This case study is one of four that aim to assess the Bank’s support for primary education within specific country contexts. This is a difficult task in a country as large as Pakistan (population about 148 million) with a complex federal structure of government and a long history that has resulted in a mosaic of ethnic and cultural diversity, even though it is a majority Muslim nation.
Nonetheless, it is important to attempt this task and address major issues in primary education such access, quality, and equity. Although the Bank has been involved in education in Pakistan since 1964, the time frame for this study of primary education is from about 1990, the year of the World Conference on Education for All (EFA) in Jomtien, Thailand, and also the issue of the Bank’s major Primary Education Policy Paper, to March 2005, the time when the field work for this study was undertaken in Pakistan.
Primary Education in National Context
The main story of primary education (grades 1–5) in Pakistan since independence from Great Britain in 1947 is that of the struggle to achieve universal primary education (UPE) within an adverse environment of severe resource constraints, organization and management problems, and inadequate institutional incentives. In addition, rapid population growth of about 3 percent throughout most of the post-independence period has put pressure on the primary education system, making it difficult to raise enrollment rates. Only recently is population growth slowing to somewhat above 2 percent. Demand side factors are also come into play, including factors such as traditional attitudes limiting girls’ participation in schooling.
A strong role for education was recognized by the founding fathers of independent Pakistan, and UPE was established as a goal at the first National Education Conference in 1947. However, military tensions with India and perceptions of national security needs led to relatively high military spending and relatively low education spending—an unfortunate spending pattern that continues up to now.
By the end of the 1990s, the proportion of GDP spent on education had not risen as expected and was 1.7 percent in 2001-02 versus 2.1 percent in 1991-92. Spending on primary education as a share of GDP was low at about 0.8 percent of GDP in 2000-1 (see Public Expenditure Review 2004).
Over the years the goal of UPE has been repeated by number of national conferences and policy papers, shifting the goal further into the future, and it is presently set for the year 2015 in agreement with the education MDGs. However, political instability since independence has been a factor in holding back the capacity of the primary education system to respond effectively in achieving this goal. Political instability in the 1950s led to first military regime of General Ayub Khan, who governed throughout most of the 1960s. The civilian government of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto came to power in the 1970s after the civil war, resulting in the lost of West Pakistan and the creation of Bangladesh. Prime Minister Bhutto attempted many policy changes under the banner of an Islamic Socialist regime, including the nationalization of many private educational institutions.
The civilian government of Prime Minister Bhutto was overthrown in 1978 by General Zia ul Haq, who introduced privatization and deregulation policies to counter Bhutto’s socialist policies. General Zia also introduced far-reaching changes in education policy, including his version of Islamization of education. This included establishing mosque/maktab primary schools, supporting madrassas (religious seminaries beyond the primary school level), and revising all subjects in conformity with Islam and requiring teaching of Islamiyat up to grade 14 (early years of university). The opening of mosque/maktab schools was an attempt to increase dramatically access to primary school by adding regular primary school subjects to traditional religious instruction provided to young children in the local mosque. The program was abandoned later because it was not effective at teaching academic subjects, due in part to the fact that the local imams were not trained teachers.
The regime of General Zia came to an end with his death in 1988, leading to a decade of elected civilian governments. However, many Pakistanis refer to the 1990s as the “lost decade” because of political instability and economic stagnation. There was an alternation of elected civilian governments between Benazir Bhutto (daughter of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto) and Nawaz Sharif, leaders of the two main political parties. Political corruption was also on the rise, especially in the provinces, affecting primary education through processes such as political patronage in the appointment and deployment of teachers. However, as a participant in the Jomtien EFA Conference (1990), Pakistan committed itself to the goal of UPE by the year 2000.
The decade of civilian rule came to an end in 1999 with the military government of General Pervez Musharraf, who was Chief of the Army Staff under Prime Minister Sharif. Broad education policy remained the same, and Pakistan participated actively in the EFA follow-up conference in Dakar, Senegal, in April 2000, again signing on to the goal of UPE, this time by the year 2015.
The events of the September 11, 2001, and the ensuing war on terror proved to be defining events for the government of General Musharraf
and Pakistani society as a whole. General Musharraf aligned his government with the war against terrorism and also against the Taliban regime, previously allies of Pakistan. Partly as a result of this, aid flows have increased dramatically and the economy has shown a marked improvement compared to the stagnation that characterized the 1990s.
