Pakistan: New "Education Policy"

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at
Tue May 27 15:44:22 UTC 2008

New "education policy"By DR FAISAL BARI submitted 1 day 21 hours ago

The ministry of education has placed a draft of the proposed "new" education
policy on their website and has invited people to comment on the draft
policy before it is finalised and adopted. This gesture, towards listening
to people and taking on their inputs is a welcome gesture. Whether people
comment on the policy and whether the comments are taken seriously remain to
be seen. The draft policy states that the older policy, that was supposed to
be good for the period 1998-2010, was not achieving its aims and this was
clear by 2005 and so a new look at national education policy was needed.
Then the draft policy goes ahead and gives us the new policy: a 60 plus
document that says a lot while not saying much. It would be interesting for
someone to do a comparative analysis of differences between the old and the
new policy.

Our presumption would be that apart from stylistic issues and issues of
emphasis, there are likely to be few differences between the old and the
new: the more the things change, the more they stay the same. Is it really
the case that we need a new education policy? Or is it that we, the people,
the government, the political parties and the policy makers, need to take
the lessons from the older policies and from our everyday realities more
seriously. We know that education is and should be a basic right. We know
this is acknowledged in the constitution, however obliquely, even though
neither the government nor the courts have done much to enforce this right.
We know that functionally also, education is important: it enhances economic
growth and it has social benefits as well. We know poverty traps can
sometimes only be broken through education and vocational training (skill
acquisition). We know as international competition (globalisation) gets
keener, education is going to be even more important and we are, due to low
educational achievements in the country, already behind other countries. We
know that for the last 60 years and more government after government has
told us about all of the points made above and then done exactly as the
previous governments did: neglected education despite the "imperatives"
mentioned above.

We know every government has said that we need to spend a lot more on
education, we need to universalise education at the primary and secondary
level, we need to improve the quality of education throughout the system -
yet policies have fallen short in terms of allocating the right amount of
capital, attention and priority to declared objectives. Government after
government has dealt in hypocrisy.
On the implementation side, we know that governments have not only allocated
less than needed amounts for education, we know most governments have not
even spent what they had initially allocated for education (except for one
five year plan, in plan history, we never utilised 100 percent of funds
allocated for the education sector), we know no government has tried to give
education sector a high enough priority to curb sector level problems:
corruption, poor condition of education sector professionals, state of
infrastructure in schools, demands for better curricula, demand for minimum
standards and monitoring of better quality. Even when governments have
engaged with the sector, it has been at the behest of one or another
international agency or donor or international commitment.

It is sad to see the same things repeated in the draft policy: talk of déjà
vu. The policy takes 60 plus pages to tell us that though we have made some
progress in the last 10 years or so, we are still, on most counts, behind
even the countries in our neighbourhood.
We have more children out of school, we have more drop outs, we few fewer
completions in levels, we have a smaller percentage going to higher level,
and our quality of education is poorer. It goes on to tell us that "now" it
is established that education is important for us. It is not only important
because it is a "right" of people to have access to quality education, it is
functionally important as well.
It is interesting that even after all these years this policy continues to
mix the two justifications for provision of education and cannot decide
which it wants to push. If education is a "right," it does not need a
functional importance defense: the state has to ensure "rights" of the
people irrespective of other demands on their resources. If rights cannot
trump other considerations and cannot accord lexicographic importance to
what is a right, what is the point of acknowledging something as a right
then? The policy goes on to tell us about all the points that previous
policies have also talked about. But in the end it leaves substantive issues
in the same place as it finds them.

The policy acknowledges that the quality of education needs to improve, but
it does not really tell us how it is going to be done. We are told that the
discussion on the medium of instruction is important: English is important
as an international language, Urdu as national language and mother tongue as
cultural and heritage language, and the policy creates space for all three,
but it is not clear how the languages are going to gel together, what the
medium of instruction should be in public sector schools, what the latest
research argues for, and so on. In some way the policy just passes the buck
on to provincial governments to make these decisions. There is
acknowledgement that we have multiple systems working in the country, and
these systems are creating socio-economic problems for us, but there is no
real solution proposed for addressing the issues. The education system is
divided along private-public, medium of instruction, rural-urban,
ideological non-ideological lines.

Although the policy acknowledges that a) 30 percent plus students now go to
private schools, b) provision of schooling is the responsibility of the
state, c) quality of schooling is bad in the public sector, and d) this
forces parents to choose private schools over public, there is no real
discussion of how the private-public issues need to be addressed. In fact,
and quite strangely, the policy says that the state should try to build
schools in areas where there are no private schools and the public system
should look at provision of private schooling as a complement rather than a

All of this confuses the issues further. If public schooling is the
responsibility of the state and this schooling should meet minimum quality
standards then irrespective of whether there is a private school in the area
or not, the government needs to provide public schooling in all areas. Is
there any country in the world, with decent school system, where the state
does not bear the responsibility for provision?
The policy is also quite unclear about the notion of Uniform Education. It
talks of the need for a uniform system across Pakistan, but also allows that
the private schools will continue to provide the kind of education they see
fit. One way to address the issue would have been through some notion of
"minimum" standards that the state would impose on the entire system. This
could be in terms of both minimum standards of quality as well as minimum
requirement for curriculum and coverage. But the policy does not explore
this option in any detail. It talks of uniformity and standards, but does
not go far enough to connect these.

The draft policy has 10 chapters, including chapters on higher education and
a chapter coming from Vision 2030. These seem quite misplaced in an
education policy that needs to focus on primary and secondary level
provision. It would probably have been better for the policy to focus on
setting out the main goals of education policy and then on formulating
strategies to achieve these goals. The issue is not lack of knowledge about
the dismal state of education in Pakistan or the many faux pas that we have
been making. The issue is whether we can learn from these mistakes and find
ways of addressing the political and social problems in according education
the importance that it deserves. Of course we need research in many areas to
find appropriate policy options, but that could come after the policy sets
out the priorities of the government in clear and unambiguous ways.

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