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Implementing the new Education Policy 2009

Education Policy 2009

June 2009: Pakistan is about to be given yet another Education Policy to be implemented from 2010. The draft of this forthcoming education policy (2009) has been available on the Ministry of Education, Government of Pakistan's website since the past two years. The draft policy evolved this time with the inclusion of civil society who was asked to prepare a White Paper for policy recommendations.

This process continued post General Musharraf's Government when elections installed a democratic government at the Centre and in the provinces. The Pakistan Coalition for Education convened a series of meetings in all the four provinces to provide advocacy to the latest education policy. A lot of effort by concerned citizens has gone into making the right policy decisions and outcomes so that the education sector can be "fixed" once and for all. At present this Education Policy is being reviewed by the Federal cabinet for final approval. For a policy to start off in the right direction and base its recommendation on, it must state the "vision" for the coming generation's education or what outcome it hopes to achieve from its educational provision. This particular policy's vision formulated by the Ministry of Education is:

"Education is a categorical imperative for individual, social and national development that should enable all individuals to reach their maximum human potential. The system should produce responsible, enlightened citizens to integrate Pakistan in the global framework of human-centred economic development."

No doubt the above vision leaves no stone unturned to provide the kind of educated individual who will be a model for fellow Pakistanis as well as one for all countries of the world. The 21st Century skills and fast-paced knowledge revolution demands such a vision through a national education system. However, to accomplish the policy's aims, the present Pakistani system requires a high percentage of enrollment, minimum drop out rate, equity, access and a "qualitative" approach to learning in the classroom. So far, in the 60 years of its existence, the earlier policy makers have failed miserably in achieving even a modicum of the requirements stated above.

What makes Education Policy 2009 different in its approach for a workable solution to achieving the impossible? For one, Chapter Three (3) Understanding System Deficiencies, of the policy document exhaustively defines and analyses the deficiencies that have plagued the education sector in the past. It identifies two major reasons and I quote:

"There are two fundamental causes for the weak performance of the education sector:

(i) a lack of commitment to education - a commitment gap - and

(ii) an implementation gap that has thwarted the application of policies".

Commitment gap
The Planning Commission's Vision 2030 document says that "We cannot spend only 2.7 per cent of GDP on education and expect to become a vibrant knowledge economy." The commitment to educating the whole country for a viable economic base is reflected totally in the kind of budgetary allocation the education sector has received over the last three decades. The result has been a low literacy rate and a poorly educated service and tertiary sector that have made Pakistan lag behind India in its bid for markets abroad and at home. The elitist education managed to produce top doctors, engineers, pilots, Chartered Accountants, initial bureaucrats and military personnel but failed to provide an exemplary secondary support group of nurses, technicians, cabin staff, district officers who were mostly educated in the public schools.

The public sector schools were of a good standard up to '70s but then the neglect started to eat away at a valuable resource of the country. Lack of commitment to education may also be attributed to two other reasons. Pakistan's colonial past played a major role in the way education was managed in the initial years of independence. Although a break with the colonial past was tried but as the policy comments: "The tradition of British education, which Pakistan inherited, emphasised academic skills (to serve the colonial administration) rather than skills and competencies for use in the production sector."

Furthermore, Pakistan's economy was mostly agrarian and the skill based needs of the economy did not influence the structure of educational provision. The change to an industrial base in the '60s did not bring the expected change to a more relevant educational structure. The nationalisation policy of the '70s caused further fall in standards in colleges and schools across the country. For the present, the Economist Intelligence Unit in its latest review of Pakistani education says:

"Pakistan's Education System is among the most deficient and backward in Asia, reflecting the traditional determination of the feudal ruling elite to preserve its hegemony."

Thus, the commitment gap is all too visible in the successive governments' neglect of the public sector schools which serviced the middle and lower income groups. These groups were eventually denied the justice to acquire a meaningful education for social and economic mobility up the ladder of success. In today's Pakistan, the divide between the rich and the poor is so great that it negates the concept of the welfare state that the founding fathers had envisioned.

Implementation gap
The policy document looks at a number of reasons that impact on the way previous policies have failed to deliver. Some of these include:

• Almost all aspects of governance in the education sector.

