Education policy, will it work?

By Zubeida Mustafa
Source: Dawn

On Pakistan Day, the nation will be presented with a gift from the government — a new education policy. The education minister told the media the other day that the draft policy had been sent to the provincial governments for their feedback.

The assurances Mir Hazar Khan Bajarani held out amounted to offering the people the moon. Hence disappointment may be in store.

The policy is emphatic about the stakeholders having a sense of ownership if the draft is to be implemented. But having been witness to a train of education policies that have been announced only to flop, the people have given up hope. How does the government plan to create this sense of ownership? We do not know.

But were it to be placed before the provincial assemblies to be debated and adopted by the representatives of the people, it would at least have some credibility. Much will be heard about the NEP in the days to come, one hopes.

Just as the taste of the pudding is in the eating, the test of a policy is in its implementation. Unfortunately, failure to implement policies has been the hallmark of our system of governance over and over again. The NEP itself takes note of this `implementation gap`, as it is described.

This, in the view of the authors, is partly to be attributed to a lack of commitment. They are very kind or simplistic in their approach to the power barons in this country when they say this lack of commitment is not due to `a lack of belief in education`s true worth` but their disagreeing with the policy goals.

We know that the real reason for the lack of commitment is that the elites who rule Pakistan want to keep the masses away from the power centres and the most effective way of achieving that goal is by keeping the people shrouded in the darkness of ignorance.

The policy is dismissive of the assessment by the Economist Intelligence Unit, which it quotes, that `Pakistan`s education system is among the most deficient and backward in Asia, reflecting the traditional determination of the feudal ruling elite to preserve its hegemony`. It is not just the `feudal elite` but also the `economic haves` who want to preserve their monopoly by preventing the have-nots from acquiring a bigger share of the cake by denying them good education.

That would explain why implementation has always been such a problem when policies are designed to improve the education sector. But one should not overlook other factors, many of which are in-built in the policies themselves, which also contribute towards the failure of implementation.

The NEP envisages phenomenal expenditure — phenomenal by current standards — of Rs12.9 trillion in 2005-2030. In 2005 the expenditure on education was Rs132.9bn. By some calculation which has not been very clearly explained, the policy expects this expenditure to be affordable.

There are three caveats in this approach. First, as Javed Hasan Aly, the author of the 2007 education policy white paper, the best produced so far, points out there is a disconnect between the identified financial resources needed for implementation and the goals and targets set.

He asks, `Has the education ministry consulted the finance ministry and the Planning Commission and obtained some commitment from them if such a huge amount will be made available for education in the years to come?`

In the past many policies have floundered because the policymakers discovered soon after they had embarked on their ambitious mission that money was not available. There is also the big factor of corruption that is gnawing away at the core of society.

If excessive money is somehow generated, it will either remain unutilised or will be embezzled if capacity-building has not been undertaken concurrently. Aly, a strong advocate of good governance through efficient processes, believes that the task undertaken immediately should be to build capacity for planning, implementation, monitoring and evaluation.

The NEP draft does not have much to say about monitoring at the micro level which is an important feature in any policy especially in Pakistan where the education sector is one of the biggest employers with a reach that is widespread and that goes into remote areas.

Efficient and effective monitoring would introduce a measure of accountability in the education department. It would be difficult to monitor the implementation at the macro level in the face of vague and ambitious targets with no benchmarks having been set in terms of quality that embodies good teaching, good assessment and good curricula and textbooks.

For instance, the policy aims at 100 per cent primary enrolment by 2015, 100 per cent middle enrolment by 2015 and 100 per cent secondary enrolment by 2020. Can these goals be met? According to Unesco data, in 2006 Pakistan`s net primary enrolment was 66 per cent while secondary enrolment rate was 30 per cent.

A third factor that is bound to affect implementation is the failure of the policy to address unequivocally the core issue of governance and management. Who is to oversee the implementation of the policy? Javed Hasan Aly points out that informally enhancing the oversight role of the inter-provincial education ministers` conference without changing the rules of

business will not make the process effective.

Under the existing arrangement six ministries deal with education matters, namely, the education ministry, the Higher Education Commission, the labour and manpower ministry, the special education, ministry, the science and technology ministry and the national technical and vocational education commission.

These are sometimes working at cross purposes. How their working will be streamlined is not clear at all. And what will be the function of the `newly formed ministry for human resource development` about which we have not been given any clue? One hopes that these obvious obstacles in the path of implementation will not be glossed over.
Policymakers concede that Pakistan has been overtaken by many countries that were previously way behind it. Since without implementation, all else has no meaning I have taken up this aspect first. How the policy seeks to rectify the flaws in our education system also call for some rethinking. But more about that later.