EDUCATION AND DECENTRALISATION

TARIQ AHMED SAEEDI
(feedback@pgeconomist.com)

Apr
18 - 24, 2011

Getting quality education is a luxury in Pakistan. Not majority of people are able to get proper education that can improve their standard of living as well as bring about healthy changes in the society.

For some, shortage of money is a problem while for others misdirected distribution of funds is the root cause. According to the figures, government of Pakistan spends about 2 to 3 per cent of its gross domestic product on the education sector per annum. The outlay is low when compared to the allocations for education by many countries in the region. Due to scarcity of funds, condition of public education sector depending on government money is deteriorating, experts argue. How can you control ghost schools and ghost teachers drawing monthly salaries without taking classes? That is another dimension.

Pakistan's education sector is broadly categorised into three systems: private sector, public sector, and religious seminaries. Quality of private sector is relatively good as compared to the public sector. Education standard of religious seminaries has no comparable alternatives except institutions in other Muslim countries that are teaching Islamic principles to students from primary level up to the higher education. Their social and economical contributions need to be debated in public.

Medium of instructions is also one of the factors that make one system competitive over others. Private-run institutes promote English language learning among students and few of them have English as the medium of instructions, thus are not affected of language barrier in the realm of science and technology locally and internationally. Firsthand exposure to the latest developments and issues give English-savvy students edge over their peers taught in local languages. From science literatures, scientific discoveries, to cutting edge technologies, everything is described in English world over. Translation tradition could not thrive in the country due to megalomaniac centralisation.

Quality of education is varied from province to province despite education is a federal subject. Provinces are to manage affairs of education sector according to the 18th amendment laws inserted in the Constitution of Pakistan recently.

Private sector education centres can bring changes in the education sector without prejudices. However, driven by commercial motives, they have low outreach in common public. Earning money is as frigging motto of these education centres as of other businesses. Community schooling is a human-friendly breed in the private sector, but it also has low outreach.

Madaris are promoting Islamic teachings and they are put under the test to probing roots of militancy in Pakistan. Critics said authoritarian indoctrinations are inculcated in the minds of students in Madaris, developing in them intolerance of religious doctrines other than their own. Ignorant to the worldly development affairs (science and technology), the syllabi prevalent in this education system needs insertions and deletions according to the dynamics and to get these students assimilated with the cultural and religious diversity in the world. Zia's era also comes under the fire of advocates of polarisation for its fanning militancy and creating militants to feed the war against Soviet Union (USSR) in 80s. This was also considered a paradigm shift when provocative religious sermons were used to drag impressionable people into the war between two superpowers. Is the current wave of militancy linked to Madaris? Are religious seminaries promoting intolerance and subsequent militancy?

Amazingly, foreign reports found out minimal or no connection between Madarsah's education and militancy in Pakistan, saying there were other important factors inducing religious fundamentalism in the country. For example, poor public education system is the major cause of militancy and religious extremism in Pakistan, noted a report by US-based think-tank. Religious schools "appear not to be a major risk factor", said Brookings Institution in its report with reference to terrorism and madarsah's education. The logic was based on enrolment rate in religious seminaries constituting 10 per cent of total while 70 per cent students are enrolled in public schools. The argument was substantiated by a probe into the militancy-madaris (plural of madarsah) connection by a senior research associate in the Centre for Conflict Analysis and Prevention at the United States Institute of Peace, Christine Fair. She argued public school-going students "have high levels of support for violence". However, madaris are nurturing mindsets in favour of militancy, she asserted.

Experts are of the standpoint that education sector of Pakistan needs reforms across the board. Things should start from the primary education sector that is the starting point of developing a human. From infrastructure building to curriculum revision, training of teachers, and improvement in examination systems, every aspect needs policy intervention. State-run schools as well as colleges are generally devoid of basic facilities.

The reforms obviously need resources. Foreign donations and educational loans have been pouring in the national treasury over the last many years. Especially, since 2002 foreign inflows have ramped up significantly. For next five year, UK has vowed 250 million pounds for education sector of Pakistan. US Aids has given $350 million. Since 2002, US government has donated $640 million for the sector. World Bank has been financing infrastructure building in education centres for last eight years. Still, donors are interested to see education-driven social and economic mobilisation in Pakistan. But, there is scepticism over resources utilization at the same time. British Prime Minister said clearly UK people wanted to see where the donations were being used.

Foreign donors, perhaps, are not able to escape funds misuse phenomenon in Pakistan despite immaculate auditing system handled by their own staffs. Programme and project loans are also sanctioned with proper surveillance afterwards.

Unless local participation is enhanced in the education sector, conditions would not improve. Decentralisation is the best option available to give local people authority and responsibility to manage education sector's affairs. When people at district levels are at stake, they will rather move to bring changes.