The 18th Constitutional Amendment has significantly changed the way education will be planned, managed and financed in Pakistan. The Amendment acknowledges provision of free and compulsory education to all children of the age (5-16) as a fundamental right. And with abolition of Concurrent Legislative List, the mandate for curriculum, syllabus, planning, policy, centers of excellence and standards of education, now exclusively falls in provincial domain. However, a new entry in Federal Legislative List Part-II retains ‘standards in institutions for higher education and research, scientific and technical institutions’ to be handled by the Council of Common Interests.
In fact even before the passing of the eighteenth amendment the provinces were largely independent in planning, management and delivery of education but the centre had the authority and responsibility of designing and developing education policy and curriculum for all the federating units to be introduced in the public schools. None of the provinces had the authority to amend, add or delete any of the items of the prescribed curriculum. This was entirely the domain of the Federal Ministry of Education. However, the provincial Text Book Board had the space to translate the standard curriculum into books to be taught in nation’s class rooms.
The other area where the provinces have been given autonomy is the sphere of Higher Education. Earlier, the higher education for provinces meant only college education though provinces had the authority to award charter to the universities as per criteria of the Higher Education Commission, and provincial governors were chancellors of the public sector universities. Provincial universities, though had administrative freedom, but were highly dependent on the federal government for finances and grants. Now the provinces would have to foot the bill for development of universities.
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On one hand this new scenario provides an exciting new opportunity to the provinces to make new advancements in the education sector and develop improved curricula according to the need, priority and ideals of their own regions and on the other hand this also adds to responsibilities of the provinces in terms of better education management and delivery. The provinces also need to allocate more financial resources in the education sector in order to bring improvement in it.
The Roundtable was attended by a large number of participants from all over the country. Federal minister for education, a former education minister of the Punjab; provincial secretaries of education departments from Punjab, Sindh, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan and officials of the Federal Ministry of Education; vice chancellors of four universities and pro-vice chancellor of another university; officials of Higher Education Commission and Federal Directorate of Education; president of Private School Network (PSN); sixteen educationists/scholars from various universities/institutes, five research scholars, and representatives of eleven civil society organizations from across the country attended the conference. The chief guest was Sardar Asif Ahmed Ali, the Federal Minister for Education.
Federal Minister for Education, Sardar Asseff Ahmed Ali, in his keynote address stated that minimum national standards in curriculum and textbooks are essential for building national identity. He held a personal opinion quite in contrast to the government’s official point of view and said that the total autonomy of the provinces with regard to development of curricula was not appreciable and unless there is a minimum standardization in the curriculum it would do “incalculable damage” to the federation of Pakistan.
He also said that there is an inherent danger to the country itself if the basis of commonality, that is the Urdu language, is removed. He said that the government in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa is already changing the medium of instruction from Urdu to Pashto which in his opinion was a regressive step. The federal Minister also opined that the provinces were ill equipped to change the medium of instruction from Urdu to regional languages and that they would be at a disadvantage in case they did it.
However, pro-provincial autonomy intellectuals and educationists did not agree with the Minister and with examples from other federations argued that stronger provinces were vital for a stable Pakistan.
The first session was themed “Reflections on the way education has been planned, financed and managed in Pakistan and analysis of post 18th Amendment scenario”. Participants discussed the challenges for provinces after adoption of 18th amendment. Questions regarding issuance of charter to universities, difference of curriculum and uniformity, standardization and quality of education were raised. It was discussed that Universities need to be creative and innovative to generate their funds through inventions and publications. Questions regarding developing of curriculum and syllabus by the provinces came also under discussion.
Dr. Rasul Bakhsh Rais commented that we need to look at the spirit of the 18th Amendment. It is a shift from a unitary to federal system. There is need to change the mindset and shed fear syndrome. Provinces should be free and have liberty to develop their educational systems and programs according to their socio-economic and development needs.
Former education Minister Punjab Mian Imran Masood briefly described the system of education management and governance in Punjab and said that even prior to the passing of the eighteenth amendment the provinces were largely independent in the policy and planning regarding education in their provinces. The federal government had very little interference in the micromanagement of education except for the curriculum. He said that it is not a big issue to devolve more authority to the provinces as they are already used to it. As far as the curriculum is concerned it will only matter in the subjects of Pakistan Studies or History otherwise there would be little changes made by the provinces in the rest of the subjects.
“Experience from other federations” was the topic for the discussion in the second session. Participants had a thought provoking discussion to learn from other federations how they developed their education sector to strengthen federalism there. It was discussed that languages are very important in education of federations and respect for local cultures and languages is an integral part of federalism. It is transitional phase and there is possibility of funding and capacity issues for provinces and can be removed by collaborated efforts and understanding of centre and provinces. A suggestion came from participants that funds should be given directly to the schools and colleges by the governments to ensure transparency and accountability.
The third and last session held to collect policy recommendations and discuss a way to future of the education in Pakistan after 18th Amendment. Participants said that the most important thing is to change the thinking of the people and reduce the trust deficit regarding the provinces. The Army alone cannot hold the nation together on a leash and the provinces have to be trusted in order to have unity in the federation. Participants said, the better thing to do for the provinces is to establish think tanks for starting debate on the current educational needs of their provinces and review and revise their existing curriculums in order to make them appropriate for their particular needs.
The speakers said that there is little to boast about the federally planned and managed education during the last sixty-three years. What is being feared in terms of identity hold no feet as we are a divided nation despite so-called “uniform curriculum”. The 18th Amendment opens up new windows of opportunities. These opportunities shall be used to reform the rot that plagues our educational system. We shall also build upon the existing strengths of the provinces as they are already managing schools and colleges. Citizens shall also become vigilant stakeholders to offer best educational opportunities to future generations. While doing so we must keep in mind that we are living in a globalized world. We must realize the imperatives of ‘knowledge economy’.
The 18th Amendment has opened the door of confidence, understanding and reconciliation. The process of handing over resources and powers to provinces has begun and will leave positive impacts in educational developments. Centre should trust the abilities of provinces and giving them liberty to develop their own syllabus and curriculum means to promote the languages and cultural diversity of Pakistan.
- In the times of economic crunch, spending on social sector must not be reduced as it is an investment in the future.
- There shall be some federal role to ensure minimum common standards.
- We shall not panic as strong provinces will make the federation strong and there are mechanism in the shape of Council of Common Interests (CCI) to address critical issues by involving provinces and the centre.
- The model presented by other federations of the world should be further explored to find best examples that would benefit us in Pakistan to solve our problems regarding the role of provinces.
- It is up to the intelligentsia of Pakistan to promote all efforts in order to reduce the trust deficit between the centre and the provinces. They should also promote the idea of embracing diversity in provinces as a blessing and celebrate it rather than feeling anxious about it as something against unity of the federation.
- All language spoken in Pakistan should be declared national languages and all efforts should be made for their preservation and promotion. All ethnic groups should be celebrated as nationals of Pakistan with equal rights and opportunities.
- All federating units must exercise their authority of deciding their medium of instruction for public education.
- The transition shall be gradual and mutually facilitated.