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Why should students suffer? | New education policy

Why should students suffer?
Load-Shedding is here to stay for months, if not years, and people are trying hard to adapt as best as they can to a situation which is quite beyond their control. Whether it involves candles, kerosene lamps and hand fans or rechargeable lights/fans, uninterrupted power systems (UPS) and generators, families of all classes are digging deep into their pockets to cope with the frequent power interruptions. They are trying their utmost to reduce compromising on the quality of life at home when there is no electricity. But what about the quality of life at school? The report in this paper about the conditions under which many FA and FSc students in Islamabad are taking their Federal Board examinations is distressing to say the least. Seated in suffocating halls without fans or lights and dripping with sweat, how are these young men and women supposed to concentrate on an examination whose results will determine their future?

With some imagination, a little consideration, foresight and coordination on the part of all concerned authorities, including school and college administrations, the Federal Board of Intermediate and Secondary Education, the ministries of education and power and Iesco, it could have been possible to manage and reduce the impact of power outages during crucial board examinations, if not during day-to-day teaching and learning. If it was not possible to suspend load-shedding for the duration of the examinations without creating a city-wide power meltdown, since the examination halls are scattered across the capital city in numerous schools and colleges, Iesco could perhaps have made special arrangements to ensure that there were no daytime power interruptions in these schools during the examinations. Alternatively, temporary arrangements involving other sources of power supply should have been made for the schools for the duration of the examinations, such as generators powerful enough to run fans and lights in the examination halls. It is bad enough that the power crisis is affecting the students' studies at home and in school. We should at least ensure that their future is not compromised further by the non-availability of power when they are sitting for their papers. Dawn

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New "education policy"
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 substitute.

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.

By DR FAISAL BARI (The Nation), E-mail: faisal@nation.com.pk

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Focus on education
It is needless to say that the focus of the nation as well as the political leadership and the parliament, since elections on 18 February 2008, is on many important issues. The nation at present is facing a crisis, which is threatening the coalition government whose fate depends on the resolution of the crisis in a manner acceptable to legal fraternity. The parliament, though acknowledged as the supreme and sovereign organ of the state, is helpless to assert its writ. It is everybody's prayer that the collective wisdom of the nation, presently represented by the coalition leadership, shall successfully tide over the present storm and get down to the serious business of the budget for 2008-09, due to be presented on 07 June 2008.

Just to remind my readers, the Holy Prophet (PBUH) had directed 1500 years ago to "seek knowledge, even if you have to travel to China". It may also be pertinent to remind readers that the first revelation to the Holy Prophet, may peace be upon him, was "Iqra".

The importance attached to the education sector since independence is a sad saga of our brief early history. Till recently our successive governments were allocating hardly 2% of our GDP to this vital sector. The last government pledged to increase this to 4%. Let us wait and see what is the allocation in the budget for 2008 by the new democratic regime.

Federal Education Minister Ahsan Iqbal (having recently resigned), lost no time in launching a new draft education policy 2008 and also initiated on 13 May 2008 a pre-budget policy dialogue on education at Islamabad to seek the recommendations of experts on critical issues for seeking pre-budget policy recommendations on education. Having attended this serious evaluation I would like to share some of the painful findings:
*    Decades of Reforms and Pakistan is still ranked lowest.
*    Looking at the 5-9 years age group.
*    66% are enrolled,
*    30% make it to the 5th grade
*    10% go on to middle school.
*    6.7% go on to secondary school
*    0.6% go on to higher school
*    Girls on average obtain 1.3 years of formal schooling while the average for boys is 3.8 year.
*    Nearly 50% of all girls never attend school (22% for boys)
*    Moreover, 16.8% of all public primary schools are shelter-less, 39% have no drinking water, 62% have no electricity, 49% have no toilets, and 46% have no boundary walls.
*    Dismal performance on learning objectives.

As far as total education expenditure (public, donors, private) is concerned, the system does not seem responding to the estimates of increased funding because the resources are going in different directions. This is due largely to two reasons. (1) data, policies and budgeting remain isolated (2) Chronic and system wide governance and regulatory issues are not properly managed and monitored, Can you imagine that a national education policy review in hundred percent prime enrolment in next two years is likely to cast rupees 73 billion. There is no management plan to cop with this. In order to ensure effectiveness of public spending in education, it is imperative that each rupee spent on education, needs to contribute to learning achievements of a student. It is not the ministry of education at the federal or provincial levels that can deal with such a gigantic challenge. Political parties need to be at the center stage to steer this quiet revolution at the national level. Above all transparency and accountability is the key to the success of such an ideological change.

Talking of ideology, the Nazria Pakistan Trust held a meeting on 24 May under its Chairman Majid Nizami to charter a strategy for the promotion of ideology of Pakistan and the two-nation theory in the entire civil society with the new generation of students and teachers on top of the list. A people cannot turn into a nation without an ideology which you cannot absorb without drinking deep at the fountain of knowledge.

Why are we having a problem with the independence of the judiciary and the intervention of the army and the dictatorship of various rulers whether in Mufti or uniform? Why do these misfortunes not take a toll of other nations? Simply because of the awareness of the overwhelming population born out of education that prevents any adventurer from daring to play with the fundamental rights of the people. The next education budget for 2008-2009 is therefore a challenge for the political leadership of Pakistan to transform the dreams of Iqbal and Quaid-e-Azam into a reality by adequate allocation to the education sector.

By IKRAMULLAH (The Nation), E-mail: ikramullah@nation.com.pk

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