Politicians and education

By Zubeida Mustafa

ELECTION season is here. The political leaders know no form of canvassing other than that of mud-slinging. Most of them can produce no documented evidence, but it is enough to start a vitriolic debate.

What betrays the low level of our electioneering is that no one has so far discussed any substantive issues. There have been attacks on the government in terms of the numerous crises that engulf the country today. Yet no party leader has actually analysed official policies on any burning questions or tried to offer his own solution. In other words, no one has shown us the light at the end of the tunnel. No party has announced a plan and the old manifestos that lay gathering dust have been dusted off and brought out where needed.

No one will really buy that. The voters — the few who still look up manifestos — are skeptical. They all know that the main problem with the education sector is the utter lack of political will and commitment on the part of those who execute policies. Unfortunately this will is also missing in the parties, not just in the government. Everyone is just scrambling for power with no agenda before them.

This was much in evidence last month when the Idara-i-Taleem-o-Aagahi convened what was termed a consultation with the political parties. So disinterested were the parties in being consulted that no representative had arrived by the time the function was scheduled to begin. Baela Jamil, the host, went ahead and started the proceedings without those who were supposed to understand how we, the voters, feel about the mess in the education sector.

The representatives did trickle in later, but after the children had presented their report on the more than one million signatures they had collected in four months demanding the right to education. Since no parliamentarian was present to witness their enthusiasm and pride or listen to their laments against inequalities in education (the children were from Lyari schools), one can’t expect any change.

When four lawmakers had arrived — from the PPP, MQM, PTI and JI — a semblance of consultation began but was punctuated by a lot of rhetoric; there was very little meaningful discussion. The discussant was Dr Ishrat Husain, the director of the IBA, who has turned the institute around since he took over, showing that change was possible if the commitment existed. Two observations he made were very succinct and should have made the parliamentarians think. One, education should be a non-controversial subject and all political parties should evolve a consensus on it. Two, the major problem in this sector is that of management and governance.

These should not be such unachievable goals. But who was listening? The parliamentarians were glancing at their watches as they prepared to leave.

What was an eye-opener was the revelation — at least for me — from Sharmila Farooqui who was representing the ruling PPP.

She informed the audience that the teachers in Sindh’s schools were selected by the World Bank, which also paid their salaries. That is the level to which we have sunk. The government does not want to waste funds on its teachers.

A charge commonly levelled by critics is that teachers are selected not on the basis of merit but of loyalty. Hence they are not necessarily good and education is being undermined drastically. Has the World Bank taken over this job itself? Do we know that whoever pays the piper calls the tune and its implications for education?

While we were being told this, the legislators kept clear of Article 25-A of the constitution, the supposed focus of the consultation. It is the least mentioned issue in parliamentary circles.

At another panel discussion organised earlier by the Sindh Education Foundation I had raised the issue of why the government was not framing a law on free and compulsory education. It was later that I learnt that a draft had been drawn up but the functionary from the education department who informed me about it was reluctant to pass it on to me. Perhaps she viewed it as a state secret, not to be told. Baela Jamil, a very resourceful person, sent me the draft much later.

I hope the government will circulate this draft before it is adopted as law. Many objections might be raised and it is better that they are debated in public during the lawmaking process.

The Annual Status of Education Report, 2011 shows that the standard of education in Sindh is the lowest in Pakistan. Is that surprising? It has long been suspected that the power-brokers in the province do not want the people they rule over to be educated. There was a time when landlords would not even allow schools to be opened in their jurisdiction. Now they ensure that if a school has been set up, children do not learn anything. The schools that function in the rural areas have nothing to offer children.

The right-to-education law needs to be strong so that good education is provided to all children. The bill doing the rounds is certainly flawed and has been drafted in such a way that it may never be implemented. Even if it is, it does not define the changes that are needed very clearly and the law might remain a dead letter on many counts — but more about that later.

Source: Dawn

16 thoughts on “Politicians and education

  1. Dr Ishat Hussain said, "Two observations he made were very succinct and should have made the parliamentarians think. One, education should be a non-controversial subject and all political parties should evolve a consensus on it. Two, the major problem in this sector is that of management and governance." Well, Dr Hussain is an international bureaucrat/banker who rose to a high rank of State Bank governor, and one can only expected such prosaic solutions from such quarters. Yes, one of the issues is good management but there are far more significant issues that Pakistan needs to tackle on its way to reforming education. Freire's quote below leads the way!

    "There is no such thing as a neutral education process. Education either functions as an instrument which is used to facilitate the integration of generations into the logic of the present system and bring about conformity to it, or it becomes the ‘practice of freedom’, the means by which men and women deal critically with reality and discover how to participate in the transformation of their world."

