Injudicious move: `Punjab govt diverted funds for laptops`
LAHORE, March 30: The Punjab government has re-appropriated the school education department funds to purchase laptops for the high-scoring students of universities and the public-sector and autonomous colleges.
It is first time in the history that allocated funds have been re-appropriated on an inter-departmental basis. The laptops project has cost the government around Rs4 billion; at least Rs2 billion have been re-appropriated from the school education department.
This information was revealed at a “Policy Dialogue on Right to Education in the Post 18th Amendment Scenario”, organised by the Institute of Social and Policy Sciences (I-SAPS) in collaboration with Oxfam GB at a local hotel.
Punjab Assembly Standing Committee on Education chairman Chaudhry Javed Ahmad said “it is wrong”.
Giving a presentation on financial scenario of education department in Punjab in the light of the 18th Constitutional amendment and Article 25-A offering Right to Education, I-SAPS Executive Director Dr Salman Humayun asked whether the judicious use of Rs4 billion funds was to give laptops to 100,000 students or upgrade 2,000 primary schools.
Referring to the Punjab government’s decision of setting up Daanish schools at a cost of Rs3 billion, Dr Humayun suggested that this fund could also be utilised for upgrading 660 primary schools and 550 middle schools. He said the government was spending Rs16,000 a month on each child at Daanish schools, while only Rs1,600 a child was being spent at public-sector schools.
Referring to the existing school-going age children scenario, he said, some four million 5-9 years age group children or 9.6 million 5-16 years age group children were out of school in 2009-10. Given the existing 1.4 per cent annual population growth rate in Punjab, he said, some 19.32 million children would be looking for admission to the public-sector schools in the next 15 years.
Referring to the state of children enrolled in schools, Dr Humayun said 70 per cent children were dropping out from schools before reaching the high school level. At present, he said, there were 61,000 schools having 236,288 classrooms and 354,607 teachers in Punjab.
By 2024-25, he said, the Punjab government would be requiring 65,500 schools, 499,472 classrooms and same number of teachers.
At present, he said, the Punjab education budget was Rs152 billion, while it would be required to enhance education budget by 15 per cent annually and allocate Rs337 billion for education by 2024-25. He said the government would also be required to end the trend of making block allocations, which had touched 90 per cent of the total budget during the current financial year.
Giving details of block allocations for this financial year, he said, Rs3 billion each were allocated for missing facilities in primary and elementary schools and Reforms Road Map; Rs1 billion each for missing facilities in high schools and setting up of science laboratories in high schools; Rs1.5 billion were allocated for fast-track development projects, Rs450 million for computer labs in schools; Rs400 million for repair of dangerous school buildings and Rs350 million for upgrade of schools.
As much as Rs600 million had been allocated for ongoing development schemes.
Dr Humayun also explained that there would be a financial cost with regard to legislation and implementation of Article 25-A giving right to education to every child falling in 5-16 years age bracket.
Earlier, I-SAPS Research Fellow Ahmad Ali highlighted the legal and administrative implications of implementing Article 25-A. He said the term free education was yet to find a proper definition in the present context as to whether it would apply to just school fee or textbooks, uniform and other expenses would also be covered by the state.
Moreover, he said, the liability of non-compliance with the compulsory law also needed to be defined. He said the issue of gestation period was of critical importance as such law could not be enforced without gestation period and normal regional and international practice was to allow a three- to five-year period.
He asserted that comprehensive consultations were required before legislating on the subject.
Chaudhry Javed Ahmad said the committee had given feedback on Daanish schools to the chief minister, and added that it was unfair to say that the government had wasted money on the initiative.
Referring to allocation of funds for the rehabilitation of the flood-affected schools, Mr Ahmad said this year the government had allocated Rs1,500 million for the purpose.
Mr Javed also assured the dialogue participants that when Article 25-A Bill would be referred to the committee, it would seek comments and suggestions from all stakeholders. He also said it was unfortunate for provinces that the concurrent list was devolved to provinces but the funds allocated for the subjects were never given to the provinces.
Mr Javed also agreed that while legislation free education in terms of grades should be considered instead of 5-16 years of age to protect the right of over 16 years of age children studying in schools.
Punjab School Education Department Deputy Secretary Qaiser Rasheed said the department would be going for school-based budgeting in the next financial year. He also called for activating school councils.
Former Punjab education minister Mian Imran Masood, PA committee member Dr Asma Mamdot, MPA Dr Samia Amjad, Amna Ulfat and Oxfam GB associate country director Dr Naureen Khalid also spoke.