• Mismanagement of allocation and use of resources leading to

• amounts of allocated development funds remaining unutilised.

• Lack of planning (other countries plan years in advance of a reform intervention).

• Capacity building ahead of introduction of reforms.

• Lack of accountability.

• Constant monitoring of reform efforts.

The Policy 2009 has a short chapter on "Implementation Framework" on what has to be done but nothing concrete in terms of by "whom", "how" and "when" it is to be carried out. The plans will, presumably, come later rather than earlier which mistake previous policies have made already.

Corruption a root cause: is implementation of policy possible?

However, the crux of the matter in proper implementation of policies is clearly enunciated as point 3.1.5 of Clause 92 - it is endemic corruption at all levels of the education sector. It is said in the document that:

"Political influence and favoritism are believed to interfere in the allocation of resources to the districts and schools in recruitment, training and posting of teachers and school administrators that are not based on merit, in awarding of textbook contracts, and in the conduct of examinations and assessments."

With such rampant corruption in a department where selfless and noble service is required for the future security and wellbeing of the country, failure should definitely be laid at the non performance of the kind of character building done through religious teaching in the curriculum.

It has no doubt been a waste of time and effort to "rote learn" Islamiyat for examination purposes without application of those pristine moral principles to every day life. The assessment system should have tapped critical thinking skills to put value on these moral principles so that it made a meaningful impact on the learner. In the case of Pakistan Studies, too, students do not find any meaningful satisfaction in learning about their country as syllabi are rote learned. No effort has been made to access actual "sources" of history to be critically analysed at various stages of education to leave a lasting impression on the learner.

Consequently, how learning is effectively done is a missing element in the policy document as no innovative approach to the education of teachers is recommended. The teachers will continue to acquire a B.Ed or an M.Ed degree as a training certification. These two degrees are still based on the syllabus which the colonial masters instituted pre-Partition. Since the standard of education is below par, the policy recommends that teachers now must be an MA for secondary school teaching and a BA for primary school teaching.

Promises of professional development and rewards abound but the bottom line has not changed. What is needed is a fresh or novel approach to the way efficient teachers can be educated for the kind of pedagogical needs of the 21st Century. What is essential is a pre-service certification course with the modern approach to teaching which all teachers in the country must acquire. This will inculcate a professional outlook to becoming a teacher negating the attitude that anyone can take up teaching.

The great divide: Pakistan's education system
The national education system set up after Partition in 1947 only lacked uniformity in the media of instruction. The post-Partition public schools had Urdu as the medium of instruction and the colonial British government and missionary schools had English as the medium of instruction. However, according to the recent report by the Planning Commission "Vision 2030" the divide is visible in all areas of the education system:

"There is a divide between the prevalent school structure and differences in levels of infrastructure and facilities, media of instruction, emolument of teachers, and even examination systems between public and private schools. The rich send their children to privately-run English medium schools which offer foreign curricula and examination systems; the public schools enroll those who are too poor to do so."

Despite the pluralistic nature of society, there has been a constant refrain for uniformity in educational provision within Pakistan. The new state's promise of equal opportunity through education has been denied to the disadvantaged in society. There is no level playing field in the domain of education. Consequently, the poor have become poorer and the rich, richer. The preamble to the policy paper admits this gap and its long term consequences when it says in Clause 86:

"…There are close links between equity in educational opportunities and equitable income distribution and income growth. If the education system is constructed on a divisive basis, the divisions it creates can endanger in the long run economic growth. An unjust society creates an unstable society and an unstable society cannot sustain stable long term growth."

The Quaid's vision for a cohesive Pakistan had made him declare Urdu as the national language. Urdu without any doubt became the lingua franca of the country with Baluchis, Sindhis, Punjabis and Pakhtoons communicating with each other through this common language. This nation building exercise has been eroded by thoughtless interventions in the education sector.

As English medium schools managed to sustain a level of quality in their teaching and learning with a transparent foreign examination system, it was felt that only "English medium" meant a qualitative or better education. It is conveniently forgotten that almost all who went through the public sector Urdu medium schooling also shone and were successful in all the careers. Privatisation of education encouraged the new schools to just opt for an English-medium education which was out of the reach of the less privileged classes who now demand this as a right to a successful future.