    ~Richard Shaull, drawing on Paulo Freire

  2. Interesting article. However,after attending several sessions of the present Parliament, i found several promissing young MNAs. They were involved in serious debate, do their home work and also contribute in bringing motions on private members day. There are also some old Parlimentarians, who i found even criticisng their own parties also and taken independent positions. However, normally such people never got tv exposure as our anchors mostly rely on few leaders, who hardly played a role inside the Assembly. One of the good name was Marvi Memon (now quit), Anoshi Rehman of PML(N), Nafisa Shah of PPP, Zafar Ali Shah of PPP(veteran and outspoken),Kashmala Tariq, now Shazia Mari, Kishwar Zehra of MQM. I think hope is there provided their parties give them proper position and say. Mazhar

    1. Mazhar, interesting to note that all those you have named are women. Have the men in these parties nothing to offer to such debates and discussions? Pity.

    2. You ask for the women to be given a proper say. That is our problem. Those who say what the party wants them to say grab the position and say you demand for them. Those who don't are kept in the background. See what is happening in the Sindh University.

    3. The talk show world is not the place for serious politicians. Most newspapers would be willing to take op-eds from male and female parliamentarians, provided they write well or get their work well-edited.

      Nafisa Shah for example was a journalist before entering politics. She however remains under the shadow of the PPP high-ups as seen from her failure express an opinion openly about how to solve the impasse at Sindh University. Here her father Qaim Ali Shah, the Chief Minister, is partly responsible along with the Governor Ishrat ul Ibad for the current mess – they support the controversial Vice Chancellor Nazir Mughal. What does she have to say about the thuggish behavior of the senior Sindh government minister of Education, Pir Mazhar? Let her write in this paper.

  3. interesting and thought provoking article as serious issues in education are raised…….will appreciate if you kindly send me a copy of the draft of proposed bill regarding right to education………hope you will have my mail in your record……best

  4. When many of the legislators posses fake degree how one expect them to be interested in eucation. Even if a law is made it will be wishful thinking that this will be implmented. Look at the law about organ donations Uneducated voters that is what they want ,so that they elected them again and again..

  5. Speaking about Politicians and Education, can anybody tell what happened to the grandiose plans for building universities with HEC funds some 5 years back? The money should have been pumped into revamping primary education, training of teachers, improving quality of books and wherever meaningful change could be brought

  6. So as we (ITA/PCE/NCHD) worked through 6 political dialogues at the conclusion of the 1 million signature campaign and (we realised 3 things :

    1. Education is common positive ground where huge agreements can be crafted during election time, no politician will say 'no' to education, but having said that;
    2. No political party is clear on what are the 10 key areas for the big push.. no clarity at all, but just recounting past glories of current parties in power, current statements about dis-empowerment (MQM where we have jurisdiction see our record) and
    3. No political party convinced of or wanting to pledge real enhancement of resources for education

    In this scenario education in Pakistan is dangerously poised to take a back seat once again. .inspite of people wanting otherwise.. how can this be avoided for the next 5 years (which are make or break for Pakistan)

    a. We want to use the momentum and hold 2 more rapid rounds of political dialogues on education mobilizing our youth parliamentarians as key leaders of our future .. using key points from the first round ..so we can pin down the political parties for better and more focussed manifestos with action plans to be tracked.
    b. can we organize a dharna /political sit in of citizens /children youth of 500,000 in each city on Education as a National Security Priority with specific demands and allocation of 4-5% of GDP for education with revised design of early childhood education, primary, incl. bridge/catch up programs, middle, secondary, technical and higher education

    We need huge activism for Pakistan for Education ; it is NOW or NEVER..

    Those interested kindly email at : itacec@gmail.com or to our Right to Education team at: "Ayesha Bilal" <ayeshabilal.ita@gmail.com>,

    Great job Zubeida for making this issue public once again.. So LET US RISE TO THE OCCASION

  7. education is a right,like other fundamental ones,which the majority will not get from the state.there has to be a fast-track approach,and the only one i can see is a violent one,in combination with other fundamental rights which the poor yearn for.time is fast running out for a controlled change and i cant see how the predator society will re-allocate resources for the poor.

  8. Politicians and education are not compatible in the sterile environment of our country.More then half of our current parlimentaias do not understand when a bill is either introduced or discussed in the Parliament We have to blame ourselves who elect such duds.

  9. Much has been said in these few lines about the behavior politicians and prevailing education system.

    For politicians their main agenda is to get elected on faked promises and faked degrees.
    And after winning they become answerable and loyal to their political bosses and completely forget the
    electorate.Right to Reject and Right to Recall would change this scenario and voters will have their actual representation.

    Yes Right-to-Education must be there and the problems (like family poverty and distance of education center) associated should also be resolved so that Right-to-Education becomes a real Right.

  10. Zubeida – Leaving a copy of comment on your today's article on education in Dawn.
    Thanks for a concise summary of the state of our education. There are some hopeful developments. PTI has recently put out a comprehensive economic proposal where PTI plans to increase current education budget 5 times if it comes to power. PTI is also planning to release its detailed education policy in few weeks. Hopefully, other political parties will follow the suit as well.

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