The Path to the Future
Dr. Asad Zaman
A recent LEAPS survey of education in rural Punjab find that about 50% of the children drop out by the end of class 3. Furthermore, the quality of education is so deficient that most third graders cannot read a sentence in Urdu, recognize simple words in English or perform standard arithmetic operations of 3-digit addition and subtraction. Since our children are our future, failure to invest in them is extremely short sighted. Nonetheless, among the many problems discussed by planners, under-investment in primary education has always been of low priority, despite massive and increasing illiteracy. The main reason the Pakistan has fallen far behind countries with far less in natural resources is that our policies have always favored a small elite at the expense of the masses.
The root cause of this extreme bias in our development policies is the continuation of colonial political, administrative and economic structures post independence. These hierarchical structures were single mindedly designed for efficient extraction of revenues from the colonies. Efficient command and control from top down was built into them, but representation and participation of the public in the government was not (which was the reason for the revolt of the American colonies). It is important to note that these structures were manned by personnel educated to be “Indian in blood and colour, but English in taste, in opinions, in morals, and in intellect” – indeed this was a crucial part of the governance structure of the colonies. It would have been impossible for the 1000 odd Englishmen in the Indian Civil Service to govern a country the size of India without co-opting a sizable number of natives into sharing the burden of ruling and taxing the populace.
After a brief interlude of sincere leadership, reins of the nation fell into hands of political parties who found themselves at the head of a functional and efficient machine for extraction of revenues. Our educational system continues the colonial policies of creating love and affinity for the West, and contempt for both our heritage and the “urdu-medium” native populace. Thus the English educated elite class in power had no difficulty in continuing the colonial policies, and exploiting fellow countrymen for self-enrichment. To this day, politics in Pakistan is largely about sharing revenues generated by ruling Pakistan, rather than about providing growth, development, and services to the populace. The idea of a government of the people, by the people and for the people remains a distant dream.
How can we act to bring this dream closer to realization? Unfortunately, both domestic and foreign experts in economic development continue to repeat the same tired old mantras for salvation which have been tried and found wanting for over fifty years. The time is more than ripe for fresh, out-of-the box thinking.
Like Mahbubul-Haq, failure of conventional economic policies has led many planners to rediscover the obvious – “that human beings are both the means and ends of development.” Investing in our large population, empowering and enabling them to participate in the process of growth is far more effective than policies related to trade, taxes, privatization, liberalization, and the whole economic toolkit of IMF and the World Bank. The most serious obstacle to this is that it would substantially disturb existing power structures. Mahathir Mohammad overcame the class conflicts in Malaysia by convincing the conflicting interest groups that all stood to gain substantially by pulling together. They agreed to a smaller share of the pie, because they saw that the pie itself would grow much larger. A similar social compact is the need of the hour in Pakistan. If instead of fighting each other for a bigger share of the dwindling pie, we cooperate, Pakistan has natural resources far beyond those available to other countries in with similar developmental status. The path forward lies in educating the people and providing them with necessary resources. This involves a reversal of current priorities: instead of achieving growth to feed the poor, we need to feed the poor to achieve growth.