Making Education Work: The Governance Conundrum

24 Jun 2014

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by Marc-André Franche, Country Director, UNDP Pakistan

The impact of education investments is considered a simple linear function of inputs and outputs in most developing countries, including Pakistan. The measure of performance and the process through which inputs are converted into outputs, and subsequently, outcomes, are seldom discussed. Good governance—in terms of 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, without new inputs.

It is important to discuss the capacity issues of service providers unable to spend allocated resources. It is equally critical to analyse the process through which resources are allocated and the time it takes to release them to end users. Tracking expenditure is essential, but ensuring responsible spending is also important. There is a general consensus that both financial and non-financial incentives help improve results, but the possible negative externalities generated should be noted. These are among the governance issues that require urgent attention.

Budgeting and public finance management are integral parts of governance. Pakistan is one of the few countries that spend around two percent of their gross domestic product (GDP) on education. Pakistan’s education expenditure is less than that of its South Asian peers; India and Nepal spend 3.3 and 4.7 percent of their GDPs on education, respectively. But low allocation is not the only issue. In 2012–13, actual development expenditure on education was a mere 50 percent of the allocated amount. On average, 82 percent of allocated funds are used on non-developmental items.

In addition to allocation and expenditure issues, the process through which budgets are prepared and distributed across different geographic areas requires serious consideration. Is there a formula that accounts for education poverty? That guides resource allocation to different districts? A simple example from district Dera Bugti illustrates the severity of education inequality across the country. The district’s net enrolment ratio stands at 12 percent whereas district Chakwal’s is 81 percent. Dera Bugti’s 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 inputs (the use of funds), outputs, (enrolment) and outcomes (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 will need to invest in its statistical systems to provide timely data and analysis for informed decision making in education. Setting up parallel structures and processes is not the answer; existing statistical institution capacity must be enhanced. These new technologies provide cost-effective approaches to data collection and monitoring, and Pakistan would do well to learn from the experiences of other countries.

Lastly, the political context of education plays a crucial role in determining whether or not 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. 

Read the Urdu version of the Opinion Piece
Opinion piece in Express Tribune Newspaper

Read the opinion piece in Express Tribune Newspaper here