NEW EDUCATION POLICY
Universalisation of primary education has the pivotal role in the nations' socio-economic progress
From SHAMIM AHMED RIZVI,
Nov 20 - 26, 2000
The Chief Executive Gen. Pervez Musharraf announced in Islamabad last week that the government has evolved a four point education strategy aimed at improving curricula, quality of teacher training, examination system and enhancement of literacy level. Gen. Musharraf declared that his government accorded high priority to the education sector which was essential for the national progress. Despite its primary importance this sector remained neglected by the past governments. His government was making all possible efforts to make up for the lost time and to achieve an all out improvement in this vital sector specially the quality of education in science & technology, improving the standard of teachers training curriculum development, making examination system clean and efficient.
Earlier the government announced its decision to make primary education compulsory. This decision was taken after prolonged meetings and consultations of the high officials of the Ministry of Education and experts in the private sector and a detailed briefing to the Chief Executive by the Education Minister at a meeting which was attended by all provincial governors, Minister for Finance, provincial Education Ministers, Secretaries of the federal and provincial government, senior official and expert from the private sector.
The briefing covered strategies for comprehensive literacy and poverty reduction programmes, expansion and improvement of primary and elementary education, introduction of technical schemes at secondary level, improving quality of teachers and reforms in the higher education sector.
The major decisions arrived at during the meeting included, Primary education to be made compulsory throughout the country aimed at enhancing the literacy rate. An ordinance to this effect is already under process.
Proposal for introduction of a technical stream at secondary school level was approved. This stream will be in addition to the science and humanities streams/groups and would be offering a wide choice of courses, which would be area and gender specific linked to provision of greater employment opportunities including self-employment.
Recommendations for improvement in the quality of existing and newly inducted teachers through a comprehensive and nationwide standardised teacher training programme were approved.
In order to bring the existing education standards in the country in line with the requirement of the modern-day education trends, it was decided that-a fresh and modern upgraded curriculum from class 1 to class 12 would be prepared, textbooks encompassing these aspects would be developed and introduced at an early date.
The reforms in the current educational system and testing services would be reviewed with a view to bringing it at par with latest requirements.
Quality education at all levels including higher education through the private sector would be encouraged. Functions and responsibility of education foundations at federal and provincial levels would be reviewed and restructured including enhanced endowment funds in order to increase public private partnership.
To improve quality of education at higher levels it was decided to focus on faculty development.
Universalisation of primary education has the pivotal role in the nations' socio-economic progress, as it lays foundation for literacy and opens up avenues for study in various scientific, fiscal, administrative and other disciplines. Because of their special emphasis on universalization of primary education, the Western nations had been able to achieve miracles in almost all sectors of human life. It is, however, a pity that Pakistan has lagged behind in the education sector primarily due to the successive governments failure to respond to this basic national need, despite tall claims of improving the literacy ratio in the country. And as a consequence, we are economically far behind even the smaller countries such as Malaysia and South Korea, which had accorded due priority to the universalisation of primary education. The present government's decision to make primary education compulsory is, therefore, a positive development.
It augurs well for the future of the country that the government was taking up the challenge of promoting education in its true perspective. No doubt, all the four aspects, mentioned by the Chief Executive, deserve immediate attention. The world has changed and still changing at a faster pace but regrettably we stuck to years old (in many cases decades old) curricula. If at all some revisions were made, these were only cosmetic and did not fulfil the modern-day requirements. It is the world of technology but we continued to produce only office workforce for about half a century with the result that we lag behind in technological development. The foundations of the educational system rest on the quality of teachers but this aspect too remained neglected with the result that most of the teaching force consists of under-qualified and less-motivated personnel. Similarly, a hosts of studies have confirmed that our examination system was flawed and was not contributing to creativity.
The successive governments have been vainly concentrating on the so-called "adult literacy" in a country where a substantial number of children remain out of schools due to lack of institutions. So it is a welcome development that the present government has realised the shortcomings in the sector. However identification of the problems is nothing new, what matters is the implementation?
The centrepiece of the present plan is making primary education compulsory. Again, while the intent is laudable its practicality remains highly questionable. Given the sheer numbers involved, it would seem impossible to compel the children to go to school — especially when the law enforcement capacity of the state is on the retreat even in respect of heinous crimes. Moreover, there is the issue of opportunity-cost for the poor parents and, even if this can be overcome, the capacity of the existing public and private schools to absorb all the targeted children is doubtful.
Finally, even if all these question-marks are overlooked, the poor state of the primary education sector looms large on the horizon. The quality of education — if it can be called that — being currently imparted to the children is wholly out of tune with the realities of a fast changing world. Consequently, education's end product finds practically no gob opportunities or, where there is a market (as in the information technology sector), the supply is insufficient and ill-equipped. This requires a major overhaul of the entire education sector.
This brings us to the obvious and unavoidable starting point; adequate financial resources. No commitment has so far been made by the government on this crucial count, leaving the belated good intentions of the education ministry at the mercy of the finance bureaucracy. Preoccupied as the latter is with survival issues, primarily securing the elusive next tranche from the IMF, education is unlikely to figure high on its agenda. Looking at the allocations for the education, the achievement of the goals enunciated by the CE seems to be difficult. At present the government was spending very low on education, meaning thereby that the sector is on the low priority list of the administration. We have wasted half a century in rhetoric and lip-service. Without better education, we cannot visualize an educated nation in the days to come. Let us mean business and strive to implement the policies in letter and in spirit.