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The recent debates on education have also highlighted how the education sector is not

receiving its due compared to say defence, infrastructure and other expenditures made by
the government. However, the discussion has yet to move to the most important area i.e.
quality of schools and what sort of learning are they providing?

The task of reforming the education system is huge, complex and some would say next to
impossible. However, the 18th Amendment to the Constitution has opened the doors to avenues
for change. Firstly, education is a provincial subject and the transfer of budgets (with increased
allocations through the National Finance Commission Awards) implies that there is now more
flexibility and autonomy with the provinces in matters of policy and operations. Secondly, the
inclusion of right to education in the fundamental rights also ensures that this is now a justiciable
right as well as a paramount priority of the state.

Provinces have been managing their educational systems even before the 18thAmendment was
passed. However, the policy-making, standard setting and curricula setting were federal subjects.

Pakistan's case has been the classic example of policy failures. Every government has launched
an education 'policy' with much fanfare and with some ambitious targets but almost all of them
have not been realised. The key problem as even a high school student knows is the lack of
implementation or rather the difficulties of translating policy goals into 'results': enrollment,
gender parity, improved quality and accountability.

In the post-devolution context, the provinces can formulate their own policies and this is the time
for them to get down to serious planning for the future. Each province has its own peculiar
constraints and opportunities and therefore is in a best position to set the objectives of what they
intend to do with the education sector.

Firstly, the provinces would have to focus on the public schools. The issues are well documented
absenteeism in teachers, lack of incentives for the parents to send their children to school, lack
of facilities, laboratories and most importantly the collapsed monitoring and evaluation systems.
Perhaps the greatest priority is to ensure that there are enough teachers and that they are well
trained. Teacher training has faced stiff resistance in the past. Punjab tried to do it a few years
ago and met with strikes by the teachers. Incetivising teachers therefore would be a priority in
this policy domain.

Secondly, the growth of private schools also indicates that there is a robust supply of educational
facilities in the country. The World Bank led Learning and Educational Achievement in Punjab
Schools (Leaps) study shows that between 2000 and 2005, the number of private schools
increased from 32,000 to 47,000. A significant conclusion was that by the end of 2005, one in
every three enrolled children at the primary level was studying in a private school.

Given that the Leaps report is already dated, the numbers may have increased. This has serious
implications for policy at the provincial levels. Provincial governments must also become
regulators now, set the standards and provide information to the parents on the quality of
schooling available.
Also, correction of imbalances in terms of coverage can also be handled by the state by
incentivising setting up of private schools in areas where educational facilities are lacking.

Thirdly, the most critical area pertains to the textbooks and the curricula that are being used.
Scores of experts and analysts have noted the prejudiced nature of curricula as well as the
structure, approach and methodology they employ. Provinces have the powers to correct the
historical wrongs and set up independent and capable commissions to undertake this reform at
the earliest. There is no point in increasing the access to schooling if learning outcomes are not
guaranteed.

Most importantly, the 1980s insertions of jihad and Islamism need to be corrected. Globally, it is
recognised that children cannot be made victims of ideologies that spur and legitimise violence
of any kind. Furthermore, children should not be ingrained with gender stereotyping, clichs on
non-Muslims and made fodder for a national security state. There is now great onus on the
provinces. To make sure the wheel is not reinvented, the work done earlier should be used and
draft proposals for curricula reform should guide the provinces.

Fourthly, massive corruption in the education sector is a cause for alarm too. Despite the fact that
billions have been invested in the system, there are massive leakages through a culture of rent
seeking. Teachers, headmasters and education department officials collude and share the rents.
The procurement for schools is another scam that is well known to all local stakeholders when
they see shoddy building materials, ghost expenditures and sub-standard textbooks, materials etc.
Therefore, it is essential that provinces also strengthen their procurement regulatory authorities
and make sure that all loopholes are plugged.

Lastly, there can be no meaningful progress if the mammoth provincial bureaucracies are not
trimmed and powers not further decentralised to district and sub-district levels. Provincial
monolithic structures need to be broken down into manageable local units under the supervision
of elected officials who are directly accountable to the public. Despite the problems of 2001-
2008 devolution, the performance of education sector at the local level saw some improvement.
The budgets were spent at least. Currently, the centralised planning and procurement makes it
impossible to even spend the existing budgetary allocations. This also calls for reforms in
financial management and planning systems to facilitate spending on education that is timely,
transparent and outcome-focused.

Education policies and outcomes are critically dependent on the governance of the sector and the
overall political economy variables. The provinces therefore need to prepare a detailed
implementation action plan[s] to ensure quality assurance and set up independent education
commissions for improving school governance as well as monitoring and evaluation of education
services at primary and secondary levels.

Such commissions should be statutory and can provide innovative options for the
implementation of education policy and strategy. Specifically, the education commissions can
suggest and design workable options for availability of the teachers in schools. Further, these
commissions can identify needs for teachers training, provide customised solutions and oversee
the curricula reform that cannot be delayed any longer. The political elites must shun their short-
termism and focus on the real issues facing Pakistan. Needless to say the education emergency
tops the list.

The writer a writer, policy adviser and editor based in Lahore. He blogs at www.razarumi.com
and also manages Pak Tea House and Lahorenama webzines.