To­gether Against Poverty

Coun­tries that lead in de­vel­op­ment largely rely on their hu­man cap­i­tal, en­riched and em­pow­ered through ed­u­ca­tion which is con­tem­po­rary in na­ture and rel­e­vant in pur­pose.

Southasia - - Cover story - By Dr. Shahid Siddiqui

To co­in­cide with the forth­com­ing 44th An­nual Meet­ing of the Asian De­vel­op­ment Bank in Ha Noi, Viet­nam, our cover story this month at­tempts to high­light the Bank’s role in lift­ing

South Asia out of poverty and putting it on track to meet its de­vel­op­ment agenda.

Ed­u­ca­tion be­ing a sig­nif­i­cant fac­tor in hu­man de­ploy­ment is a part of the na­tional and in­ter­na­tional agenda in the con­tem­po­rary world. In a World Bank re­port, Knowl­edge for De­vel­op­ment (199899), it was sug­gested that knowl­edge gaps be­tween the de­vel­oped and de­vel­op­ing coun­tries led to eco­nomic gaps be­tween them. This is in line with the in­creas­ing aware­ness in the con­tem­po­rary world about the sig­nif­i­cance of knowl­edge econ­omy. The coun­tries that are lead­ers in de­vel­op­ment largely rely on their hu­man cap­i­tal, en­riched and em­pow­ered through ed­u­ca­tion which is con­tem­po­rary in na­ture and rel­e­vant in pur­pose. The lit­er­ate, skill­ful, and healthy hu­man cap­i­tal of a coun­try paves the way for its progress and de­vel­op­ment.

Re­al­iz­ing the sig­nif­i­cance of ed­u­ca­tion in the process of so­cioe­co­nomic de­vel­op­ment, the Asian De­vel­op­ment Bank (ADB), es­tab­lished in 1966, of­fered a part­ner­ship to the South Asian coun­tries to fund them in achiev­ing the ed­u­ca­tional goals. This was in line with the pro­fessed mis­sion of the Bank, i.e., “pros­per­ity and poverty re­duc­tion.” In Strat­egy 2020, an ADB doc­u­ment, it is claimed that “Change is at the heart of the Asian De­vel­op­ment Bank (ADB) ex­pe­ri­ence.” To re­al­ize the dream of change it is cru­cial to en­hance the life chances of the peo­ple liv­ing in this area by en­hanc­ing the ed­u­ca­tional op­por­tu­ni­ties and en­sur­ing max­i­mum ac­cess of the masses. To at­tain this goal, ADB has lent size­able funds to the South Asian coun­tries in the ar­eas of tech­ni­cal ed­u­ca­tion, teacher ed­u­ca­tion, dis­tance ed­u­ca­tion, and man­age­ment, etc. Ac­cord­ing to Lox­ley, “Ed­u­ca­tional lend­ing since 1991 amounted to about U.S. $3.8 bil­lion or about 6 per­cent of to­tal ADB lend­ing…in 2001, In­dia, Pak­istan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, and Pa­pua New Guinea bor­rowed about half of the to­tal ADB lend­ing.”

The big­gest chal­lenge we face in South Asia is acute poverty. A large por­tion of the pop­u­la­tion is forced to live be­low the poverty line. This is linked with the low rate of lit­er­ary in the re­gion. In 2005, South Asia’s av­er­age lit­er­acy rate was 58 per cent, net pri­mary en­rol­ment stood at 87 per cent and 13 mil­lion chil­dren were out of school. If we com­pare these fig­ures with those for 1995 we see some im- prove­ment. But this im­prove­ment falls far short of what is re­quired. Mah­bubul Haq Hu­man De­vel­op­ment Cen­tre’s ( MHHDC) 10-year re­view sug­gests im­prove­ment in some in­di­ca­tors of ed­u­ca­tion in South Asian coun­tries but ef­forts and re­sources seem to be in­suf­fi­cient.

The 1997 re­port had lamented that “South Asia is the poor­est, most il­lit­er­ate and least gen­der-sen­si­tive re­gion in the world.” This should have been a wake-up call for South Asian gov­ern­ments to speed up ini­tia­tives for im­proved sys­tems of ed­u­ca­tion to com­bat the chal­lenges of ac­cess, qual­ity and dropout rates. Un­for­tu­nately, South Asia “con­tin­ues to be the most il­lit­er­ate re­gion in the world con­tain­ing around 379 mil­lion il­lit­er­ate adults — the high­est ab­so­lute num­ber amongst all re­gions in the world.” (MHHDC re­port, 2007).

