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The New Blueprint for Pakistan's Education Policy:An Analytical Review PDF Print E-mail

Saleem Mansur Khalid

Policy Perspectives, Vlm 4, No.2

 

Abstract

[The Federal Ministry of Education has recently issued a document called “Education in Pakistan: A White Paper — Document to Debate and Finalize the National Education Policy. ” This important document is meant to serve as a precursor to the country’s next Education Policy.
 

This comment outlines the level of participation of stakeholders in the development of the White Paper, and then briefly examines the overall approach it presents, and highlights its inherent weaknesses and contradictions to trace the agenda underlying the government’s policy postures in this vital sector of extreme national importance. – Author]

 

The White Paper on education released by the Federal Ministry of Education claims to have been “written after an extensive diagnostic and consultative stage” as a precursor to a “policy document,” to be “evolutionary in nature,” and to “fully reflect the aspirations and expectations of the people of Pakistan.” It further claims that “intensive consultations” were held in this process, “with both public and private sector key organizations,” including teachers, scholars, non-government organizations (NGOs) and various stakeholders in the field of education (pp. 59-60).

 

How representative is it?
A close look at the White Paper, however, falsifies these tall claims. The list of 26 “stakeholders” given in the paper has the names, along with officials of the federal and provincial ministries and district authorities, of organizations like Private Schools, All Pakistan Association for Private Schools, Officials, Teachers and Students of private Schools, Donors working in the education sector and Civil Society Organizations (p. 62). This can in no way be regarded a true and comprehensive list of stakeholders: while it includes “sample of teachers and sample of parents and students,” (p.62) neither the author of this report, nor the wizards of the Federal Ministry of Education seem to have attempted to contact the real stakeholders — university teachers, their various associations and the Federations of teachers, lecturers and professors, like the highly active and effective provincial College Teachers Associations, or with the representatives of All Pakistan teachers’ organizations and their provincial chapters. Nor has any contact been made with any worthwhile national or provincial students’ organizations.

 

The White Paper claims that it is based on the deliberations of seven “Education Conferences” and “Focal Group Discussions,” which were held between February 18 and July 17, 2006, one each in Karachi, Quetta, Lahore and Peshawar and three in Islamabad. However, these events can hardly be called genuine consultations or conferences representing all shades of opinion: neither their participants, nor the focal group members were selected on merit or because they were academicians of repute or subject-specialists. It seems their job was to approve the documents that had been prepared beforehand. It is contrary to intellectual integrity to label these get-togethers of the favorites as conferences dedicated to consultations about the national education sector.

 

Another claim of the White Paper is that it benefits from in-depth research studies documented in some 23 “Green Papers” (p. 61). Here, again, several questions arise, especially: Why haven’t these green papers been made public? Those who matter in the field of education are not aware that any in-depth research study concerning education has been conducted so far by this government, its affiliated bodies or scholars of standing. If at all such green papers were prepared (listed on p.61), they remained a well-guarded secret, hidden away from all stakeholders in the field of education. The slipshod nature of the document under review, moreover, testifies that it lacks serious research input.

 

The issue of Pakistan’s Islamic ideology
The document contains passing references to Islam. However, it avoids any serious discussion in this respect, keeping its main thrust secular. The “Vision Statement” focuses on accessibility and development of skills but offers no solid base or sense of direction to the proposed policy document.

 

The country’s official and constitutional name is the Islamic Republic of Pakistan. The White Paper, instead, opts to use a new name — “State of Pakistan” — which is frequently repeated in what appears to be a deliberate attempt to represent the Islamic Republic of Pakistan as a secular state. Such an attitude would be in line with the current regime’s “revolutionary” bid to secularize this ideological state.

 

The draft policy document also contains some “confessions” regarding past and present failures that make the entire education system of the country defective and self-defeating. It emphasizes the implementation aspect and presents some fairly good proposals for reform. Unfortunately, however, as to the overall approach and the practical steps there is very little in them to suggest that our new policy planners have learnt any lesson from the past and are ready to rectify the situation for the future.

 

At the end, the White Paper presents, through a series of charts, a comparative study of the “Past Education Policies & Commission Reports” from 1947 to 1998 (pp. 64-67 and 77-86). It is evident from this detailed account that Islam was the dominant paradigm of all previous education policies. On the contrary, the policy outlined in the White Paper not only ignores Islam as the ideological basis of Pakistan, but also tries to dismiss it as “a static religious dogma thriving on ignorance and nostalgia.” According to the author, “We cannot conveniently detach ourselves from the fundamentals of the religion and depend mainly on politically and ethnically driven interpretations made well after the life of the Holy Prophet” (p. 3). This statement betrays the mindset of those behind this document, and exposes their ignorance about those “fundamentals of religion”, and the dedicated and sincere efforts that went into preserving, promoting and propagating the teachings and ‘fundamentals’ of this great religion.

