Thursday, September 24, 2009
National education policy 2009 – a critique
By: Naveed Ejaz
The announcement of the National Education Policy, 2009, was supposed to be the starting point for a nationwide debate on much needed systemic educational reforms. Yet apart from the odd cursory analysis or two, it seems as if educationalists, academics, politicians and the media are largely uninterested in the contents of the document. The silence of this group is puzzling and criminal in itself, but the larger and more important question is how good the proposed NEP really is. And what better way to judge the national educators and policymakers that authored the document than by marking them out of ten.
Marks are assigned to the following critical areas as follows: correctly identifying the problems (two marks), proposing meaningful solutions (two marks), proper implementation strategies and assigning responsibilities (two marks) and independent feedback mechanisms for reporting on progress and quality of reforms (two marks). One mark is for general neatness, grammar and organisation of the report and one mark I reserve for myself — to give as I please — as the privilege of being the examiner.
The NEP puts the right foot forward by recognising the two major weaknesses in the current system 1) low access and quality of education and 2) dearth and misappropriation of funds. It then clearly identifies the class barriers that a tripartite (public, A/O level, madrasa) system creates and expresses the desire to move away from the status quo by reviving confidence in public-sector education. It accepts that it is the failure of the state to provide quality public education for all that has resulted in the mushrooming of private institutions and madrasas, which by-and-large are free from any sorts of checks and balances. It accepts that the national curriculum is in dire need of reform and understands the need for greater provincial autonomy when it comes to administration. It also understands that lack of proper training and pay-scales correlates directly to a reduction in the quality of education. One point where the report is notably silent is on the inclusion of minorities with respect to curriculum subjects. However, all in all, a comprehensive analysis and an excellent start, two marks out of two.
The most visible and perhaps the only solution worth celebrating provided in the report is decision to increase educational spending to 7 percent of the GDP by the year 2015. However, the fact that the same government reduced the educational funding allocation from 2.4 percent to 2.1 percent (actual amount spent was 1.7 percent) last year creates serious doubts over it’s commitment to prioritise educational spending. The noncommittal attitude of the current government with regards to its statements and policies also lend weight to the argument that the projected figures are merely for political posturing and are unrealistic at the very least.
While the previous section clearly identified the pitfalls of a tripartite educational system, the policies put forward do very little to rectify the situation. Partnerships between private and public institutions are proposed while madrasa reforms are hinted at. Details of any sort regarding how and when these objectives will be achieved are absent.
Additionally, the policy sets itself a few notable milestones—i.e., provision of free primary education by 2015, provision of free education up to metric by 2025, increase in adult literacy rates to 86 percent by 2015, increase in higher education enrolment from 4.7 percent to 10 percent in 2015 and 15 percent in 2020. What is most worrying about all these milestones is that they seemed to have been plucked out of thin air, with no data provided to show any projections that might have been carried out. In the absence of any such projections, these numbers seem to be more of a wish-list than the result of any careful planning and deliberation.
This wish-list attitude has been notably present in all previous educational policy documents that successive military and civilian governments have come up with. It’s also notable that all such policies spread themselves too thin over what they hope to achieve rather than certain key areas to focus on. The NEP is no different in this regard, and for that reason, the recommendations and milestones it proposes seem highly unrealistic and just for political gain. Hence, for the reasons of not providing any visionary leadership, failing to ground projections on reality and strong allegations of doublespeak, I am compelled to give the solutions section a poor 0.5 out of 2.
After the particularly disappointing solutions section, the implementation plan needs to be clear, concise and to the point. It does exactly that when it proudly states “The NEP thus outlines what is to be done. The NEP does not deal with who will do what, how will something be done and when is something done.” 0 marks out of 2.
To report on the nonexistent implementation framework, the NEP proposes the setting up of a national forum—i.e., the inter-provincial education ministers (IPEM). Under this framework, the IPEM will serve as both the judge and the executioner in that it is both responsible for creating an implementation roadmap as well as gathering data to see how well the implementation is being carried out. Those familiar with public policy and development work will know that policymaking and research bodies are kept separate and independent from each other so that their conclusions can be considered to be unbiased. On a brighter note this section talks of implementing both 1) greater provincial autonomy and 2) greater interaction between policy monitoring bodies such as the Higher Education Commission (HEC) and the National Vocation and Technical Education Commission (NAVTEC), though again details regarding how these goals will be achieved are notably absent. Therefore for getting the very basics of policy monitoring wrong, this section gets graded 0.5 out of 2.
On the general neatness, grammar and organisation front, this report gets a 0.5 out of 1. Half-a-mark has been docked for it being very repetitive between sections and in places referring to itself as NEP 2008.
It’s clearly apparent that NEP 2009 is not the solution to the myriad of problems plaguing our educational system. The situation is extremely grim, given that work on the NEP was started as way back as 2005 and that it serves as an educational policy document for the next 10 years of our nation. Furthermore there is the highly contentious fourth chapter of Islamic education. Including such a section into the national policy document is clearly a political move. In doing so it risks further alienating the religious minorities which are already under significant pressures following recent attacks and events. The chairman of the Pakistan Minorities Teachers Association (PMTA) has already condemned the policy, calling it discriminatory towards non-Muslims. Educationalists also hold the opinion that this education policy, like all others before it, violates the article guaranteeing religious freedom in the Constitution when it makes Islamiyat a compulsory subject from grade 1 to 12.
