Yet another education policy is on the cards. Minister for Federal Education and Professional Training Shafqat Mahmood shared his plans with the nation in the last week of December that his ministry had started the process of formulating an education policy for the country.
He believes the proposed Education Policy 2021 would ensure national cohesion and harmony across religious and ethnic divides and capture the divergence that is essential in the context of Pakistan. “It will also nationally converge on key education aspects for standards, educational stages including primary, middle, high, etc., system of examinations and admissions, teacher management standards, etc.,” he told a private TV channel host recently. The policy will ensure equity in education for all children and institutions across the country, he hoped.
Separately, in a post shared on twitter, the minister said the federal government had taken a number of initiatives including Single National Curriculum (SNC), and a formal education policy for the country “is necessary”.
“So, on my direction, the process has been started by the Ministry of Federal Education and Professional Training, which includes widespread consultation. All suggestions [are] welcome,” the minister wrote.
Before the proposed education policy is discussed in a little detail, let’s have a look at the previous policies, formulated and implemented by past governments from time to time.
Founder of Pakistan Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah was very much concerned about educating the nation. Despite gigantic problems facing the nation in 1947, the year of independence, the Quaid not only asked for holding the first National Education Conference in Karachi from November 27 to December 1, 1947, but also himself attended it. He provided the basic guidelines for future education development at the conference.
According to a research article, published by a scholar, Aliza Zainab, in 2015, the then education minister, Fazal-ur-Rehman, proposed three dimensions of education at the Education Conference 1947, and formed various committees including University Education Committee, Adult Education Committee, and Technical Education Committee. The reports of the committees were shared in November, 1947.
Other committees were: Primary and Secondary Education Committee, Cultural Relations Committee, Women’s Education Committee, and Scientific Research Committee.
The Primary and Secondary Education Committee “considered it essential that a national system of education should be based on the strong foundations of free and compulsory primary education”. It proposed separate pre-primary and primary education stages for children of ages 3 to 6 and 6 to 11.
The Committee on Adult Education pointed out that illiteracy was high at 85 per cent and, at the then rate of increase of literacy, 140 years would be required to get rid of the problem. It stated, “The primary aim of the campaign must not be merely to make adults literate but to keep them literate”. The report recommended the following stages for the execution of a programme of adult education:-
The first five years were to be devoted to increasing the literacy rate. Until the sixth year, about 500,000 persons were to be made literate with an annual increase of 300,000 thereafter. However, the policy could not be implemented properly due to an increased number of immigrants and other administrative problems of the newly liberated country. More or less, the British colonial system of education continued in the country.
The National Commission on Education was held in 1959. The event was addressed by the then president, General Ayub Khan, on January 5, 1959. The commission declared 10-year compulsory education for every child. Religious education was also declared compulsory. Equal expansion for boys and girls education was also stressed. Recommendations of the commission included: 1. Character building. 2. Compulsory primary education. 3. Focus on science and technical education. 4. National language as a medium of instruction. 5. Three-year degree programme. 6. Elimination of illiteracy. 7. Establishment of university grants commission. 8. Examination system should be a combination of internal (25%) and external (75%) evaluation. 9. Religious education should be introduced in three stage. The National Education Commission recommendations were useful but due to the conditions of the country and the situation of resources, they were not applied well.
New Education Policy (1970): The revised proposals were reviewed by the committee of the cabinet in the light of implications of the announcement by the president in his address to the nation on Nov 28, 1969. The new education policy was finally adopted by the cabinet on March 26, 1970. It had following salient features:-
Formation of national education units; emphasis on ideological orientation; emphasis on science and technology education; decentralisation of educational administration; eradication of illiteracy. However, the policy could not be implemented due to a war with India, separation of East Pakistan, and the collapse of the military government.
The next head of the government, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, announced a National Education Policy on March 29, 1972. Salient features of the policy were:-
Promotion of ideology of Pakistan, personality development, equality in education, universal education; curriculum based on socioeconomic needs of society; integrated technical and science education; Active participation of teachers, students and parents in educational affairs; nationalisation of educational institutions.
The policy announced free and universal education up to class X for both girls and boys. In the first phase starting in October 1972, all public and private schools were ordered to provide free education up to class VIII; In the second phase, starting 1974, free education was extended up to class X.
