Mar 21, 2011

Moving in circles

A review of the reform agenda pursued in various education policies

By Aamir Riaz

From the Colombo Plan of 1950s to the last education policy announced in 2009 and the recent task force report “Education Emergency”, we are moving in circles. Campaign against the ghost schools of 1990s, Parha Likha Punjab of the former government and Danish Schools of 2011 have all been launched with much fanfare and lucrative funding from international donors and business corporations to solve the riddle of education.

In order to be successful, a reform agenda depends upon three major factors — political will, public support (especially in the form of popular political parties) and a well-researched vision. Comparatively speaking, during Ayub Khan’s era, the vision and the will of the government was there; the proof was, the best education policy was a consequence of Sharif Commission (1959). Yet, in the absence of popular support, the reform agenda failed terribly.

Bhutto’s nationalisation of education showed the political will and had enormous popular support but a well-researched vision was missing. Instead of developing a pool of trained teaching faculty as mentioned in the earlier education policies, the 1972 policy announced that education would be free and universal up to Class X for all children throughout the country. ZAB’s ‘talented’ education minister, Abdul Hafeez Peerzada, failed to translate the spirit of the 1973 constitution in the education sector. In retrospect, it can be said that the nationalisation was only a safety valve against the shock waves of 1971.

Under General Ziaul Haq, an aimless denationalisation gave way to unprecedented mushroom growth of elite as well as low-end private educational institutions. According to the 2009 education census, privatisation touched only 30 per cent of Pakistani education system.

It is interesting that 1980s onward, the state would not listen to any criticism on curriculum and education reforms in the public sector but allowed elite private schools and madrassas to work without any regulation. The 2009 record shows that 97 per cent madrassas belonging to all sects are privately run. In the absence of any regulatory mechanism, one cannot bind the private investor to have a socially responsible business.

The education policies under Mian Nawaz Sharif’s rule in 1992 and 1998, by and large, followed the blueprint of 1980s and for obvious reasons.

The latest attempt to reform education came in the wake of the post 9/11 world and the ensuing pressures, under which another wave of haphazard efforts were made.

The new democratic government approved an education policy in 2009 following which came the passage of 18th Amendment that restricted the role of federal government. In 2011, majority of the education projects in federation and provinces are donor-driven. Donor politics reminds us of the 18th century Hind-Punjab in which Portuguese, British, Scottish and French companies were busy in their respective agendas. The new donor-driven agenda has already engaged numerous political actors, media-men, consultants and intellectuals. Donors and civil society along with concerned citizens like lawyers, doctors, and journalists should pressurise popular political parties for a permanent education vision.

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