While visiting different parts of Pakistan, Chief Justice Saqib Nisar expressed legitimate concern about existing educational practices and opportunities. He rightly pointed out that policymaking is not the job of the court of law. But he admitted that the court has a responsibility to implement the right to education guaranteed to the children of Pakistan in Article 25-A of the constitution.
Pakistan’s history of education is replete with tall claims and implementation glitches. We see boastful claims made in education policies that have been issued from time to time by different governments. Let’s focus on claims about the literacy rate. In the education policy of 1992, it was promised that the literacy rate will rise to 70 percent by 2002. The 1998 policy claimed that a literacy rate of 70 percent will be achieved by 2010. In 2009, another promise was made to achieve a literacy rate of 86 percent by 2015. If the claims of past policies are to be believed, we should have reached 100 percent literacy rate by now.
The reality on the ground was, however, quite different. The trend in the literacy rate over the past few years is: 58 percent in 2011, 58 percent in 2014, 60 percent in 2015, and 58 percent in 2016.
Let’s see where we stand in terms of our literacy rate in 2018. In the Economic Survey of Pakistan (2017-2018), no literacy rate has been given for the current year. Instead, we see this statement. “During 2017-2018, [the] PSLM survey was not conducted due to Population and Housing Census 2017. Therefore, the figures for the year 2015-2016 may be considered for the current year”.
One wonders that if there was no data available for the current year, the slot should have been left blank. How can it be assumed that the figures for the 2015-16 (58 percent) would not fluctuate and would remain the same for the current year? We have seen in the past that literacy rates decreased in certain years instead of increasing or remaining the same. For instance, the literacy rate, which stood at 60 percent in 2015, slipped down to 58 percent in 2016. Let’s now see where we stand in comparison with other countries in South Asia in terms of literacy rate: Maldives (99 percent), Sri Lanka (92 percent), Bangladesh (72 percent), India (70 percent), Nepal (63 percent), Bhutan (59 percent), Pakistan (58 percent) and Afghanistan (38 percent). Thus, Pakistan is the second-lowest in the list in terms of literacy.
Like literacy, targets for universal primary education (UPE) remained elusive. The target dates for UPE were regularly shifted further in the ensuing policies. The Task Force on Education (2011) report tried to answer the important question: when will the provinces provide all children with their constitutional right to education at the current rates of progress?
The report has projected the dates for the achievement of target: Punjab in 2041, Sindh in 2049, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa in 2064, and Balochistan in 2100. The target of UPE, which should have been achieved by 1967, as envisaged in the Pakistan educational conference held in 1947, is still an unrealised dream.
Why have we not been able to achieve the targets of literacy and UPE even though a number of education policies have been introduced? The simple answer is a lack of political will. Education has always been a low priority for decision-makers. This is manifested by the consistently low allocation of funds for education in terms of the percentage of GDP. In 2013-14, it stood at 2.1 percent. In 2014-15, it stood at 2.2 percent. In 2015-16, it stood at 2.3 percent.
It is important to note that our education policy of 2009 stated that: “the governments shall commit to allocating [seven percent] of GDP to education by 2015 and necessary enactment shall be made for this purpose”. But like many other promises, this pledge was also never realised. Currently, Pakistan’s allocation for education in terms of the percentage of GDP is one of the lowest in South Asia.
Most projects in literacy, UPE, and female education lacked effective monitoring systems. After they were initiated, these projects came to an end without bringing any significant sustainable change in the target areas. The lack of monitoring systems is coupled with the absence of accountability measures. As a result, a number of initiatives consumed financial and technical resources with little outcomes. But the people responsible for poor educational outcomes got away without any punishment. A series of steps must be taken to cope with the urgent educational challenge.
First, in light of the enormous challenges posed by the low literacy rate; high dropout rate; and out-of-school children, an educational emergency should be announced forthwith. Second, education policies should be presented, discussed and passed in parliament so that they have the broad ownership of elected members of the assemblies. This will not only make them more acceptable to the different segments of the society, but it will also give them constitutional backing.
Third, the major reason for the failure to achieve policy targets is the lack of political will. This emanates from the low priority accorded to education. In order to successfully implement our education policy, it must be supported by the ruling government and the people. This support should be visible to different tiers of implementers. Fourth, the policies and plans need to be designed through a consultative process by taking into confidence different segments of society. A broad-based consultation process leads to a sense of ownership among stakeholders.
Fifth, sustained availability of resources is crucial to successfully implement a policy. Sixth, there needs to be an effective monitoring mechanism. A committee should be constituted in this regard by the Supreme Court that comprises eminent and independent professionals. The committee, presided over by a retired judge, should monitor progress and issue a biannual report on the implementation of an education policy. The committee should also identify problems and recommend solutions.
The CJP’s legitimate concern should be taken positively and immediate action should be taken to expedite efforts to achieve educational targets that are crucial for our country to survive in the era of the knowledge economy.
The writer is an educationist.