It is clear from the scorecard that the NEP is merely an elaborate exercise in political posturing and offers very little in terms of meaningful reform. And while the responsibility for this lack of vision and determination falls largely on the shoulders of the current government, the silent members must also be taken to task; educators and policymakers for their inability to create a national debate on the subject, political parties for being uninterested in taking ownership in the educational arena, the media for showing more interest in the conspiracies of ex-generals than in education, so-called secular parties for not protesting over the Islamic education chapter and all of us for our general disinterest in the genuine problems that face our nation and the possible solutions that might help put us on the long road back.
As those that are keeping count will notice, I haven’t allocated my final mark yet. That’s because it hardly matters. At the current score of 3/9, even my deciding editorial vote is not enough to help NEP 2009 reach the minimum 50-percent massing mark.
The writer is a doctoral student at Imperial College, London. Email:email@example.com
Gojra and education
By Zubeida Mustafa
TALKING to a Dawn panel several years ago, Asghar Ali Engineer, head of the Centre for Study of Society and Secularism, Mumbai, had commented that every communal riot in India that he had investigated was found to be rooted in economic factors.
Invariably the majority community attacking a minority wanted to undermine it to gain an unfair economic advantage. But the whole incident was garbed in communal terms.
We will not know the underlying reasons for the horrendous event in Gojra until the episode is investigated from that point of view. HRCP’s findings confirm that the violence was premeditated as is tradionally the pattern in cases of seemingly mindless killings. But there is usually a method to the madness. That within the span of a few hours seven Christians should have been consumed literally by fires born of communal hatred and 70 or so of their homes burnt down is most telling.
What, however, also emerges from the terrible events in Gojra — and also Sangla Hill in 2005 and Shantinagar in 1997 — is how very easy it is for the perpetrators of such crimes to incite people in the name of religion. Thus they can veil their ulterior motives by making an incident appear as an emotional reaction in the face of a provocation, that could well have been concocted.
It is worrying that popular passions can be inflamed at the drop of a hat. A rational mindset and the ability to reason created by good education can go a long way towards developing interfaith harmony, tolerance and understanding of other religions. The week Gojra happened, this paper carried another report that seemingly had no relevance to the tragedy that followed. But the connection between the two was not lost on those who have observed closely the obscurantist proclivity in our national psyche and its close link with the education we impart to our children.
It was reported that the Pakistan Coalition for Education, a network of civil society organisations and individuals, had expressed its strong disapproval of the government’s failure to expedite the announcement of the new education policy that has been in the works for several years.
A visibly upset Kamleshwer Lohana, PCE’s member from Sindh, had remarked cynically, “The education policy is not a priority for the present government. This policy will be applicable only to the poor people — those who are dependent on government educational institutions.” Since the elite control the government they are not concerned.
This is exactly how Javed Hassan Aly, the author of the 2007 White Paper on education also felt. He added, “The government, presently under clouds of public scrutiny, is shy of tackling what it may consider contentious issues. The elite and the for-profit private sector are happy with the status quo which allows them to entrench themselves more securely.” Why should they want a new policy?
Now it seems the delay had an added reason behind it. A revised policy has now been posted on the ministry of education’s website and is to be presented to the cabinet. Compare the draft rejected by the cabinet earlier and the present document. You will discover a new chapter titled ‘Islamic Education: Duty of the Society and the State’.
The earlier draft had recognised explicitly the need for educational interventions to be based on the core value of Islam as identified by the constitution’s chapter on principles of state policy. Apparently that was not found to be adequate. Four extra pages now spell out in detail the Islamic contents of the prescribed courses when earlier a paragraph had sufficed to capture the Islamic spirit to be injected into education in Pakistan.
The emphasis on religion in the new draft is overly exaggerated. It is a forewarning that we can expect to see more of the earlier approach that has been responsible for creating the mindset that resulted in Gojra. Numerous surveys have confirmed that. In fact, it is now conceded that the curricula and textbooks in the regular school system have caused more pervasive damage than the madressahs have, given the small numbers which attend them.
The policy draft with specific reference to NEP 1998-2010 speaks of an “integrated education system in which Islamic values, principles and objectives are reflected in the syllabuses of all the disciplines in general”. It would be pertinent to recall here that NEP 1998-2010 spoke of evolving “an integrated system of national education by bringing deeni madaris and modern schools closer to each stream in curriculum and the contents of education”. This was to be achieved by introducing Nazira Quran as a compulsory component.
How all this translates into practice for the religious minorities is evident from the eye-opening observations made by Prof Anjum Paul, chairman Pakistan Minorities Teachers Association, on the biases against his community. He analysed 12 Urdu language textbooks for class I-XII, and “found 235 chapters and poems out of 409 having a strong Islamic orientation”.
He identifies the biases and discrimination against the religious minorities of Pakistan in textbooks, educational institutions and admission processes. Take the case of Muslim students being awarded 20 marks for nazra (reciting the Quran by heart). This makes it difficult for the minorities to compete for seats in higher education.
Even the textbooks for ethics (a subject introduced a few years ago in lieu of Islamiat for religious minorities) are written by Muslims who obviously cannot identify with the teachings of other religions resulting in bias against Christians, Hindus, Sikhs, Zoroastrians and others. This has failed to create social and inter-faith harmony, Prof Paul says. Recently compulsory training courses for teachers in subjects including qirat were announced. The PMTA regards this as discrimination against teachers from minority communities.
We may repeat ad nauseam the Quaid’s proclamation on “religion or caste or creed” having nothing to do with the “business of the state”, but if we continue to have education policies that preach religious hatred, many more Gojras can be expected.