.223 billion. Given the current economic crisis, it is quite plausible that the already modest allocation of Rs. 97.098 under Education Affairs and Services might experience a further cut.
Despite this gloomy commentary, the increase in allocations under BISP’s Education Stipend Programme is a welcome development. Although the Stipend Programme will support 8 million out of the 25 million OOS children, in the given economic situation, it is still an important step in the right direction to encourage greater enrollment and retention, especially among girls.”
Zeeba: Can you please explain to a layperson on how education budget and education economy works in Pakistan. Why is it that we see poorer quality outcome for all the investments (public or private, or partnership of both) in this sector. What really has caused this deterioration?
Ariba Shahid: “About 6 to 8 months before the announcement of the budget, the schools generate their respective demands and send them to the Federal Directorate of Education (FDE). The Directorate, in turn, collects all the demands and forwards them to the Ministry of Education. The Ministry in turn develops the education budget proposal based on the demands that it has received. The final budget that is presented to the parliament is often far less than the originally requested amount. This is because the Finance Division prioritizes budgetary allocations for every department and ministry under it and the ceiling set for social sector subjects such as education is often among the lowest across all budget heads.”
Zeeba: In terms of recent recommendation made by former Finance Minister Miftah Ismail on replacing public education system with education voucher scheme, does it not actually make sense as we have historically seen that Pakistan remains starved of resources. Question is, will we ever see adequate spending to ensure all out of school children are in classrooms? What solutions do you propose to ensure this?
Ariba Shahid: “Voucher schemes have been used with some degree of success in some parts of the country as alternate mechanisms for education provision in areas where public schools are unavailable. While it should continue to be used in areas where the absence of public schools, especially at the post-primary level is a huge hurdle for students (mainly girls) to access education, however, this cannot be a blanket solution. Replacing the entire public school system with vouchers would suddenly displace a huge population of school-going children and force their parents to mainly turn to low-cost private schools where the quality of education is sometimes even worse than that being offered in public schools.”
Zeeba: As an education financial observer, how do you view the gap between budget allocated for school education and that for Higher Education Commission. Should it not be that HEC gets a higher share than schools, as we see a need funds for maintenance and development?
Ariba Shahid: “Granted that the federal government is responsible for the provision of higher education across the country but that does not in the least relieve it of its responsibilities to provide quality education to children within its jurisdiction. It is this glaring oversight that has made access to education impossible for thousands of children in the federal capital resulting in a 100% increase in the number of out-of-school children in Islamabad during the last five years. Even those, who are attending public schools are subjected to classroom environments that are over-crowded, acutely underfunded and understaffed.”
Zeeba: You have been advocating for education as a basic right, and lobbied with parliamentary committees as well as other political stakeholders. What has your experience with them been like? Do you find them serious about prioritizing education? If so, why do we see such low spending still for this sector?
Ariba Shahid: “Most parliamentarians are generally well-meaning who understand the value of education and are aware of the urgent need for corrective measures. However, with political turmoil almost always on the cards, their ability to respond often remains limited and is consumed mostly by party politics.”
Zeeba: How do you view provincial budgets for education so far? Are we expecting any improvement this budget year?
Ariba Shahid: “I have gone through Sindh’s education budget and it has been a huge disappointment. 95% of the allocated funds are for non-development expenditure and only 5% has been allocated for development expenses. Compared to last year, the education development budget has been slashed by 50%. This is plain depressing and nothing meaningful can be achieved with this budget.”
Zeeba: What, in your view should be the bare minimum reserved for education spending in the budget? How do you come to this assessment?
Ariba Shahid: “International standard demands at least a 4% to 6% of the GDP to be diverted towards education. In Pakistan, for the last 20 years we have allocated 2% or less. Last year, 1.4% of the GDP and this year, 1.7% of the GDP was allocated for education, which is the lowest in the South Asian region. Given Pakistan’s current economic situation and a reduction in the overall GDP, allocating a percentage of the GDP does not seem like a viable solution for now. Some 3 years ago, in partnership with Pakistan Coalition for Education (PCE) we had been part of a study according to which close to Rs. 12 trillion were required to send every child to school by 2030. We need to understand have at least an estimate of the actual funds that we require to meet our country’s educational needs and based on that estimate work for adequate fund-raising, domestically and internationally.”
 Institute of Social and Policy Sciences, Overview of Federal Education Budget 2022-23, Facebook (Institute of Social and Policy Sciences, June 11, 2022), https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=390528686431754&set=pb.100064238763365.-2207520000.&type=3.
 ProPK Staff, “Govt Allocates Just Rs. 97 Billion for Education in Budget 2023-24,” ProPakistani, June 9, 2023, https://propakistani.pk/2023/06/09/govt-allocates-just-rs-97-billion-for-education-in-budget-2023-24/