World Bank and Other Donor Support
The Bank has been active in primary education, financing 25 projects since its first project in 1964 for agricultural education. During the 1960s the manpower planning approach was dominant within the Bank and with other donors, and during the 1970s that gave way to basic needs and then the rate of return to education approaches, both of which stressed primary education. Primary education increasingly became the focus of Bank education sector support in Pakistan. There have been 19 projects and broader operations that have supported primary education in Pakistan that total $1,365 million. The component activities of these projects were similar in most cases, involving teacher training, textbooks, and school construction.
Other donors were active in primary education in Pakistan, the largest including the Asian Development Bank (ADB), Department for International Development (DfID) of the United Kingdom, and the United States’ Agency for International Development (USAID). The ADB has been especially active in teacher training. Overall, donor coordination has been reasonable, with the Bank being the largest donor, thereby having the most influence.
Looking back over Bank support, including economic and sector work (ESW) as well as lending operations, the Bank can be seen to be struggling to come to grips with the complexities of working in Pakistan. First, there is the federal structure of government, which often resulted in coordination problems between the federal level and provincial governments. The Bank thus tended to move toward more provincial level projects and programs. Second, each province has its ethnic and cultural mix and different alignments of political parties. Third, each province has its own implementation problems, resulting in part from the first two factors. Thus the Bank was struggling to learn: (a) What is the right thing to do? (b) What is the right way to do it?
Government policies and capacities
Summary of Recent Changes in Primary Education
Government policy for primary education has always been aimed at UPE, with the target dates constantly shifting. Government policy also has always cited quality and equity goals, including the poor and girls’ education. During the 1990s a number of Bank-supported provincial education projects were aimed at creating the capacity to achieve these policy goals. Thus there were the Sindh Primary Education Project (1990), Balochistan Primary Education Project (1993), the Northwest Frontier Province Project (1995), and the Northern Education Project (1998).
The big push to achieve this policy goal was the first Social Action Program Project (1994), which aimed to support a significant part (about 10 percent) of the government-initiated Social Action Program (SAP) that aimed to make a rapid improvement in Pakistan’s social indicators (education, health, and poverty). This was followed by a second Social Action Program Project (1998). The results of both were disappointing.
Many people interviewed look at the 1990s as the SAP phase of government and Bank involvement and the period since 2000 as the post-SAP phase. These two projects were too large (together $550 million in Bank support), too complex, and poorly designed in terms of mechanisms for implementation. For example, there were many donors involved, and supervision missions were large and unmanageable. Disbursement mechanisms were too complex and placed an unduly large reporting and documentation responsibility on an educational administration that could barely handle its normal day-to-day responsibilities.
Based on these lessons, the more recent Punjab education adjustment credits (2004 and
2005) have simplified disbursement of a single tranche of $100 million with a substantial matrix of primary education policy reforms. That can work well with a province that is committed and capable, and it remains to be seen if this can work in other provinces like Sindh, which has expressed interest in such an approach. New comprehensive sector work is planned for that province, which can lead to an assessment of what can be appropriate there.
Delivery of education services
Despite the many implementation problems that arose during the 1990s, schools were built and public primary enrollment did increase at an annualized rate of about 6 percent (10.8 million in 1990 to 19.5 million in 2000). Such enrollment growth would compare favorably with Indonesia’s experience during its well-known school construction program in the 1970s and 1980s. However, Pakistan started from a very low base level of about 16 percent gross enrollment rate at the time of independence and experienced high population growth of about 3 percent, so progress in improving enrollment rates was slow.
The delivery of quality primary education was negatively affected by the availability of teachers and the low quality of those available. Teacher absenteeism was constantly cited as a problem in rural areas. Also, many teachers of low qualifications were appointed, sometimes as a result of political patronage. Research studies by Warwick and Reimer (1995) document the poor quality of teacher training as well, with many primary school teachers not performing much better than pupils on grade 5 reading and mathematics tests.
The curriculum and textbooks also leave much to be desired. They rely heavily on rote learning without real understanding, and, according to many observers, contain excessive ideological material and religious indoctrination resulting from the time of General Zia’s drive to Islamize education. This situation is not unique to Pakistan; Bank research is beginning to examine in more detail the academic and social content of primary school textbooks in a number of countries (see the latest Bank Education Sector Strategy Update [World Bank 2005]).
