By Zubeida Mustafa
ALL of a sudden, Pakistan’s official circles seem to be awakening to the importance of education for the development of the country. But their newfound enthusiasm can be quite daunting especially when there is no change in the establishment’s views on ‘ideologising’ the entire spectrum of learning.
Hence it was news to me when I learnt that five years after devolution under the 18th Amendment, it has been realised that the New Education Policy of 2009 is no longer implementable. Another policy will now be framed collectively by all the provinces. In order to respect the autonomy of the federating units, the Inter-Provincial Education Ministers Conference has been inducted into the process. Since last year, six meetings have been held. One cannot vouch for the full participation of all the provinces in the policymaking process, especially Sindh given its irregular attendance in IPEMC meetings. Officials are optimistic that the policy will be framed by the end of this year and implemented in 2016.
The fact is that the government has failed to educate all the children from five to 16 years of age as it is bound to do under Article 25-A of the Constitution. According to Alif Ailan, 25 million children of that age are out of school in Pakistan. We failed to achieve the millennium development goals. The sustainable development goals appear to be equally elusive.
The most sensible approach would be to heed the voices of the stakeholders. But do policymakers have time to listen? Do they have the political will? It was shocking and distressing when neither the minister of education nor the minister of information could spare time to make an appearance at the Children’s Literature Festival in Islamabad recently. Even a token expression of support for the CLF would have gone a long way to warn the functionaries in the dysfunctional education departments all over the country to take their responsibilities seriously and hold themselves accountable to the children of Pakistan.
Public input is needed to formulate an education policy.
What is the CLF and why is it so important? The brainchild of Baela Raza Jamil, director programme, Idara-i-Taleem-o-Aagahi, and Ameena Saiyid, managing director of OUP, and executed deftly by its enterprising CEO Maham Ali, the festival is designed to unlock the child’s mind. By exposing children to books, the CLF helps them discover the power of reading. CLF’s 21 editions held since 2011 all over the country have given it the shape of a social movement focusing on education in which all classes are involved.
Had the concerned ministers been there at Lok Virsa, the venue of the festival, they would have realised that the process of learning doesn’t necessarily have to be a dull and tedious one within the four walls of the classroom. The involvement and excitement of the children so visible in the story-telling sessions, writing workshops, and the art, painting and music activities reinforced the belief that children learn more when education is made enjoyable.
Then there was much for the absent policymakers to learn from the hard-hitting discussions on curricula and textbooks, language of instruction, reclaiming heritage and diversity, peace education and critical thinking. These are issues that are not being addressed sufficiently in our education system. The liberal intelligentsia has left no stone unturned to draw the policymakers’ attention to the havoc our curricula and textbooks are wreaking on young minds. The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, Piler and Tehreek-i-Niswan, to name a few NGOs, have repeatedly arranged discourses on various dimensions of education but to no effect.
At the CLF numerous speakers narrated shocking incidents of how the Islamisation of the curricula and textbooks had resulted in injustice being inflicted on the minorities as religion has crept into all course books. Biases in the reading texts are poisoning young minds and sowing hatred against non-Muslims while triggering violence in society. Our children are alienated from their own heritage as a culture of silence is encouraged in the classroom.
Will these issues be taken up in the education policy of 2016? We just cannot be sure. Until the policymaking process is made absolutely transparent and widespread public participation is enlisted, we will have no control over the end-product that emerges. The ITA has done well to appoint a contact person who has been assigned the responsibility of liaising with the ministry. The inter-provincial ministers conference has already set up a National Curriculum Council. We do not know what it is working on. It is illogical to draw up a curriculum and then leap into a policy. Should a policy not be in place first to provide a framework for the curriculum?
We know well that the one who controls the education sector in Pakistan controls the mindset of the youth. If we are not to be a nation with an obscurantist, extremist and militant worldview ready to tear ourselves apart, we need to hear more sane voices from civil society about the education policy we want.