Towards Universal Primary Education, and Beyond!

March 29, 2009

In a traditional address to the joint session of the Parliament (full text here), President Asif Ali Zardari has highlighted government’s achievements and upcoming challenges since coming to power after elections in February last year.

With regards to education, he announced that ‘a new education policy had been framed to ensure universal primary education by 2010 and increase education budget to 4 percent of GDP by 2012.

With the universal primary education by 2010 Pakistan will continue to uphold its commitment with the UN Millennium Declaration (watch Universal Education Campaign Video below), reaching the target well before. It’s one of the goals, universal primary education will ‘ensure that by 2015, children everywhere, boys and girls alike will be able to complete a full course of primary schooling‘. In September 2000, leaders from around the world ushered in the new millennium by adopting the Declaration, endorsed by 189 countries, emerged as a road map setting out goals to be reached by 2015. Pakistan is also signatory to the Millennium declaration. These goals form the basis for national development efforts.

Education is accepted as a basic right of everyone both at national and international level. The Constitution of Islamic Republic of Pakistan, 1973 clearly lays down the provision in Article 37 (b) that:

“The state of Pakistan shall… remove illiteracy and provide free and compulsory secondary education within minimum possible period”.

In Article 26 (1), United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights, 1948, it is clearly laid down that:

‘Everyone has the right to education. Education shall be free, at least in the elementary and fundamental stages. Elementary education shall be compulsory.”

In the light of the commitment of the Government of Pakistan to the achievement of universal literacy and for the provision of free and compulsory elementary primary education as prescribed in the Constitution of Pakistan and as outlined under Article 26 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights ratified by the United Nations, the country has introduced some twenty-two policies and action plans since 1947. After 60 years and at the stage of electing political leadership for the next 5 years, it is time to reflect on the progress made, lessons learnt and critically examine the setbacks which we might have suffered on the way, and chart a way forward with a new vigor.

The New National Education Policy, (NEP) 2009 comes in a series of education policies dating back to the very inception of the country in 1947.

  • The first National Educational Conference (Karachi: Nov. 27,Dec 1, 1947) produced a strong philosophy of as well as a number of ambitious recommendations indicating the future goals of education in Pakistan Nevertheless, many of its recommendations remained in documentary form only for the lack of institutional or economic resources to pursue them.
  • In 1959 Notational Commission on was established which recommended that education should be made compulsory upto primary level by the year 1969 and upto middle level by the year 1974.
  • In 1969, the New Education policy emphasized adult literacy.
  • The Education Policy, 1972 anticipated universal primary education for boys and girls by the years 1979 and 1984 respectively, with its extension upto middle level in the next three years.
  • The New Education, Policy 1970 recommended a shift to scientific, technical and vocational education for middle level skilled worker. It also emphasized a 50: 50 ratio between science and humanities subjects enrollment.
  • National Education Policy 1979 emphasized the universal primary education, by 1986-87 utilizing non-formal sources, open ‘Mosque Schools’ and, ‘Mohallah Schools’ for girls on a large scale.
  • Since 1979 no further expansion is seen in the field of education planning in Pakistan except some new policy-decisions in certain areas such as primary education, teacher training and higher education and research. Nevertheless more emphasis is given to universalize the primary education and quite a number of international projects have been launched in this field.
  • The Educational Policy 1992 was announced by the Federal Minister of Education in Islamabad in June, 1992. The following characteristics were the most important features of this policy:
  1. An emphasis on Privatization.
  2. Encouraging the private sector in education.
  • The recommendations of the education policies were highlighted in the next five year plans of the country and the targets were set accordingly, however, meager resources were generally allocated to education and the education sector could not get a lion’s share in any of the budget proposal.

Recently, the review process for the National Education Policy 1998-2010 was initiated in 2005 and the first document, the White Paper was finalized in March 2007. The White Paper became the basis for development of the Policy document.

Two main reasons prompted the Ministry of Education (MoE) to launch the review in 2005 well before the time horizon of the existing policy framework (1998 - 2010) had approached.

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, new international challenges like Millennium Development and Dakar 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 a “knowledge 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.