The two most significant changes in the delivery of primary of education are the decentralization of government services and the rising demand for private primary education. The Musharraf government introduced an ambitious program of decentralization in 2001, partly to improve service delivery and partly to restore civilian politics by going around the established national political parties, thus holding elections at the local levels without candidates declaring affiliation with a national party. The recent trend toward private primary education is seen by many people as response to the poor quality of public primary education, with the result that many poor families struggle to pay fees in private primary education based on the belief that their children will receive a better education in private schools, though some are very low cost and quality is not yet proven.
Household demand for education
Nearly all research shows that the level of parents’ education has a direct impact on the education of their children. However, in the patriarchal household structures of Pakistan in which men are socially assigned a strong role as the head of the family, there is attenuation of this insofar as many parents prefer to invest in the education of sons.
However, many officials now report that the acceptance of education for girls is growing. If schools lack boundary walls or require a very long walk, the demand for girls’ schooling decreases because of parental concerns about their daughters’ safety. In addition, remnants of feudal structures in the rural areas of Pakistan also constrain demand for primary education, since feudal land owners still exercise much influence and often do not encourage education among their populace.
Educational outputs and outcomes
Trends in output indicators (enrollment rates) are available, but outcome trends (learning achievement and employment) are not. Gross enrollment rates have been somewhat stagnant in recent years, being 75 percent, 71 percent, and 72 percent in 1995-96, 1998-99 and 2001-02, respectively. These figures are based on household surveys, and some observers are puzzled by the data, given that the ambitious SAP projects were expected to have some impact around this period.
Also puzzling is that fact that two major household surveys do not agree for some measures. The Pakistan Social and Economic Survey gives 84.3 percent for the GRE in 2000-1 while the Pakistan Integrated Household Survey gives 72 percent in 2001-02. However, the two surveys are closer for net enrollment rates (NERs), with the Pakistan Social and Economic Survey giving 48.6 percent and the household survey giving 42 percent for the same years. The reasons for these differing measurements are not clear.
Many education analysts now favor using the primary completion rate, defined as the ratio of number of children completing primary education over the number of children of primary completion age, as an outcome indicator for measuring the success of EFA. While there is no time series for this measure in Pakistan, there is an estimate for the year 2000-1, giving an overall primary completion rate of 51.3 percent. For male and female, the breakdown is 69.4 percent and 64.6 percent for in urban versus 51.6 percent and 34.8 percent in rural areas.
There are no time series for learning achievement over time, although the National Education Assessment System Project (2003) is introducing an assessment system for grades 4 and 8. The first results of the grade 4 assessments should be available in 2006. Pupils are to be tested in four subject areas: reading, mathematics, science, and social studies/Islamiyat.
Pakistan does not have a national examination for a certificate of primary school completion, which could provide some insight into this issue. However, tests given in some regions on a one-off basis as a part of various research projects and other more qualitative judgments by informed observers indicate that the trend for learning achievement overall would be flat at best, or probably even declining, for public primary schools.
Finally, in terms of labor market and welfare outcomes related to primary education, there are a few research studies that show that the wider economic and social benefits to primary education in Pakistan are much the same as in comparable developing countries.
World Bank Contribution
The Bank’s ESW has been an important factor in the education dialogue with the Pakistani government and in recent years with civil society and NGOs. As explained by one of the interviewees, this is where the Bank was strongest and helped the government to focus on policy objectives. Although the last comprehensive piece of sector work, covering all levels of the system, was the Education Sector Report in 1988, that report was influential in setting the framework for the provincial primary education projects of the 1990s.
Subsequent ESW, although generally of high quality, focused on specific analytical issues, such as girls’ education. As a result, there was a noticeable change in the attitudes of government to problems and benefits of more education for girls. The Bank also had an impact on emphasizing the monitoring of quality and learning achievement, resulting after a long period of dialogue in the National Education Assessment System Project.
Implementation of Bank-supported projects encountered many difficulties over the past 20 years, perhaps more than the average level of difficulty for the Bank primary education projects as a whole. This was especially true for the two large SAP projects—SAPP1 in 1994 for $200 million (60 percent to primary education) and SAPP2 in 1998 for $250 million (60 percent to primary education). Most government and NGO ersons interviewed expressed the view that this project was poorly designed and that the Bank and other donors put too much of a burden on a system that lacked the capacity to effectively absorb such large infusions of funds.
