Sunday, August 21, 2011

Rhetoric and Reality

Dr Shahid Siddiqui
Published in Pakistan Today, 21 August, 2011

Education is considered to be an important condition for development. The gaps between developed and developing countries are attributed to the gaps of knowledge (World Bank Report,1998-99). Given the significant role of education, the first Educational Conference was held in 1947, the year Pakistan got independence. The conference resolved that the target of universal primary education should be achieved in twenty years. This target, according to the set deadline, should have been achieved by 1967 but even after sixty four years of independence the dream of universal education is still unrealised. According to Education Emergency (2011), a report prepared by the Task Force on Education, seven million children are out of school in Pakistan. This is the second highest number in the world.

After the 1947 conference, some major initiatives were proposed by Sharif Commission report 1959, Education Policy 1970, Education Policy, 1979, Education Policy 1998, Framework of Action (2000), Millennium Development Goals (2001), Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper (2003), Medium Term Development Framework (2005-2010) and Education Policy 2010. These documents set some major targets in terms of literacy, gender equality, teacher education, and qualitative improvement in education. Most of these targets are yet to be achieved. Let us focus on the question of what goes wrong when it comes to implementation of a plan. There are a number of factors that frustrate the proper implementation of policies. These factors have academic, political, social, and management dimensions.

Reforms in any sector need consultations with different stakeholders to lead the way to ownership which is an important condition for successful implementation. In Pakistan, however, most of the educational reforms are directly imported from abroad. Such reforms were not discussed with the stakeholders involved. Most of these reforms are conceived outside Pakistan by donors. Some of the examples include pilot schools, comprehensive school initiatives, ESR, and Danish schools, etc. Such foreign initiatives are ‘quick fix’ tricks that are not likely to lead to sustainable change. Most of the educational reforms announced in Pakistan are without the backing of strong political will of the decision makers at state level.

The rulers make educational claims for self projection and earn goodwill among the voters. Some of these claims are ridiculously unrealistic. For instance, one education minister of the present PPP government made a claim that, in the period of one year, standards of all public sectors schools would be brought to the level of good private schools. Even a lay person knows that this is an insurmountable task. Similarly, few years back, a claim came from Mr Shaukat Aziz, that allocation for education would be raised to 4%. Quite contrary to his claim, allocation decreased. Such towering claims never see the light of day because they are unrealistic and lack proper planning, road map of action, and required resources to begin with. A very recent example is the devolution of education to the provinces. Another important reason of making such claims is that there is no accountability system. Leaders make big claims and get away with it.

The political factor plays an important role in obstructing the implementation of educational initiatives. In donor funded projects, the top slot appointments are made on the basis of political affiliations. A large chunk of funding is used on the publicity of rulers. Similarly, discontinuation of policies leads to abortive endings of some useful initiatives. Every new government, instead of focusing on effective implementation of existing education policy, opts to come up with a brand new policy. Consequently, in Pakistan, we find a number of official documents, policies, and plans with useful proposals but when it comes to implementation we find ourselves stuck.

A trend that emerged in the recent past is the patchwork of reforms funded by donor agencies. Such patchwork strategy may prove good for neatly written end-of-the-project reports bragging their success but they are of little use for sustainable development. The reforms in the education sector cannot succeed unless they are owned by stakeholders, thoroughly planned, sufficiently resourced, consistently followed up by different governments, effectively monitored and have a credible accountability system.

The writer is Professor & Director of Centre for Humanities and Social Sciences at Lahore School of Economics and author of Rethinking Education in Pakistan. He may be contacted at