Let us imagine a simple scenario. If money was not an issue, would every parent in the country prefer to have their children in schools and getting an education? The answer seems to be a no brainer. Every parent would want their children to be educated so that the children have better opportunities in life, so that they can enjoy some of the things in life that are only open to literate or educated people, so that the children can earn more, so that they can take care of their parents in a better way, and so on and so forth. A family gains significantly from having educated children in the household, now and especially in the future: in other words, whether education is a good consumption item or not (it is if it enhances the current enjoyment of life that children have if they are educated), it does seem to be a good investment good for the children as well as for the household. But if there are opportunity costs to having children in school, what happens then? If parents have no money, or if the money that they have can be put to better uses than to having their children educated, what happens then? Then we have a problem. Some people might decide not to send their children to school, while others might be forced into the decision due to lack of resources. If money was not an issue at all, would we, the people of Pakistan, decide in favour of having every child in Pakistan educated? The answer seems to be a simple yes. Why would we not have children educated if money was not an issue? The children would have a better life, their parents and families would have a better life, the communities they belong to would benefit, and the country would benefit from having all children educated as well. If a child is educated and he/she can produce more than he/she would have if he/she was uneducated, the country as a whole benefits as well. If she can take better care of herself, fall sick less often, be more healthy, take care of her children better, earn more and produce more, she will benefit the country too. All of the above activities will have positive externalities on the rest of the society. So, if some parents do not have resources, but the society has resources to spare, it seems straight forward to say that the society should educate the children of such parents by subsidizing their expenditure so that the externalities from having educated children can still be achieved even though it implies that the full benefit of having educated children will not accrue to the society alone (as some benefits, stated above, go to the children themselves and their families). Thus far we have talked exclusively in functional terms and we still get the conclusion that positive externalities related to having educated children imply that societies should make efforts to have all children in a society educated, and even when parents of some of the children might not be able to afford paying for their educational expenses. But of course even for societies which might have a lot of rich people in them, there are no zero opportunity cost resources. Or, in other words, there is opportunity cost of educating children whose parents cannot pay for their education. Rich people have to pay for it, or the state has to pay for it through tax revenues. In either case, the marginal utility of this money is not zero and the state as well as the rich people in question could have done other things with the money. If that is the case, in functional terms at least, one has to see what the size of externalities is to decide whether it is still worth while having all children educated or not. And whatever the size of externalities, one has to grant here that it is possible that we find that the cost of educating some children, while taking externalities into account, in certain cases, might not justify the expenditure. In such cases there would be no functional justification for using public money or rich people's money for paying for the educational expenses of poor children. Think of a situation of a fragmented and severely incomplete labour market with high barriers to mobility (some villages in South Punjab and Sindh seem to tell a similar story) and the cost and benefit of having a poor child educated in such an area. It might very well be that the returns to education, for poor people in this area, are so low that the cost of educational provision cannot be justified. But such scenarios are rare. Furthermore, the above kind of scenarios just imply that we should be looking towards removing some of the barriers that are keeping returns to education low. If labour markets are country wide, and mobility, with reasonable cost, is not an issue, then returns to education would be higher and the case for provision of education to children who cannot afford to pay for it would be justified. So far we have looked at functional arguments for universal provision only. And they seem to suggest that for most cases, most of the time, functional arguments would be sufficient to ensure the case for universal provision, though the case for universal provision, in education, is much stronger than this. We all believe that we all have a right to have a good life. But what constitutes a good life for a person? Any worthwhile concept of a good life must include that a person have a life of dignity and respect, where her basic needs are catered for, where she has opportunities for developing her potential and where she is able to exercise her abilities. If any of these ingredients were missing from a life, it could be a limited one, possibly with significant frustrations for the persons in question. If basic needs, say of food, clothing and/or shelter are not met, it is hard to imagine that this could be a 'good' life for a person: unless of course when a person chooses to fast or give up other basic needs for some cause or reason. Similarly, if potential of a person cannot develop and cannot be exercised, life will look to be fairly restricted and frustrating. Now, the question is: is education a part of basic needs? And even if it is not, is education, given the state of our economies, technical know-how and so on, needed to develop or exercise the potential of a person? Whether we think education is a basic need or not (after all education might be needed for all jobs now and hence with the ability of a person to even generate enough to cover food, clothing and shelter), clearly, it is the case that functioning in a modern economy increasingly requires numeracy and literacy skills and a working understanding of logic. Increasingly the demands on the skills needed are increasing. Now matriculation or intermediate is not considered to be enough for more technically demanding skill-based jobs. So, education should be given to all children, irrespective of whether their parents can afford to pay for it or not. This is needed not only to address the functional issues of benefitting from the positive externalities of having educated people, but also due to rights based issues as well. Education is becoming almost a pre-requisite for functioning even reasonably well in this society. It is not necessary that education be treated as a basic right. As long as education is needed for having a fair opportunity at becoming functional in a society or having any chance of being able to develop/exercise one's potential, access to education would be a part of any conception of the 'good life' that that society would argue for. So, we need to have education for all, and we have an interest in seeing every child get educated. How is educational expenditure to be provided for, what is the role of the public/private sector in this and how should we think of notions like private-public partnership, voucher schemes, investments of public money in private sector schools, and vice versa, are issues that we will tackle in the next article. But as a preamble, it is good to know that public responsibility for ensuring that every child is educated in Pakistan is based on solid conceptual thinking and is has firm foundations in functional as well as nonfunctional terms. The writer is an associate professor and head of the Department of Economics, LUMS E-mail: faisal@nation.com.pk