Events

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Crisis of Implementation


 by
Dr Shahid Siddiqui
http://www.pakistantoday.com.pk/2011/09/crisis-of-implementation/
 18 September, 2011

 History of education in Pakistan is filled with ambitious promises, half baked educational plans, and poor implementation mechanisms. Besides other important factors a major reason of failure in education is the absence of political will. This is closely linked with the lack of prioritisation of education in terms of funding, monitoring and accountability.

A quick glance at the educational reforms in Pakistan tells us that most of the reforms were initiated on the whims of individual rulers, supported by donor agencies, without much thinking and planning. There has always been a centrist mindset of the elite ruling class that concentrated all rights in the centre and dissenting voices from the periphery were suppressed. Usually, this suppression was done in the name of patriotism. The peripheral forces that raised voices for their economic, political, linguistic, and cultural rights were dubbed as traitors and anti-state agents.

One prominent example is the reaction of the centrist powers towards the rightful demand of people of East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) to declared Bangla as one of the national languages of Pakistan. The opposition to this demand led to a lot of bloodshed and played an important role in widening the rifts between the two wings of the country.

Pakistan has been ruled by the military dictatorship for most of the time that called for a centrist mindset and prompted the idea of a unitary state. The 1973 constitution that was prepared by consensus of major political parties had certain welcome provisions for provincial autonomy. Unfortunately, these provisions were not implemented according to the spirit of the constitution. For instance, Council of Common Interest which could be a very important means of maintaining inter-provincial harmony was not utilised effectively. This is evident from the fact that since 1973 only eleven meetings of this council have been called.

With this background of non-participatory and centre based approach, 18th amendment was seen as a welcome step. It had its roots in the Charter of Democracy. On 10th April 2009 the National assembly and on 29th April 2009 the Senate passed resolution to form a committee to reform the constitution.

To develop a broad-based consensus, the committee invited citizens’ suggestions and political parties’ position by 10th August, 2009. To thrash out details and incorporate different points of view, the committee worked hard and held 77 meeting, consuming 385 hours in deliberations. This was followed by the Implementation Commission detailed report that was completed in one year. The distinct part of the whole process was that all the significant political parties were part of this process and thus owned the final report. The central theme of the 18th Amendment was devolution of a number of ministries to the provinces. Thus, it was supposed to be a big step forward to meet the popular demand of provincial autonomy.

Strangely enough as the time passed one could see that there is reluctance on the part of decision makers to implement the 18th Amendment in letter and spirit. One glaring example is Education which was one of those subjects that were devolved to the provinces in the 18th Amendment. There are certain instances that suggest that the government has already started rolling back the Amendment.

One example is the National Commission for Human Development (NCHD). In 18th Amendment, the commission was devolved. Quite contrary to this, no step was taken to implement this decision and as a result the NCHD is still working. Similarly, the National Vocational and Teacher Training Commission was also devolved in the 18th Amendment. The commission is resurrected again, with its headquarter based in Islamabad.

Another example is that of Higher Education Commission (HEC). After the 18th Amendment, certain legislation was requited for restructuring HEC. No step has been taken towards this direction.

These examples are sufficient to realise that the government is not serious in implementing the provision in true letter and spirit. This has been done either by procrastinating the process, defying the provisions or misinterpreting and misconstruing them. The repercussions of this roll back could be serious and far-reaching. The perceived roll back would suggest that the long deliberations of the committee on the 18th Amendemnt and the Implementation Commission were exercises in futility. This would mean negating the tremendous efforts and hard work of all the representatives of national political parties for two years. This would also mean putting the credibility of the government at stake.

A great legal question is whether that we are violating the constitutional provisions by not acting upon them. As mentioned before, the 18th Amendment was an outstanding example of national unity as all the political parties signed the document and it was passed by the National Assembly and the Senate. Now if we recoil from the agreed points which have also become the part of the constitution, the small provinces would be disillusioned.

It is high time to take a major decision regarding 18th Amendment. If we are serious about its implementation, let’s act upon the constitutional provisions in letter and spirit. This would mean a step towards realising a genuine demand of provinces for empowerment and autonomy. The other option is to sacrifice the far-reaching impact of 18th amendment for the sake of short term political benefits. The decision in either way is going to play an important role in determining the future direction of Pakistan.

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 shahidksiddiqui@yahoo.com

Monday, December 12, 2011

Death of Public Sector Schools

by
Dr Shahid Siddiqui
Pakistantoday 24 July, 2011
http://www.pakistantoday.com.pk/?p=103633

In a recent move, thousands of public schools are being closed down or merged in the different provinces of Pakistan as a result of the rationalisation process of schools. The enormity of the exercise raises certain questions regarding the factors that led to this major decision by the government, especially when the education emergency report came out with startling figures about the educational status in Pakistan. According to this report, about seven million children are out of school and about 20 percent of students drop out before they reach class five. These figures should not be unexpected as the education has never been on the government priorities in Pakistan.

Despite the global realisation of the crucial role of education in economic and social development, we don’t find some serious, holistic, coordinated, and sustainable efforts to improve education in Pakistan. In the era of knowledge economy, the amount Pakistan spends on public sector education is embarrassing, a mere 2.1 percent – the least in the region.

The closure of a number of public sector schools is a matter of concern in this backdrop. Some major reasons given for this exercise include ghost schools, schools as a result of political pressures, schools with very low number of students, and multiple schools in the same vicinity. These reasons may have some weight but another very important factor which has led to this situation has not been taken up in the discussion. It is the emergence of private sector schools which have played a role in depleting the strength of public sector schools and as a result a number of public sector schools turned into sick units falling prey to the process of rationalisation. The public sector schools which were known for their quality education have now turned into deserted places.

It is important for policy makers and researchers to understand the real reasons of the plight of public sector schools. I am referring to some of the reasons here:

a. An important factor is the impact of neo-liberalism on education which can be seen in Pakistan in the last three decades. Some of the attributes of neo-liberalism include open competition, no interference of state, maximisation of profit and exploitation of labour. We see private sector schools enjoying free competition without any interference of the state. This kind of freedom is unthinkable in public sector schools.

b. In the wake of globalisation, a number of multinational companies and business opened their outlets in Pakistan. This situation led to the realisation of the vital role of English language as a prerequisite for getting a good job. This led to the popularity of English medium schools that mushroomed in all nooks and corners of urban Pakistan and are now spreading into rural areas as well.

c. The situation of the public sector schools deteriorated over the period of time due to the shortage of teachers, teachers’ absenteeism, and lack of accountability, etc.

d. The private sector was well equipped with the skills of marketing and showcasing. They cashed in on the need of English language.

e. The parents found a special attraction in English medium private schools, as besides the claims of the provision of fluent English, these schools offered the opportunity of social status and prestige.

f. The role of state is crucial in this regard. The government, instead of strengthening the public sector schools, gave up on them and started encouraging NGOs to adopt sick schools and run them.

g. It was this callous attitude of the state that gave last blow to the public sector schools. The poor funding, lack of patronage, and conservative management rules and regulations are speeding the death of public sector education.

The private sector’s pull together with the government’s ineffective policies is depleting the public sector schools. The rationalisation process in the coming years will be closing down more public sector schools. To meet the educational requirement of Pakistan we cannot have an either/or approach as private sector should complement the public sector to cope with the enormous challenges of access and quality in education. The government needs to have trust in the public schools and should provide them space for innovation and creativity together with an effective system of monitoring and accountability.


The writer is Professor & Director of Centre for Humanities and Social Sciences at Lahore School of Economics and author of Rethinking Education in Pakistan. E-mail: shahidksiddiqui@yahoo.com