According to the White Paper, the purpose of education is:

‘The education system should raise highly knowledgeable, skillful, productive, creative and confident individuals who have advanced reasoning and perception of problem solving skills; are committed to democratic values and human rights; are open to new ideas; have a sense of personal responsibility; are committed to moral values; have assimilated the national cultures; are able to tolerate differences in opinion, faith and culture; have empathy towards all of humanity; and can participate in the productive activities in society for the common good using Social and Physical Sciences and Technology.’

Despite the constitutional guarantee of free and compulsory secondary education as stipulated in 1973 Constitution, Pakistan has been unable to achieve targets of universal primary enrollment objectives in over three decades. In Pakistan, net enrollment rate at the primary level is indicated as 68% in 2005, as per the EFA Global Monitoring Report, 2008, based on the data provided by the Ministry of Education, Government of Pakistan. As per findings of Pakistan Social and Living Standards Measurement PSLM survey (2005-06), the actual figure of Net Enrollment Rate (NER) for the same year is, however, as much lower as 53%.

In 2005, of the 67% children enrolled in primary schools nearly 30% dropped out before completing 5 years of formal education. Net primary enrollment of Pakistan remains the lowest in South Asia and the same is true for the annual primary completion rates.

The previous government undertook several initiatives to increase the access to primary education across the country including abolition of fees and provision of free-of- cost textbooks. Pakistan prepared and launched a National Plan of Action for EFA (2001-2015) to achieve goals of EFA. In accordance with targets given in the NPA of Ministry of Education, Pakistan had planned to increase its primary level Net Enrollment Rate (NER) up to 79% by the year 2005. However, Pakistan has not been able to achieve the targeted net primary enrollment rate set for 79%3 in 2005, and was only able to achieve an NER value of 68% by this in the same year. Under the EFA and MDGs frameworks, the government of Pakistan has committed to achieve 100% net primary enrollment by the year 2015.

In 2005, Pakistan’s adult literacy rate (for population aged 15 years and above) was 50% [64% for men and 36% for women] which is among the lowest in the world and much below the South Asian average of 65%. Human Development Index, 2007According to 1998 Census, there were are about over 50 million illiterates of age 15+ in Pakistan. This number may have increased further, it is feared. The main cause of this higher rate of illiteracy is the failure of formal education system to enrol all the school aged children and retain them up to Grade 5. Although few half baked programmes ofsome adult literacy programmes were launched in the past, and some are still being implemented, their scope is limited and quality is questionable. At the national level, the question as it is not certain that to whether Pakistan will be able to achieve the EFA targetsobjectives and the MDGs given the past trends, and keeping in view the present state of the education system is highlighted when the present status of key indicators of education in this country. For example, Pakistan has not been able to achieve an adult literacy rate of 60% by 2005, as the Government projected in its annual Millennium Development Goals Report in 2004, and literacy target of 61% by 2005, envisaged in the National Plan of Action (2001-15) for EFA, published by the Ministry of Education.. The government of Pakistan has set itself set the target of achieving 68% adult literacy rate by the year 2015 .right21

Pakistan can not eradicate illiteracy without making primary education totally free and compulsory, and expanding investment on adult literacy and Non-formal Basic Education programmes. Country wide literacy programmes are urgently needed to promote peace and tolerance in the society, to strengthen democratic practices, to raise status of women in the society, and enhance productivity of the labour force.

The responsibility for setting the priorities, formulating policies and initiating measures to address various issues relating to basic education lies primarily on the shoulders of the political leadership of the country. Fortunately there appears to be a broad consensus on the fundamental goals, including eradication of illiteracy, increase in access to primary education and improvement in the quality of education standards etc. among the political leadership of the country. It is important that the key issues facing the Education For All in Pakistan be clearly identified, its implications fully understood, and status of progress made so far by Pakistan, in comparison to other countries is evaluated. Based on this assessment, policies and plans may then be formulated and implemented by the present and future governments with firm political resolve, maintaining consistency in broad objectives and strategies.

