Apr 27 - May 10, 2009

The National Education Policy 2009 draft has come as an extension of the policies being followed since the inception of the country in 1947. The review process for the National Education Policy 1998-2010 was initiated in 2005 and the first policy draft was finalized in March 2007. The delay in finalization of the draft owes a lot to factors including the process of consultations adopted as well as political changes in the country.

Two main reasons prompted review of the policy framework. Firstly the policy framework has not served as a satisfactory guide, as the policies pursued under that framework had not produced the desired educational results. Performance of the education sector has been deficient in several key aspects, most notably in access rates, and in quality and equity of educational opportunities.

Secondly, the challenges like Millennium Development and Education for All (EFA) goals have gained greater momentum in the intervening years and demanded fresh consideration. These challenges are triggered by globalization and nation's quest for becoming knowledge based society. Besides, some compelling domestic pressures such as devolution of powers, economic development, and demographic transformations have necessitated a renewed commitment to proliferation of quality education for all.

Education is not only for the individuals, it has a societal role - a role of selecting, classifying, distributing, transmitting, and evaluating the educational knowledge, reflecting both the distribution of power and the principle of social contract. In a country with alarming inequities of income and opportunities, reducing the social exclusion needs to be one of the principle objectives of the education policy. The educational system in Pakistan is accused of strengthening the existing inequitable social structure as very few people from the public sector educational institutions could move up the ladder of social mobility. If immediate attention is not paid to reduce the social exclusion and moving towards inclusive development in Pakistan, the country can face social upheavals.

Almost all the past educational policies termed education a tool for social reform and development but failed in making any significant contribution in improving social inclusiveness through ensuring social mobility through education and training. Educational system is supposed to ensure the right of an individual to grow in income and stature on the basis of his/her excellence in education and training.

Uneven distribution of resources and apprehensions of sliding down on the scale of poverty promote social exclusion. Increased levels of social exclusion express itself in different forms like ethnic strife, sectarianism, and extremism, etc. Social exclusion or extremism is not exclusively a function of the curriculum but a host of other factors like poverty, inequity, and identity crisis contribute to it and it becomes such a huge challenge that calls for a comprehensive response on urgent basis.

According to informed sources recently various new initiatives have been taken by the government aimed at providing missing facilities. Traditional approach of improving infrastructure and providing brick and mortar is no doubt necessary, but not sufficient for quality education delivery and sustainable economic development in the existing burgeoning global competitive milieu. Some initiatives also focus on improving teaching quality and learning environment, building capacity of education mangers and administrators etc. Various initiatives have been launched by different Ministries, organizations and departments like National Commission for Human Development, Higher Education Commission, National Vocational & Technical Education Commission, Ministry of Social Welfare and Special Education, Labor and Manpower Division to develop the human resource base of Pakistan in a bid to meet the emerging challenges.

According to experts there are two fundamental causes for the weak performance of the education sector: 1) lack of commitment to education and 2) implementation gap that thwarts application of the policies. The two gaps are linked in practice because lack of commitment leads to poor implementation and weak implementation has its own problem.

The low resources stand in sharp contrast to the commitment required by the policy statements, which set up ambitious goals for the sector. The national emphasis on education goes back to the enshrining of the right to education in the constitution. The contrast between the vision and the commitment has been pointed out by the planning commission: "We can not spend only 2.7% of our GDP on education and expect to become a vibrant knowledge economy."

There exists the challenge of ensuring a uniform system of education that provides level playing field for the children irrespective of their caste, creed, family's economic capacity and religion, and in line with the fundamental rights and principles of policy as enshrined in the Constitution of Pakistan. Broadly there are three parallel streams in education that have created unequal opportunities for children who manage to enter the education system. In addition there are sub-streams within each. The main ones are public sector schools, private schools, and Madrassahs.

Within public and private sector schools there are elite and non-elite schools. The former caters to the economic elite only while the latter like Cadet Colleges, at least conceptually, allow talented children of the lower middle classes also. These elite schools cater to a very small minority of school going children and bulk of the lower middle class children study in the non-elite low quality private and public schools.

Effective implementation of policies can yield the desired results only when the stakeholders have ownership of the policies. One weakness of the governance regime in Pakistan has been its weak performance in getting all stakeholders to have a say in policy development. Overall, most stakeholders are of the view that various experiments have yielded limited success. Most cases of success are either owed to a dynamic head teacher or a local non-government organization that provides an interface between community and the school.

However, in most of the rural areas these organizations are controlled by politically influential persons who have little interest in school improvement. Most of the times the finances allocated are could not be utilized. Also, most head teachers have no training in working with communities and are unprepared for capitalizing on the potential. The main obstacle to greater success remains the lack of acceptance and comprehension of the concept at both the community as well as school level.

There is a general agreement that the quality of education has been a major casualty of the system's inefficiency. The biggest victim has been the public education system but quality cannot be assumed as given in the private schools. Re-prioritization of quality can only be initiated with a common understanding of the term and then focusing on curriculum, textbooks and learning materials, assessments, teachers and the learning environment available in an educational institution.

The superstructure of the knowledge-based society cannot be developed without a wide and high quality base that can feed quality human resources. The reforms for widening the base of education at the foundation level, in the areas of early childhood, primary and secondary education rely on informal and adult learning.