by Raza Rumi
Yet another educational policy has been announced for Pakistan and its hapless citizens. We should not cast aspersions on the motives of an elected government, for we have been bitten by endless rounds of authoritarian rule which have not only destroyed the institutions of civilian governance, but have also demolished the integrity of our curriculum and mode of instruction. Decade after decade, dictators chose to glorify martial rule and later legitimized the abuse of jihad and violence. Even those who have studied at elite, expensive schools have somehow been doctored by the same curse of malicious textbooks. The surreal curricula have glorified looters and plunderers like Mahmud Ghaznavi only because they happened to be Muslims by a sheer coincidence of birth. Not to mention the Hindus, with whom we have coexisted for nearly a thousand years; they have been painted as treacherous, villainous and vile creatures ready to destroy the Muslims.
One would have expected that a legitimately elected government, representing the aspirations and pluralism of Pakistan’s small provinces would take a strong stance on the revision of pernicious curricula. Alas, this is now a distant, buried dream for all. The policy is silent on that. This is a government that is waging wars on terrorism rather successfully and with clarity of purpose, but the educational policy makes little mention of the madrassa reform which is now an imperative for the very survival of Pakistan as a viable state. Thousands of madrassas scattered all over the place, funded by external powers preach hatred, bigotry and a reversion to the Dark Ages. Who will reform these madrassas if the national education policy does not even bother to lay out a strategy and provide resources? The new policy promises that by 2015, the budgetary allocation for education would increase to seven percent of the GDP from the current 2.1 percent of the GDP. This is surely promising but how can a policy not envision the need or the strategy to mobilize such resources? Have we not heard such sanguine proclamations in the past?
The truth is that a policy in Pakistan has been reduced to a fancy document that is written and published for the consumption of supposedly naive citizenry and the donor community that often pumps money and ill-conceived programmes into this sector. In this day and age, our bloated literacy figure remains fifty-five percent, lower than that of all regional neighbours who have made substantial improvements in the state of education.
Needless to mention, how could we develop as a country without addressing our collapsing public education system?
The private sector, evidently, has jumped into the fray and is now a major player in providing education at all levels to Pakistanis. However, this major shift is taking place almost in a state of freefall since a regulatory framework for private education is non-existent. Legal provisions that govern this area are outdated and inadequate. Hence, the quality and effectiveness of such educational systems remains dubious. While driving across the Grand Trunk Road one can see all sorts of private schools with hilarious names, always with the prefix or suffix ‘Radiant.’ It has been reported that between 2000 and 2005, the number of private schools increased from thirty-two thousand to forty-seven thousand. According to the LEAPS report, one in every three children at the primary level, during a survey, was studying in a private school.
The decline of education is neither an issue of limited resources nor an Indian-Israeli conspiracy. It is simply an issue of misgovernance and the decay of institutions. The local government ordinance devolved education to the local government level in 2002. This was the right path towards improving the delivery of education services for the overwhelming majority of Pakistanis. Now, the devolution reforms are being brazenly reversed by the provinces, thereby opening up another Pandora’s box and surely signing a death-blow an ailing patient known as our education system. An education policy cannot be an isolated set of good intentions. It has to be backed up with sound governance and institutional arrangements, effective accountability measures for service providers and above all a commitment to place education above every other imperative.
But how can we think of such a possibility when we are trapped in an insecure mindset and when the state has inculcated the myth of external enemies destroying Pakistan through the educational curricula? We are hostage to our submarines, fighter jets and posh cantonments. We are also the slaves of the status quo and rank opportunism in every field of life. How can education be a priority? And if it is not a priority, then each policy document will remain a formality.
It is about time we gave up making new policies and actually started implementing the old ones. Three important steps need to be taken at once. Firstly, there has to be a complete empowerment of district and local governments as providers of education. Secondly, crash programmes need to be introduced in order to improve enrollment; adult literacy packages need to be provided because we are already very late. Lastly, a greater involvement of the private sector is needed in providing secondary and higher-level education within a pro-poor regulatory framework that prevents the commodification of education. These interventions need to be complemented by a comprehensive madrassa reform, whether the madrassas like it or not, and dismantling of the ‘jihadi,’ xenophobic and shameful curricula edifice that provides an illusory cover to a crumbling and defunct