THE WAY FORWARD

It is imperative to expand access to complete free and compulsory primary (Up to Class 5) education, enhance budget for education, improve early childhood education or Katchi class in the country, enlarge scope of on-going adult literacy and Non-Formal Basic Education (NFBE) programmes, give priority to girls education, and place greater emphasis on capacity building and quality of educational services in both public and private schools. Pakistan Institute of Legislative Development and Transparency (PILDAT) in a paper published in January 2008 opined a few strategies to enable the country to achieve EFA Goals and MDGs. In this regard, the key points of debate, discussion and the basis of possible consensus for the political parties of Pakistan are listed below:

  1. Increasing funding for education by allocating a minimum of 4% percent of the GDP within next 3 years.
  2. Allocation of at least 10% of the education budget to Literacy and NFBE programmes with an immediate effect.
  3. Offering free and compulsory primary education to all children in Pakistan, and achieving 100% Primary Enrolment, 75% Primary Completion rate and 868% Adult Literacy by the year 2015.
  4. Legislation to declare free primary education a right, in accordance with Article 37 (b) of the Constitution of Pakistan
  5. Achievement of complete gender equality in Net Primary Enrolment by 2015.
  6. Eradication of political interference and favouritism in education department and ensuring transparency in appointments, postings, and transfers of teachers and other education officials.
  7. Introduction of a uniform curriculum and provision of equal facilities in all public sector schools, and bridging the gap between various types of publicprivate schools and Madrassass in the country.
  8. Ratification of UNESCO Convention against Discrimination in Education (1960), by the Government of Pakistan.
  9. Addressing disparity in progress towards ‘Education For All’ among various provinces, areas and districts in Pakistan Even if there are differences on constitutional, legal and political questions among political parties and their leadership, there is a critical need of developing and maintaining a broad consensus among the parties on the Education For All Goals and MDGs. Since policies and plans take time to produce results, more so in the case of Literacy and Education, there is a pressing need to have a continuity of policies and consistency of approach in a broad sense. This Paper and the proposed All Parties Conference (APC) on Education For All were intended to make a modest but much needed contribution in that direction.

APC on ‘Education for All’ was organized on February 05, 2008, by PIDLAT and UNESCO, where seventeen major political parties of Pakistan (including parties now ruling the country) signed a Joint Declaration on Education For All and pledged to bring positive changes in the education sector by taking action on the above eight strategic points.

Few moths ago, another one, a consultation with Parliamentarians on ‘Education For All in Pakistan’ was organized by PILDAT on January 29, 2009 at Serena Hotel Islamabad in association with UNESCO, Islamabad.

This session was an effort to review the state of education in Pakistan and the pledges made last year.

The following recommendations were adopted in the consultation:

  • We must clearly focus on quality, gender equality, and improvement in literacy, learning opportunities for the young and adults, free and compulsory basic education and early childhood education. The early childhood education provides an essential basis for whole of the education. It is time to have transition from home to school.
  • We have to recognize that Pakistan needs to make significant investment in education if it needs to address its issues related to EFA. There are inter-regional variations across Pakistan. In some parts of Pakistan, access to education, its quality and literacy are better and in some cases it lags far behind. This disparity needs to be addressed.Parliamentarians on ‘Education For All in Pakistan’
  • There is also a need to increase accountability in the educational system. Recruitment of teachers should be free from any political influence. Pakistan needs to put in place mechanisms which encourage priority budget allocations for free primary, and if possible, secondary education. The budget allocation framework needs to be reviewed and linked to targets. Accountability, to use the budget appropriately be strengthened and integrated with the development of education.
  • Education is linked to other factors like health and we need to develop linkages with the health sector, manpower, planning, etc. in the success of vibrant and rigorous education system.
  • Provincial governments should take initiatives to improve the quality of the basic education. To ensure the quality education we have to fix the ratio between students per class. It’s nearly impossible to carry good results from class of 200 students
  • We should encourage adult religious awareness programs. This will eradicate extremism and terrorism from the society. We should encourage religious education among adults so that they are not misled by miscreants in the name of religion.
  • We should share good practices and have practical and real approach to improve the quality of education. The funding is not major problem in Pakistan but donors have apprehensions about the utilization of the money. The leadership of the country should take the responsibility of proper utilization of money. We would unite to ensure good governance. The international donors should do more for the improvement in the educational system in the country. The government schools lack in teachers and facilities.
  • There should be reappraisal of educational priorities and resource allocation in keeping with the global development scenarios. The public budget allocation has to be raised to 4-5 per cent of the GDP.
  • The parliamentarians should convince the political leadership of their respective parties to focus on education. The procedure to release funds needs to be simplified and decentralized. The private sector and NGOs should be involved with incentive-oriented approach to generate funds for promotion of education.

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