Politics of educational reforms
The reforms are also important as their need was felt by the
donor country (the US), and the contours of the implementation process were
drawn up by consultants who came as part of the grant package.
May, 2008: The post-9/11 educational reforms are a significant reference point in the
educational history of Pakistan in terms of their scale, the amount of money
invested in them, the order of their urgency and their official/political
look at the politics of these educational reforms we need to understand that
historically dominant groups have always used terms like 'reforms',
'development', 'civilisation', 'emancipation', and 'peace' for their hegemonic
purpose. Many imperialist powers annexed other countries ostensibly to civilise
them, to develop them, to liberate their people, and to bring peace to the
The important point to note here is that hegemonic powers first
turn development into 'undevelopment' and then offer reforms for their own
version of development. For instance, when the British came to India the country
was doing fine economically. Michael Parenti in Against Empire writes, "In 1810,
India was exporting more textiles to England than England was exporting to
India. By 1830, the trade flow was reversed. The British had put up prohibitive
tariff barriers to shut out Indian finished goods and were dumping their
commodities in India, a practice backed by British gunboats and military force.
Within a matter of years, the great textile centres of Dacca and Madras were
turned into ghost towns."
This rather long quote refers to a typical
pattern of hegemonic designs of development, 'undevelopment' and one's own
version of development. In India, after turning development into
'undevelopment', the British claimed to bring development through the
construction of roads, railway tracks, buildings etc.
This view of
development is purely physical. This interesting pattern is also shared by
military governments. It is claimed that most developmental works were carried
out by military dictators like Ayub, Zia, and Musharraf.
We can also
equate this pattern with 'form', 'deform', and 'reform'. Military governments
first dissolve parliament and then, after ruling for a long time, promise to
give back democracy (their own version of it) as a token of favour. In other
words, the dominant group first deforms the existing practice and then embarks
on reforming the process.
Let us now look at the rationale of the
post-9/11 reforms. Ironically the need for such reforms was not felt by the
local government but by the US. In the 9/11 Commission report, the US is urged
to "support Pakistan's government in its struggle against extremists with a
comprehensive effort that extends from military aid to support for better
education, so long as Pakistan's leaders remain willing to make difficult
choices of their own."
Following this commitment, a large sum of money
was given to Pakistan for educational reforms. According to USAID, "From 2002
through 2006, USAID provided a total of $449m to address the most pressing
needs: education, health, economic growth, and good governance." One of the
major reforms was to purge the curriculum of hate material. It is important to
note that most of this hate material was in fact included during the period of
the Afghan war.
Besides help in the shape of weapons, money, training
etc, a large sum of money was also allocated by the superpower for designing
such primers and books that would excite the youth for jihad. This jihad was a
political need of the superpower to settle scores with the Soviet Union. For
this purpose a centre was established in Peshawar to design such books. Tariq
Ali (quoted in Mamdani) referred to primers that stated that the Urdu letter tay
stood for tope (cannon), kaff for Kalashnikov, khay for khoon (blood) and jeem
It is interesting that money is now being squandered on taking
out the hate material which was once inserted with consent. This should not come
as a surprise as education has always been used by hegemonic forces as a potent
tool to realise their vested interests by moulding marginalised groups. Having
looked at the upper level of politics in educational reforms now let us see
political manoeuvring at the national level.
Pakistan has always suffered
from the problem of poor allocation of funds for education. Here was a very good
opportunity to make appropriate use of money to bring a qualitative change to
the educational system of Pakistan. But on the contrary, the government used
this money for its own image-building. To do wonders, a retired general was
appointed as minister for education. At the local level, slogans of self-praise,
such as 'Parah Likha Punjab' were coined to create the illusion of
On the top, political appointments were made, some of them
quite controversial. A sizeable amount of funds was allocated to print and
electronic advertisements for the image-building of the provincial leadership.
In the books published by the Punjab Text Board a message from the chief
minister was also inserted.
A typical practice in most research projects,
initiated in the name of educational reforms, was to focus on the enhancement of
numbers. Showing increased numbers at the end of a research project would
satisfy the donors, and the salaries of the employees and consultants would be
justified. What do we find as a result of such lucrative projects? We should
expect a typical number-crunching game without any sustainable qualitative
It is important to realise that for real improvement in
education, money is important. But money alone cannot bring about any meaningful
change unless the desire for reform comes from within, appointments are made on
the basis of pure merit, planning is done carefully, an effective monitoring
system is in place and goals are not limited to demonstrating expansion in
Quoting the number of enrolled students, trained teachers and an
inflated literacy rate is a typical view of development. But real development in
education comes with qualitative improvement in our lives. Amartya Sen suggests
that "the assessment of progress has to be done primarily in terms of whether
the freedoms that people have are enhanced". Applying this criterion to assess
our development, we realise that the much-trumpeted 'development' is no more
than an illusion.
By Dr Shahid Siddiqui email@example.com
The writer is director of the Centre for Humanities and
Social Sciences at the Lahore School of Economics and author of "Rethinking
Education in Pakistan".