An education policy provides guidelines for strategies to be formulated and for action to be taken in the field of education. After independence of the country, a meeting on education was held in Karachi from November 27 to December 1, 1947. Besides setting up educational institutions in the country, the ideological basis of education was also discussed.
Moreover, for political, ideological, and economic reasons, Urdu was emphasised as the national language which caused resentment in Bengali-speaking East Pakistan. The major decisions of the first meeting were followed in all subsequent education policies.
In 1949, the Advisory Board of Education emphasised quality, achieving 80 percent literacy and enrolling 75 percent of school-going children within a time span of two years. Starting from the first Five Year Plan (1955-1960) to the ninth Five Year Plan (1998-2003), targets were set for full enrolment and eradication of illiteracy, which could not be achieved. Besides five year plans, education policy documents were prepared in 1950, 1959, 1966, 1970, 1972, 1979, 1992, 1998, 2002 and 2009.
In the educational policy of 1959, role of the private sector was emphasised and madressah students were to be taught secular subjects as well so as to incorporate them into mainstream society. This was also subsequently done by Musharaf government (1999-2008). In 1971, during the government of Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto (1970-1977) 3,334 private educational institutions including 1828 schools, 346 madressahs, 155 colleges and five technical institutions were nationalised. His government also raised the status of college lectures from class two to class one.
The government of General Ziaul Haq (1977-1988) emphasised Islamisation of education in the 1979 education policy. Textbooks were changed and Islam was used to support the state’s own militaristic policy during the Afghan war against Soviet Russia. As a result of this policy, madressahs multiplied and also became militant in their approach. The trend of privatisation started in this period. This was supported by all subsequent governments. Due to a high fee structure, private schools flourished in urban areas compared to those in rural areas, causing the urban-rural divide. The inequality in education is evident from three streams of education noted earlier.
A cycle of privatisation of education through the 1950 policy, nationalisation through the 1972 policy and then privatisation through the 1979 and later policies has produced a class-based educational system in the country – both at lower and higher levels. But lower quality of education provided by government schools, funded by taxpayers’ money and higher quality of education provided by private schools, supported by excellent examination results, are the main reasons for even lower middle class parents to opt for private schools for their children. Wastage of huge resources on government schools therefore has to be highlighted and thoroughly investigated.
The national education policy of 2009 is the latest education policy document. This document also admits that the issues discussed in the document were also discussed in earlier education policy documents. However, the objectives set in earlier documents had not been achieved. This was due to a commitment gap (system, values, priorities and resources) and an implementation gap (ensuring good governance).
This policy document introduces two new concepts of governance reforms and implementation roadmap which were not part of earlier education policies. The document also discusses education related issues such as access, quality, equity, mobilising resources, public-private partnership, community involvement, teacher education, curriculum reforms, textbooks and learning material, building management and planning capacity in education departments.
After the 18th Amendment to the constitution was passed, another serious issue emerged. In the 1973 constitution of Pakistan, education was on the concurrent list and both the federal and the provincial governments were responsible for it. Generally, the federal government was responsible for policy formulation and curriculum development while provinces were responsible for implementation and management functions. After passage of the 18th Amendment to the constitution, the concurrent list was abolished and education was declared a provincial subject. There is still ambiguity over whether each province will formulate its own education policy and prepare its own curriculum or whether the provinces will coordinate with each other in respect of these vital activities for designing and implementing an effective education programme.
Rehman and Sewani in their work, ‘Critical Analysis of the Educational Policies of Pakistan’ critically analysed the educational policies of Pakistan in the context of global education policy. The central focus of this work is to explore the impact of globalisation and dependence of national educational policies on global education policy trends. These global trends emerge from politico-economic theory of neo-liberalism “which advocate private property rights, free market, and free trade”. These global trends include privatisation, decentralisation, vocationalisation, standardisation, and continuation.
Public-private partnership refers to privatisation of certain components of government education services with a more compromised preference. Decentralisation involves not only members from public but also from private and non-government sector. This also involves governance through developing a system of targets and benchmarks – ‘policy by numbers’. There is a third trend – vocationalisation – which is more oriented towards skills which can help graduates to be productive in work.
Standardisation refers to measurement of outcomes over certain well-defined indicators for assessing performance. Continuation is the fifth trend which requires workers to continuously upgrade their skills and be flexible, multitask and become continuous and lifelong learners. This helps to improve knowledge, skills and competence.
All these global policy trends make their way to national policy through harmonisation, dissemination, standardisation, installation of interdependence and imposition. State ideology, curriculum, and language must also be reconciled with global trends. While many of these trends can be seen in Pakistan today, some still need to appear and will surely do so.
The history of Pakistan’s education policies reveals that each government tried to achieve its agenda through new education policies which created discontinuity in the already inconsistent cycle of the education process.
The writer is a Peshawar-based academic.