The lack of ac­cess to schools is just one chal­lenge South Asia is fac­ing. A more se­ri­ous prob­lem re­lates to the qual­ity of ed­u­ca­tion that stu­dents re­ceive in schools. Teach­ers’ ab­sen­teeism, out­dated cur­ricu­lum, trans­mis­sion-based ped­a­gogy and mem­ory-ori­ented as­sess­ment sys­tem

are some hard facts we come across in the main­stream schools of South Asian coun­tries. ADB seems to be aware of this prob­lem. In South Asia Eco­nomic Re­port (2007), pro­duced by ABD, the fore­word high­lights the need for a com­pet­i­tive and con­tem­po­rary ed­u­ca­tion. Ac­cord­ing to the re­port, “The re­gion’s ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem must be trans­formed for the coun­tries to be able to adapt to the new re­al­i­ties. Qual­ity ed­u­ca­tion is needed at all lev­els, and tech­ni­cal, vo­ca­tional, and higher ed­u­ca­tion should be aligned with emerg­ing global mar­ket de­mands.”

Why didn’t re­forms in South Asia bring the de­sired re­sults in the last ten years? Why couldn’t en­hanced lit­er­acy rates lead to equal dis­tri­bu­tion of op­por­tu­ni­ties and ben­e­fits? The ex­perts have tried to look for the rea­son in low al­lo­ca­tions for ed­u­ca­tion. The av­er­age al­lo­ca­tion for ed­u­ca­tion in South Asia is less than three per cent which is on the low side. Low uti­liza­tion is an­other as­pect of the prob­lem, as is in­ap­pro­pri­ate spend­ing. A few ex­perts con­sider the gov­er­nance of ed­u­ca­tion as the root cause of the prob­lem. An­other rea­son could be lack of stake­hold­ers’ in­volve­ment and own­er­ship of pro­posed changes. A num­ber of re­search projects couldn’t de­liver in the ab­sence of ef­fec­tive mon­i­tor­ing and accountability sys­tems. Some ed­u­ca­tional re­forms were con­fined to the cos­metic changes at sur­face lev­els and could not fo­cus the deeper sus­tain­able part of change. An­other rea­son of not hav­ing vis­i­ble change in ed­u­ca­tional sec­tor is lack of co­or­di­na­tion among dif­fer­ent ed­u­ca­tional ini­tia­tives in the re­gion.

All these analy­ses are based on cer­tain truths and are quite con­vinc­ing. The only prob­lem though is that we usu­ally try to an­a­lyze the ed­u­ca­tional is­sues in iso­la­tion. We must un­der­stand that ed­u­ca­tion is not a neu- tral and pas­sive phe­nom­e­non whose dis­sec­tion can be car­ried out on a ster­il­ized ta­ble in a lab en­vi­ron­ment. On the con­trary it is a highly po­lit­i­cal phe­nom­e­non that needs to be stud­ied in re­la­tion to so­ci­ety. While we try to find the an­swer to the prob­lem, we need to take into con­sid­er­a­tion the so­cio-po­lit­i­cal sys­tems of South Asian so­ci­eties. With a few ex­cep­tions, most of the South Asian coun­tries are di­rectly or in­di­rectly ruled by mil­i­tary gov­ern­ments. In some coun­tries, civil­ian au­to­cratic gov­ern­ments are in power. Most of these gov­ern­ments have a lim­ited and con­fined view of de­vel­op­ment that hinges on the phys­i­cal side of de­vel­op­ment — dams, roads, shop­ping plazas, etc. In this kind of de­vel­op­ment the hu­man as­pect, for ex­am­ple ed­u­ca­tion, health and gen­der par­ity are ei­ther ig­nored or un­der­es­ti­mated. Most of these coun­tries have a po­lit­i­cal sys­tem that dis­crim­i­nates against the poor and marginal­ized groups. It is this un­fair so­cio-po­lit­i­cal sys­tem that acts as a re­sist­ing force and ham­pers ed­u­ca­tional re­forms.

To make the ed­u­ca­tional re­forms more pro­duc­tive, it is im­por­tant that the de­sire of change and na­ture of re­form should em­anate from the in­dige­nous con­text or the lo­cal part­ners should own the pro­posed change and process to reach the de­sired change. The change sought by the re­forms should not be su­per­fi­cial but deeper in na­ture so that it is a sus­tain­able change. An ef­fec­tive mech­a­nism of mon­i­tor­ing, gov­er­nance and, accountability should be built in to make sure that spend­ing is ap­pro­pri­ate, gov­er­nance is fo­cused and the de­sired goals are tar­geted. In some projects, a large chunk of money was spent on build­ing the self-im­age of the then po­lit­i­cal rulers. This leads us to the most im­por­tant fac­tor in the suc­cess of re­forms, i.e., po­lit­i­cal will of the state. This re­quires a po­lit­i­cal gov­ern­ment that is demo­cratic in na­ture and is com­mit­ted to build­ing a wel­fare so­ci­ety based on the as­pi­ra­tions of the masses. The Asian De­vel­op­ment Bank’s fund­ing and in­ter­est in de­vel­op­ment of South Asia can have much bet­ter im­pact if the above-men­tioned fac­tors are in place. The writer is Di­rec­tor of Cen­tre for Hu­man­i­ties and So­cial Sci­ences at the La­hore School of Eco­nom­ics and au­thor of ‘Re­think­ing Ed­u­ca­tion in Pak­istan.’

Source: Ed­u­ca­tion for All Global Mon­i­tor­ing Re­port 2010

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