For example, the disbursement procedures involved the government to prefinance expenditures and to seek reimbursement through submitting Statements of Expenditures. Although this appeared simple in principle, in practice the federal and provincial education administrations were overwhelmed by the large number of small transactions to be documented and were often not clear as to what expenditures were actually eligible for reimbursement.
Other specific investment projects for primary education had a variety of implementation difficulties and delays. Slow disbursement thus became the norm, and the overall disbursement percentage after project completion for primary education projects in Pakistan was 72 percent of the approved amount, compared to the Bank-wide average of 93 percent for IDA-financed primary education projects (see IEG Primary Education Portfolio Review). However, despite these difficulties, without the Bank’s persistent efforts to keep access, quality, and equity issues on the agenda, it is likely that even less progress would have been made in increasing school enrollment, especially for girls and the poor.
Virtually all the Bank’s projects and ESW emphasized quality of learning in primary education, but in practice there was no way of measuring this during the projects of the 1990s. For example, the Sindh Primary Education Development Program (1990) financed activities and inputs that were believed to be important for improving learning, but it was not until the National Education Assessment System Project (2003) that a system was put in place to monitor learning achievement at the primary school level. In practice, as the mission was informed by some provincial level officials, there was a trade-off made between quality and quantity, and only now are they really turning attention to quality.
There are also lessons about which instruments might best achieve objectives and how decentralization of government can relate to instruments. Large programs like the SAP projects that try to pump large sums of money through an incompetent and sometimes corrupt bureaucracy cannot work. A careful mixture of specific investment and sector wide approaches must be considered for the education portfolio. Good specific investment projects can lead to building the capacity that can later be used in a more decentralized approach in the provinces and with the flexibility and speed that can come from a sector wide approach. Also, the need for intensive training for decentralization to work is apparent in Pakistan, as it is in many other countries that have tried it.
The need for donor coordination is important, but an important lesson of SAPP1 and 2 is to avoid donor coordination becoming an undue burden on the counterpart agencies. While the formation of the Multi-Donor Support Unit for the SAP projects was a positive development, it is important to build up the capacity of the government so it can take the lead in donor coordination.
Overall, the development effectiveness of Bank support for primary education can be rated as marginally satisfactory during the 1990s. Since then, the effectiveness of Bank support has improved to a more solid satisfactory level, based on the lessons learned during the 1990s and an improved understanding of the difficult implementation environment in Pakistan. A few conclusions in the way of broad directions to explore would include the following:
The Bank should return to the more comprehensive approach to sector work taken in the 1988 Education Sector Report covering all levels of education and their interactions, but do this in a province-specific way. It is important that the analysis of primary education be embedded in the whole education system to take account of fiscal interactions and the inter-relationships of quality at different levels. It is important to do this in a province-specific way because of the large variance in capacity and ethnic/cultural mix among the provinces.
While the ESW should become more comprehensive, the Bank would do well to focus its lending operations in those areas where it can make most impact. This would have to be done in coordination with other donors and with the government taking a lead role. Attention would have to be paid to how to enhance the government’s capacity to take this lead role. There should also be a judicious mix of specific investment projects and sector wide program approaches, each one being used in the appropriate circumstances.
The Bank needs to think carefully about how to engage the government about sensitive topics related to curriculum reform and textbook provision. In the cognitive domain there is excessive reliance on rote learning to the detriment of genuine cognitive development. In the social domain there is inappropriate ideological material in the curriculum about religion and other political issues that are detrimental to promoting social cohesion. The recent Education Sector Strategy Update (World Bank 2005) points out that the Bank is starting to address this issue in other countries and could provide a starting point for initiating dialogue about these complex and sensitive issues.
Perhaps the most important area of policy and program support for Bank assistance is to help Pakistan craft a realistic strategy for achieving quality EFA. Recent Bank reports indicate that Pakistan is far from this goal and not likely to achieve it by the year 2015 as specified in the education MDGs. If it turns out that the year 2015 is unrealistic, then a careful analysis is needed of what is possible, what resources are required, and when it can be achieved.