 

Explaining the background of the proposed education policy, the White Paper says:

 

“Barring the 1947 and 1959 interventions, the rest of the efforts were perhaps driven by politico-ideological considerations, other than education as a vehicle of person’s development as an individual, a citizen and a participant of an economic activity. So, almost alternately it is education either for national integration or education for refinement of spiritual lives, albeit through perpetuation of religious dogma.” (p. 2)

 

The education policies framed and enacted by the governments of Field Marshall Ayub Khan (1958-69), General Yahya Khan (1969-71), Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto (1971-77) and others have thus been dismissed, one and all, as the handiwork of a few ideologically inspired zealots who avowedly “succumbed to the predators of our faith, who primarily derive their strength from the ambiguity that ignorance breeds; where knowledge is based on nostalgia” (p. 2). Ironically, few ulema or religious scholars were actually associated with these education policies of the past: in fact, they were all framed and formulated by modern educated academicians and experts. Where these scholars were different, however, was that, unlike the present followers of global imperialism, they were committed Pakistanis and were not the least apologetic about their faith. If those policies failed to produce the desired results, it was not because they were anchored in Islam, but because their implementation fell prey to the endemic ineptitude and lack of vision of the country’s civil and military bureaucracy.

 

Analysis of the recommendations
In terms of basic points and policy recommendations, the White Paper is full of contradictions, confused ideas and thoughtless repetition. It is not only devoid of vision and insight, but also offers only superficial advice for tackling the problems facing our education sector.

 

A uniform system: Under the heading “Textbooks and Learning Materials,” it is stated that administrative control of the Federal Government on the preparation of curricula and textbooks has been responsible for stagnation in this area (p. 18). Textbooks are of poor quality, overflow with “information narrated in a confusing manner,” and, in many cases, are “full of printing errors.” On the other hand, the paper states, books used “in the relatively affluent private sector schools” are “normally well written and interesting.” Most of these are “imported primarily from Singapore” (p. 17).

 

As a sequel to the story narrated above, the Federal Ministry of Education has gone ahead to hand over the task of preparing textbooks to “enlightened moderates,” including some foreign NGO and similar other elsewhere. It had simply ignored in this context the strong reservations of the provincial governments and has asked Provincial Textbook Boards and the Federal Curriculum Wing to “wait and see.” Under such a dispensation, the textbooks that the National Book Foundation and Textbook Boards have been made to publish have already aroused many controversies, although these publishing agencies were hardly responsible for their contents.

 

In fact, it seems that the regime has a strong desire to deregulate the printing and publication of textbooks, so that the government has no concern with their contents, cost, or availability for schoolchildren. In this free-for-all atmosphere, NGOs of a particular background—to whom, for example, Raja Daher is a national hero and Muhammad bin Qasim an invader—are having a field day. Systematic efforts are afoot to denigrate the two-nation theory and any mention of national heroes like Major Aziz Bhatti, Nishan-i-Haider, is deemed contrary to the “SAARC [South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation) spirit.”

 

The White Paper proposes uniform curricula for the country by the year 2015 (p. 25). Apparently, this is a very positive proposal. Unfortunately, however, the method proposed to achieve this uniformity would eventually further restrict education to the privileged moneyed classes. According to the details given of this so-called ‘uniform’ system, there are to be no uniform textbooks, simply a uniform ‘outline’ for what is to be taught. Schools would be free to prescribe any textbooks they please. The examination paper-setters would also have no standard textbook for preparing question papers. Keeping in view the poor governance, increasing commercialization of education and the growing external influence in our country, the anarchy thus caused would leave the poor parents totally at the mercy of the individuals and groups who are running educational institutions and printing houses on purely commercial grounds.

 

In the name of reforming the educational system, the White Paper stresses the need for “investments in massive capacity building programmes for NGOs in the field of literacy and non-formal education” (p. 42). Among “Policy Recommendations,” it further says, contradicting itself: “Syllabus should be different for developed and under-developed areas” (p. 44). This exposes the policy makers’ real intentions that contrary to their claim of bringing in uniformity they are widening the gulf between the rulers and the ruled on a permanent basis?

