Combating poverty through skill-based education

There are several factors contributing to poverty in Pakistan but I will focus on the need for human development through skill-based education. Although it is very difficult to quantify the impact of education on GDP or other economic aggregates but there is a clear relationship between poverty and education. Educated people can earn more and are less likely to be marginalised in society. 

Currently, Pakistan is facing challenges on multiple fronts and one of the biggest challenges affecting the large proportions of the population is poverty. According to economic survey of Pakistan in 2008-2009, 36 per cent people in Pakistan lived below the poverty line. Any person who earns less than $1 per day is said to be below the poverty line. 

The lack of human development, among the other factors, is a major cause for the protracted poverty in rural and urban areas. Low literacy rate and skill level are the inherent problems with employment in Pakistan. The literacy rate in Pakistan in roughly 55 per cent with 43 per cent females and 68 per cent males considered literate. The quality and relevance of education in Pakistan is also a point to ponder. Pakistan is ranked 116th in higher education and 113th in the labour market efficiency. In 2007-08 Pakistan had a labour force of 52 million with a female force of 10 million with a total of 49 million employed. A total 45 per cent of labour force is employed in the agriculture sector and 55 per cent in the non-agriculture sector. 

Now turn to the other side of the picture. The unemployed labour force in 2007-2008 was 2.69 million and there is no reason to believe that it may have declined during 2009 as the global economic recession and internal law and order situation of Pakistan has made things even worse. It is clearly evident from statistics that the youth from 10-30 years is facing the highest unemployment which is more than seven per cent in comparison with the overall unemployment rate of 5.2 per cent. 

The situation is very alarming as youth can be the most productive segment of any nation and wider unemployment among youth is not only hampering the economic growth of the country but also forcing them to consider other means of employment like joining some banned organisation or becoming a part of some anti-social network. There is a significant number of youth which is underemployed, underpaid, working under unacceptable arrangements and trapped in low-paid jobs without any prospects for career advancements.

Education plays a major role in the economic and social development of any country. It gives the people awareness to defend their rights, respect rule of law, gain valuable skills to improve their living standard and spend life positively for their own well being and that of society in a broader context. The lack of quality education is the biggest cause for the underdevelopment of the human capital in Pakistan. This problem with the quality of education is not only with the curricula but with the instruction also. 

Pakistan has compulsory education for the duration of only five years which is 169th in the world. It has the highest primary school dropouts in the world. The government spending on education is one of the lowest in the world. Currently it spends 2.1 per cent of its GDP on education which has declined significantly in the last seven years. This expenditure is very low keeping in view the current level of education in the country and the importance of education.

Another cause of concern is the relevance of education with the labour force requirements of the industry. It seems that no attention has been paid to this phenomenon yet. Pakistan�s educational system is conventional and inherited from the British colonial rule which puts no emphasis on skill-based education. 

Due to this reason both the industry and the youth suffer. Industry cannot find the required skilled manpower and educated people cannot find the jobs as they do not have the required skills needed in the industry. The mainstream education system of Pakistan is divided into six levels which are primary (up to class five), middle (class six to eight), high (class nine to 10), higher secondary (class 11 to 12), degree colleges (class 13 to 14) and universities from masters onward to doctorate level. 

Vocational and technical education and training can be regarded as a solution to the economic problems of countries like Pakistan. If we divert our secondary level curriculum towards technical and more specialised education then many of our educational problems can be solved. 

Our unending demand for higher non-skilled education can be controlled and huge expenses towards this can be contained if we divert our attention to skill-based education. But so far we have paid very little attention to this. There are only 1,522 technical and vocational training institutes including both public and private in the country. Vocational and technical training normally starts after the high school. If we compare the number of vocational and technical training institutions with conventional higher secondary institutions, we see that there are 75,821 institutions providing conventional higher secondary education against only 1,522 institutions providing skill-based vocational training. It can be inferred from these figures that only two per cent institutions are producing the manpower mostly needed by the economy and industry and the remaining 98 per cent are imparting just bookish and sometimes obsolete knowledge. 

The conventional educational system in the country is also highly biased. Rich people send their children to high-quality private institutions mostly established on modern western curricula charging high fee but the poor have no choice except to send their children to the poorly-run government schools. 

This type of quality bias even reduces the chances of youth to get jobs with their conventional education as they cannot compete with the children of elite class. Vocational and technical training can prove a remedy to this situation by diverting the poor youth from conventional education to the skill-based education. Also the high dropout rate in educational institutions can be reversed by making the curriculum more interesting and relevant to the industry. 

Another reason for poverty in Pakistan is the marginalised role of women in the economic life of society. Women constitute half of the country�s population but they are not as productive as they should be. The reason is the lack of necessary education and skills. Women often have to remain at home due to cultural or family constraints. In the rural areas, they work in fields but in the urban areas, most of them remain at home without any meaningful participation in the household�s income. If they are equipped with the skills to participate in some economic activity from home they will significantly increase the income of their households.

The government has to adopt alternatives in the educational system to reduce poverty. 

� There should be comprehensive labour force planning which should include the assessment of the requirement of each industry in the country and overseas where we can send trained labour, census of the available work force and their educational requirements. 

� The second step will be to start to transform our educational system. t cannot be done overnight but gradually. We have to end the convention of imparting general non-skilled education till the master�s level after which the graduates find no place in the job market. We should impart general education only till the high school level. After that education should be more specialised and skill-based. We should close the gap between the number of higher secondary schools and vocational and technical training institutions. This can be done by establishing new vocational training institutions instead of conventional schools and colleges especially in rural areas and city slums where most of the poor live. 

� Existing conventional institutions can also be converted to technical training centres or their curriculum can be modified to include skill-based education. By doing so we will not only provide industry with the required skilled labour force but also the young generation decent jobs. This will not put extra burden on the national economy as the resources from conventional education will be diverted to technical education. We will not be required to establish new universities as frequently as at present because the influx of the students for the university education will be significantly reduced due to most of the students going for skill-based education.

� Special attention is to be paid for skill-based education for women. These should be skills they can use from home to earn their living. 

We have to transform our education system as soon as possible to meet the needs of our industry and to provide our youth with the means to earn their livelihood decently in order to reduce poverty and frustration. Otherwise time will not wait for us.

(By Masood Ahmed )

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