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A Dramatic increase in the literacy rate

Education policy envisages a dramatic increase in the literacy rate
Islamabad, Sep 11: There is nothing wrong in announcing upbeat development plans. But when it comes to education, allowance must be made for forgivable cynicism. This is the nth educational plan we have seen in the last decade. Every regime has one to display and then put on the shelf. In this instance, the federal cabinet has approved a plan of radical change in the education sector with public spending rising steeply to 7 percent of GDP by 2015.

It says education will be free in state-owned schools up to matriculation but high schools will be upgraded to include classes XI and XII. The literacy rate is forecast to go up from 55 percent - which makes Pakistan 160th in the global roll-call of enlightenment - to 85 percent by 2015. Primary schools are to be upgraded from class V to middle level, usually meaning class VIII.

There will be a uniform curriculum for state-owned and private schools; and the madrassas will be persuaded by the interior minister, Mr Rehman Malik (sic!), to include "useful" subjects in their syllabi to enable madrassa graduates to get normal employment. Madrassa degrees, needless to say, will be "equalised".

Schoolteachers who have less than a graduate (education) degree will be phased out and only graduates will be allowed to teach. Teachers' salaries will be enhanced to make the job attractive and not let the sector be a refuge of the bottom-quarter of the employable manpower in the country.

Islamiat and Pakistan Studies - both heavily overlapping owing to "equation" of Pakistan with religion - have already been announced. No study has officially been done on the impact of these subjects on a society that is becoming more and more divided. But the subjects have been reinforced on the assumption that disunity is not because of crude indoctrination but because there is not enough of it.

Taking the expenditure on education from the current 2 percent of GDP to over six times more is not going to mean anything unless the provinces gear up for the job. As it is, even the 2 percent given to the provinces doesn't get spent. Pakistan is notorious for "returning" education allocations or eating them up, especially when some provinces have to lean on overdrafts to run their budgets.

Upgrading primary schools to middle level and transplanting classes XI and XII from colleges to high schools is going to entail a lot of spending and no one doubts that the increase of up to 7 percent of the GDP will take care of it. Yet it is difficult to ignore the status quo in the four provinces.

Rural Sindh is the worst off and the cities in Sindh have schools that will have to be built afresh. Punjab should have been the best educated province, but it is not, most of its schools - unless they are "ghost" - are in last stages of disrepair, forcing the chief minister, Shahbaz Sharif, to give them away to NGOs - with very good results, by the way - in his earlier tenure.

While Balochistan is yet to enter the education age, the NWFP, which had the best school system in the country, has been mauled by a strange anti-education religion-based terrorism, as if religion could flourish only after the destruction of literacy. The Muslim mind has suddenly become indifferent to education as is apparent from the statistics coming in from the Arab world.

The biggest flaw in the primary education system is the unwillingness to allow girls to be educated. Female literacy in Pakistan is shocking and compares badly with that of Bangladesh. The outline plan revealed on Wednesday doesn't talk of the problem, but the truth is that Pakistan will not reap the incalculable dividend of "civilisation" as long as it keeps its girls away from education and doesn't thus raise the quality of the mother in the country.

Cynicism is unavoidable because ambitious plans have been announced in the past and not implemented, including such day-dreams as the "model" schools in all districts on the design of Aitchison College! In Lahore, not even the traffic lights have maintenance funds or, if they have them, someone makes them disappear.

Therefore, in view of the past record, the "National Education Policy 2009" may not remain national after the next elections in 2013. The new incumbent may actually pull the entire edifice down because of the deeply embedded concept of partisan triumph through "dis-continuum".

A politically unstable country with looming centre-province conflicts might strike at the root of the plan. Teething difficulties may trigger non-cooperation rather than cause closer coordination. And a lot of money can go waste, as it did in the past with such dreamboat plans as the Nai Roshni schools. Daily times

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Education policy offers little for seminary reform
Islamabad: The new education policy has only briefly touched the issue of madressahs and passed the buck to the interior ministry, suggesting setting up of a madressah education authority to bring them at par with mainstream education.

The policy has nothing to offer in concrete terms on how thousands of religious schools working in every nook and corner of the country would be mainstreamed.

According to statistics on the education ministry's website, there are over 12,000 madressahs in the country with an enrolment of over 1.5 million students and around 55,000 teachers.

Madressah reform has long been a burning issue. Former president Gen (retd) Pervez Musharraf attempted to bring these institutions into mainstream, but failed because he lacked credibility with the Wafaqul Madaris.

Marvi Memon of the PML-Q said the targets set under the new policy were good, but without a proper strategy and funding plan they were meaningless.

It sounded good that seven per cent of the GDP would be spent on the education sector to achieve an 85 per cent literacy rate, but without a plan the target would not be realised, she added.

She said madressah reform should be an integral part of the education policy.

"The responsibility of successful negotiations with the Wafaqul Madaris lies with political parties having a religious base."

According to the new policy, the madressah education authority should be given the mandate to provide an opportunity for all existing and future madressahs to improve their standards.

The authority should provide funds for education and socio-economic welfare of students, develop infrastructure and equipment for improvement of existing facilities and provide further training to enhance skills of teachers.

Higher Education Commission Chairman Dr Javed Leghari said the interior ministry had a role to play in managing madressahs because militancy was on the rise in the country, but madressahs could not be reformed without support from the ministries of religious affairs and education.

A senior university professor said the new policy had nothing to offer.

The policy talked about ambitious goals to be achieved by 2015, but did not say anything about the next year, he said. Dawn

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