National Education Policies stand redundant as provinces take charge under the 18th Amendment
By Shahzada Irfan Ahmed
Last week, a petition was filed in the Supreme Court of Pakistan against the devolution of the federal education ministry under the 18th Amendment. The petitioner, Barrister Malik Mehboob Ellahi, has taken the plea that the devolution of this ministry would jeopardise the integrity and solidarity of the federation.
One of the arguments was that if the provinces were empowered to prepare curriculum and policies then it would be difficult to stop the wave of provincialism in the federating units. He also asserted that the Implementation Commission had no mandate to decide about subjects or functions given in the Federal Legislative List and it could only deal with the concurrent list.
It must be pointed out here that under the 18th Amendment of the Constitution, subjects like education, policymaking and curriculum development have become provincial matters. In layman’s language, the provinces will be in a position to chalk-out their own educational policies, create their respective curricula, even decide the medium of education, and negotiate with foreign donors on financial and technical support required to achieve particular goals.
The supporters of provincial control on education are many and they think all that provinces lack is finances and nothing else. “Every province has its own challenges and all of them have identified the priority areas related to education for their people,” says Shahid Ghani, a certified teacher trainer and education consultant who has worked in different provinces of the country.
He argues an education policy good for Punjab may not be equally good for Balochistan or for that matter Sindh. Explaining his point, he says, the Education Emergency report states that universal education in Balochistan cannot be achieved till 2100 if things progress at the existing pace while the situation is much better in other provinces — “Education policy for Balochistan should be infrastructure-centric while in Punjab the quality issues should be taken up on priority basis”.
On curriculum, he cites an interesting example where the books for children and adult education had to be changed as many topics and images printed in them were new to students. This, he says, happened in the backward areas of Balochistan where the National Commission for Human Development (NCHD) intervened during the Musharraf government under a fast-track initiative to achieve development goals. “What I want to establish is that we must not have a centrally devised and enforced policy for geographical areas having different indicators, demographics, priorities and traditions,” he adds.
The likely direct interaction between international donors and provinces in future is another factor that will empower provinces. The existing projects, in which the government of Pakistan has been a signatory, will be executed by the Economic Affairs Division (EAD) as the federal education ministry has been abolished. New multi-lateral initiatives in education will involve provinces instead of the federal government.
This development questions the logic of having education policies drafted at the national level at a time when the provinces are bracing to take control of things themselves.
The transfer of education was opposed by the federal education minister, Sardar Aseff Ahmed Ali, the National Assembly Standing Committee on Education and Abid Sher Ali, an MNA from PML-N in the parliament. Their point was issues like curriculum development, policymaking and pursual of goals like achievement of universal primary education were too sensitive to be taken up by provinces plagued by capacity issues. However, the objections were not paid heed to and the ministry devolved because not doing so would have been akin to violating the Constitution of Pakistan.
A look at the white paper issued by the Federal Ministry of Education in 2007 states something totally opposite to what the federal minister has set to validate his claims. The document titled “Education in Pakistan: A White Paper — Document to Debate and Finalize the National Education Policy” says under the heading “Textbooks and Learning Materials,” that the “administrative control of the federal government on the preparation of curricula and textbooks has been responsible for stagnation in this area. Textbooks are of poor quality, overflow with “information narrated in a confusing manner,” and, in many cases, are “full of printing errors.” On the other hand, the paper states, books used “in the relatively affluent private sector schools” are “normally well-written and interesting.”
Ghulam Haider, Senior Management Executive at Pakistan Poverty Alleviation Fund (PPAF) hopes things will work out smoothly even after this transition. He tells TNS that PPAF directs money coming from world donors to schools at district government level and there is zero involvement of the federal government in deciding where it goes.
He says the organisation establishes schools in areas where there are none in the radius of five kilometers and also takes up educational facilities abandoned by the government, like ghost schools where only buildings or its ruins exist.
Haider says the international donors are becoming highly watchful of how their funds are being utilised. Devolution or no devolution, it will now become difficult for politicians to direct money to their constituencies and discriminate against others, he adds.