However, in the last 10 years, a solid base in language acquisition is lacking. The constant matrix of Urdu and English spoken today on media channels and by the younger generation is a product of the confusion in the education provision. No policy has taken a firm decision of equalising the opportunities for everyone to acquire proficiency in both Urdu and English.

The fault lies with the medium of instruction - for English medium, English has to be learnt first and then the acquisition of knowledge takes place. With Urdu, this is not the case - a lot of time is not wasted when knowledge is acquired through this language which also lays the base for Pakistan's religious, social and cultural identity. This identity is lost when education is in a foreign language and a foreign curriculum meant for the needs of countries whose society, culture and religion is different to Pakistan. The consequences of such a policy are explained by the linguist expert Dr Tariq Rehman in "Standard Education System in Pakistan" a Pakistan Coalition for Education Position Paper Series.

Dr Rehman says that the purpose of education is to impart knowledge and information that encourages critical thinking and empowers people. However, he continues: "As regards the medium of instruction, which is the focus of this paper, it would be fair and justthat most services of the State and the private sector should operate in the local language and Urdu. It is quite unjust that, in the centuries-old colonial tradition, our people face an alien State that does not serve them in their languages. This must change so that as far as possible, the people are able to speak to State officials in their own languages and be responded to in the same. This will also ensure that in this age of globalisation people will remain in touch with their identities."

For the new commercial schools which offer the British system with O/A levels, Dr Rehman analyses their output as: "Typically, students of these schools show aversion to Urdu and pride themselves on not knowing it, indicating the degree of alienation from their own culture. While it would not be wrong to call them 'brown sahibs' or what is now more appropriate 'native Yankees', they generally hold more tolerant and peaceful views as compared to their counterparts in Urdu medium schools and madressahs. Thus, this educational apartheid, unjust though it is, is not the end of the story. It corresponds to an acute polarisation of views, attitudes and thinking in these different kinds of educational institutions."

Concluding thoughts …
The time is now. A new education policy is in the offing as the review of the 1998- 2010 policy claims that the policy has failed to deliver once again on its implementation of a uniform curricula for all private and public schools. Where language is concerned, UNESCO studies on education research recommend that the initial schooling or early childhood learning should be in the mother tongue. So, let all provinces take that on board with the decision to do just that.

Dr Tariq Rehman recommends that learning from Class-III onwards should be in Urdu with English being taught as a subject from Class-I which is already being done in Urdu medium schools. Learning a language well depends on the quality of the classroom teaching and, not on whether it is an English medium or Urdu medium school.

Efforts to make learners acquire proficiency in English which is Pakistan's second language and language of instruction at the university level is solely dependent on the "quality of learning experiences". Pakistan will not suddenly become backward if this (doing away with English as the only medium of instruction for quality education) is followed - the backwardness of the nation stems from the inequality in and low quality of educational provision.Education Policy 2009 recommends excellent policy actions on all aspects of the education service. The question to ask then is when and how will the policy be implemented.

Since the government has failed at running the public schools which are a valuable asset of this country, a council of dedicated educationists from the public sector should take on the task to revive and pull up their standard. New textbooks and curricula are already at hand – the task is to educate teachers who are capable of taking on the job of teaching in the new pedagogical requirements. This new, committed force of teachers should then be inducted into the public schools. An independent monitoring department selected from the public must be set up to overlook and review the implementation of Policy 2009. When ownership of reforms by the people and for the people happens, then only can results be expected.

The citizens of Pakistan must now take part in the commitment to rectify education in the country. Change comes from the people themselves who have to let go of their malaise and slumber and put the country's interest first before their personal gain. Implementation of policies has been blocked by vested interests and through corruption and inefficiency in the education sector, time and again.

This time around, Pakistan will not be given another chance. The forces of extremism, terrorism and backwardness that now prevail will make the country extinct. As one American president told his people at his inauguration ceremony, "Ask not what your country can do for you - ask what you can do for your country." For Pakistanis there is precious little choice left.

By Ismat Riaz, ismatriaz@yahoo.com - The writer is an educational consultant based in Lahore (Dawn)

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