An Appraisal of Public Investment in SDG 4 in Pakistan


Asim Bashir Khan

The Parliament of Pakistan adopted the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) as its own national development goals in February 2016. As of 2021, all the provinces had concluded work on the initial drafts of their priority frameworks. Much like the initial national document, all the provincial priority frameworks also placed SDG 4, i.e., quality education as a Priority I Goal.
However,the observations documented in a recently published white paper, “Public Investment in Education: An Appraisal of SDG 4 in Pakistan,” highlightseveral glaring gaps that negate the high priority accorded to education on paper.
The classification of budget heads is the single most important problem when reviewing investment against Goal 4. Project and budgetary heads corresponding to education simply have “SDG 4,” stated in front of them without classifying the corresponding SDG sub-target(s) and the prescribed indicator(s). In the absence of this classification, it is impractical on the part of the federal or provincial governments to ascertain progress and any reporting carried out would be more speculative than scientific.
Similarly, except for Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, which has – partially if not entirely – adopted the practice of gender-responsive education budgeting, no other province or region in Pakistan has budgets disaggregated by gender. Owing to this, there is no viable way of ascertaining whether the allocated funds have been allocated for girls’ or boys’ educationand/or in what proportions. Not only does this make the process of real-time monitoring impossible but during the appraisal phase, the spending cannot be questioned if disproportionately spent on one gender at the cost of another.
Not surprisingly then, the year-on-year analysis also reveals that gender parity in education has received little to no investment between 2015-2021. Let’s take the case of the most recent development budgets. For the year 2021-22, Punjab and Sindh allocated, 1.07 percent and 2.64 percent of their education budgets respectively for specific schemes exclusively aimed at reducing geneder disparities under the scope of SDG 4.5, and enhancing girls’ access to formal education. The federal government and Balochistan, on the other hand, announced no exclusive schemes in this context.
At the sub-national level, very little has so far been done to align education budgeting as per the national and provincial SDG frameworks.
In the backdrop of the pandemic schools, more than ever before need clean water, toilets, and hand-washing stations to keep the children safe.
The low infrastructural investment by povincesis most problematic. Especially, Sindh needs to invest higher in infrasrucrture development and maintenance, given that the province has the highest number of school buildings in need of repair, the highest number of school buildings considered dangerous, and the highest number of schools with missing facilities.
Despite sufficient clarity at the governmental level regarding the urgency of Pakistan’s education crisis, the issue continues to be tackled in a manner that is at best disorganized. For this reason, Pakistan is yet to begin making the preliminary but significant adjustments identified in its National Framework. This state of inertia at the governmental and political levels should finally end to ensure swift progress towards meeting Pakistan’s international commitments under Goal 4. This is the only way to make up for the negligence accorded to education during the last seven decades.

The writer is an economist and Public Financial Management expert. He is currently associated with IBA-Karachi.