The policy was a good approach towards the betterment of the education sector, but it had many drawbacks, due to which it could not achieve results e.g. universal basic education, shift towards agro-technical studies, etc.
The next National Education Policy was introduced in 1979 and a National Educational Conference was held for reviewing the education system. It developed the following aims:-
Fostering loyalty to Islam; creation of concept of Muslim Ummah; promotion of science and technical education; equal opportunities for boys and girls; curriculum revision; merging madarsa and traditional education; Urdu as a medium of education.
However, the policy again failed due to lack of planning and financial resources.
National Education Policy 1992: A national conference was held in Islamabad in April, 1991. The policy framework was discussed by the education minister with the education committees of the Senate and the National Assembly. After detailed discussions, the policy was announced in Dec 1992. The major aspects, aims and goals of the policy were: Promotion of Islamic values through education; improvement in women education; range of general and technical education at secondary level; preparation of demand-oriented curriculum; expended span of graduation and post-graduation; use of audio-visual (AV) aids; promoting private sector to participate in enhancement of literacy.
The policy, however, could not be implemented fully due to a change in the political situation in the country.
National Education Policy 1998 was announced in March 1998. Major objectives of the policy were: 1. To make the Quaranic principles and Islamic practices an integral part of the education system. 2. To achieve universal primary education. 3. To meet the basic educational needs of every individual. 4. To expand basic education. 5. Lay emphasis on diversification. 6. To make curriculum development a continuous process. 7. To introduce in-service training programmes for betterment of education. 8. To ensure equal opportunity of higher education.
Under the policy, education reforms were introduced for the 2005-2010 period. The initiative focused on development of human resources, and its major thrust areas were: 1. Free and universal primary education. 2. Free textbooks. 3. Equal access to opportunities of learning. 4. Improving all aspects in quality education. 5. Introduction of new educational curricula. 6. Development of training/ learning resources and materials. 7. Offering incentives for the private sector. 8. Introduction of computer courses at all levels. 9. Strengthening of research in higher education. 10. Grant for affiliation of madarsas. 11. Allocation for education would be 7% of the national GDP by 2015. 12. Literacy rate will be enhanced to 86% by 2015. 13. A bachelor’s degree, with a B.Ed., would be the minimum requirement for teaching at the elementary level. 14. A master’s degree for the secondary and higher secondary with a B.Ed., would be ensured by 2018.
However, most of the National Education Policy 2009 targets could not be met again, as shortly thereafter, in April 2010, the Constitution was amended and the subject of education was fully devolved to the provinces. In September 2011, a Joint Declaration on Education was signed by all provinces and the areas.
It stated that the National Education Policy 2009, subject to such adaptations as necessitated in view of the 18th Constitutional Amendment, would continue to be jointly owned national document.
In 2018, the Prime Minister Imran Khan-led Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf formed its governments in the Centre as well as two main provinces. The political party in general and its head Imran Khan in particular, have always stressed promotion of education in the country. The party announced its National Education Policy Framework (NEPF) 2018 in its first year in power, outlining the four priority areas: (a) decreasing the number of out-of-school children and increasing school participation, (b) ensure a uniform education system across the country, (c) improving quality and (d) enhancing access and relevance of skills training.
On June 25, 2020, Prime Minister Imran Khan said that his government was going to implement a uniform education system from March 2021. While speaking on the floor of the National Assembly, he said that 2.5 million students at religious seminaries would be brought into the mainstream.
Addressing a meeting on education, he said: “A uniform education system is not only a requirement of modern times but also the basic right of every child. The success of the system depends on the selection of teaching staff and capacity building. Thanks to the new policy, it will be possible to get a quality education in Pakistan. A uniform education system will set an example for other countries in the region,” he believes.
The Prime Minister’s claims and assessments aside, educationists and critics believe the implementation of the Education Policy 2021 would not be an easy task. They believe that for providing schooling for nearly 23 million out-of-school children, the government would need to nearly double the total number of schools which presently serve 25 million students.
So far, the government has only worked out a uniform curriculum. But critics, who have gone through it at some stages, believe that it would fail to produce desired results. Instead of developing critical thinking and analytical skills among students, it is likely to bring down even the standards of elite school students, without raising those of government schools and madrasa students.
They fear that by taking up educational reforms, the PTI would only mess things up in the education sector also, like it did in wheat, sugar and petrol scams.