Afshan Subohi explains why Pakistani families spend a major chunk of their income on education.
Education is probably the third biggest expenditure head on the household budget for a majority of middle income, urban families in the country. Those on two extremes of the income spectrum also spend more on education than they used to but it may vary depending on social and economic considerations.
The gender bias is perhaps entrenched in both the rich and the poor in terms of resources they are willing to commit to educating girls in the family. The poor tend to drop girls education if they are forced to choose between sons and daughters while the rich take the son’s education more seriously and spend millions on it as an investment that promises high dividends for their business and the family in the future.
A host of factors that tend to determine the extent to which the family is willing to spend on education. The most important factors are believed to be location, level of competition in job market, the level of awareness and the cost of education.
As compared to rural households, urban families are more inclined and better equipped to educate the next generation because of more choices and better opportunities in cities and towns.
The negligence of education by successive governments in terms of the expansion of the key social utility, and improvement in quality to match the market demands on state-run institutions particularly at the school level has depleted along with public trust in the state-run education system.
Given a choice, anyone would prefer private schools over public, despite all the failings associated with them. However, the relevance of public schools still persists as enrolment has not receded to a level where it can be declared redundant.
Poor families with many children send their brighter boys to private schools and the rest to public ones. It explains higher enrolment of girls in ‘Peele schools’ (mostly government schools which are painted yellow and are identified more by the colour of the building).
An earlier interview based survey carried out by Dawn last year indicated that an average urban family spends at least 10 per cent of their income on children’s education and related expenses, irrespective of their social placement in the society.
It implies that poor families barely surviving on Rs20,000 spend as much as Rs2,000 on education which includes tuition, books and other related expenditure. At least 40 per cent of the country’s population is estimated to fall in this category.
Rich families earning half a million or more spend about the same percentage on a monthly basis on schooling though there might be exceptions. As compared to the landowning class and businessmen, the high paid professionals spend more liberally to offer their children the best that money can buy.
In case of the middle class, the average is three times higher for a typical three-child family. In the income band of Rs31,000 and Rs 490,000, the percentage of family budget for education increases at a accelerating rate with the increase in income.
Many families in this category sometimes spend more than their income on higher education abroad which covers the shortfall with their lifetime savings.
The change in social attitude towards education converged with the media and communication explosion in Pakistan. There seems to be a visible, direct link between the level of exposure to the outside world through media and more awareness of economic opportunities in the market for educated people because of the social value attached to education.
The spur in demand has evolved education into a lucrative business in Pakistan while a variety of factors influence the quality and pace of its growth.
According to an estimate the collective spending by Pakistani parents on education runs in hundreds of billion rupees.
There is no firmed up official data available also because much of the private education business is not documented and the sector seems to be devoid of effective monitoring by the government.
The fact that last year Pakistani parents spent at least as much as Rs65.5 billion ($644 million) on 25,000 Pakistani students studying abroad gives some idea of the magnitude of private spending on the key sector in this country. Parents with children studying in local universities pay on an average of Rs4lacs to Rs15lacs a year for A- grade private professional colleges and universities.
The annual average cost of a child’s education in popular branded schools falls anywhere between Rs120,000 to Rs1.2 million. Even in the lowest category, the fee per month is not less than Rs100. In a country with a youth bulge it translates into a huge education market and the creation of education barons in the country.