 

According to the dictates of reason, wisdom and justice, the state ought to be responsible for arranging, on scientific lines, the preparation, printing and publication of textbooks. For the sake of permanence and proper evolution, the work relating to the preparation of courses of studies up to the Intermediate level should be handled by the government. The arrangement may provide for a review after every five years, and would need to have constitutional backing in order to avoid arbitrary changes by individuals after every few years. The existing textbook boards and other national institutions should be upgraded and remodeled so they can undertake the task in accordance with Pakistan’s cultural ethos and the desired goal of national progress and development. Only such an arrangement could be called a truly uniform national system of education.

 

The Education Act of 1976 provides that all schools, colleges and universities of Pakistan must follow a uniform system of examination. Unfortunately, however, the law has been abused continually, and the country’s feudal and privileged classes and the civil and military bureaucracy have continued to plot against it by promoting a multiple system of education. It is no secret that the ‘A’ and ‘O’ level system of education is flourishing under their patronage over and above all rules and regulations. The White Paper seeks to perpetuate this system by promoting foreign examination boards and affiliated institutions.

 

Teachers: Terms of Service: The White Paper recommends the basic pay-scale (16) for qualified and trained teachers holding BA, BSc and BEd degrees (p. 21). In fact many such teachers have already been drawing their pays at BS-16 for over two decades. The new policy-makers would have been better advised to recommend raising their position one scale higher to redress their financial problems and provide them better incentives.

 

Education is a full-time vocation. The planners have, however, introduced ‘adhocracy’ and teachers are being recruited on “contract basis.” The guiding philosophy for this approach is that the fear of losing their job would force the teachers to be more devoted to their work. Instead of serving the avowed objective, the outcome of such a short-sighted approach has been just the reverse. Teachers getting jobs on contract are now forced to seek alternate avenues to satisfy their legitimate needs and financial obligations. The hapless students, left to get their education from a dissatisfied and frustrated lot of teachers, are the ultimate losers.

 

The ECE Program: The subject of “Early Childhood Education” (ECE) is discussed at two places in the Paper (pp. 16-17 and pp. 34-45). For a proper understanding of the type of education being proposed for children aged 3 to 5 years, recent reports of US and European think-tanks and policy-makers should be kept in view. These reports repeatedly stress the need to focus on the Muslim world’s media, women and education in order to bring about a change on the intellectual and cultural levels. In this respect, they particularly propose to make children aged 3 onwards their prime target. Organizations like the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), Aga Khan Education Service, and a number of West-funded NGOs and Christian missionary organizations are busy implementing these schemes according to a well-prepared joint strategy. They have their own curricula, system of education and trained teachers.

 

The proposed policy lays down that: “Pakistan has set a target of establishing 42,500 ECE centers in the country…The teaching method for ECE is meant to encourage children to make choices, take responsibility for their decisions, express their ideas with creativity, respect their classmates’ differing style and abilities and develop critical and independent thinking skills” (p. 34). These are undoubtedly tall claims, obviously made to justify the huge outlay in foreign exchange that is to be loaned from abroad. The Paper does not elaborate how these ‘noble’ objectives are to be achieved. It may be of interest to add that many NGOs are already busy expanding their networks inside rural Sindh and Balochistan under so-called “Early Childhood Education” schemes.

 

The miserable condition of government schools from the primary to the secondary level in rural Pakistan has been fully documented by the latest census of the government. According to this census, “534,810 (37.8%) schools have no boundary walls, 467,66 (32.3%) government schools do not have the arrangement of drinking water tap. 572,16 (40.5%) schools are without latrine, 816,33 (56.4%) schools are without electricity and 97,76 (6.8%) schools have no building of their own and are functioning either under the sun (shade provided by trees), or in borrowed makeshift arrangements.”

 

On the one hand are these ground realities, while on the other, is the hard-earned foreign exchange is being squandered on fancy schemes and phony projects. Earlier, massive spendings were made on “Nai Roshni” schools, and now millions are being wasted on thoughtless publicity campaigns to project the blessings of the “Parha Likha Punjab” projects. Under these circumstances, it is not difficult to predict how the nation’s precious resources will be squandered on the proposed 42,500 ECE centers, for which the White Paper emphatically seeks a separate budget provision (p. 35).

 

Co-education: Under the heading “Access to Elementary Education,” it has been recommended that primary education, especially in rural areas, be “efficiently co-educational” (p. 36). This is in line with the rulers’ plans to promote co-education from the primary level onwards. Although some private sector co-education institutions exist at the Intermediate and degree levels, the proposed scheme clearly goes against the country’s socio-cultural moorings. It intends to first merge separate girls and boys schools in the name of effective management and budget control, and then accommodate male and female teachers in these schools to effectively promote the cause of co-education. The negative fallout of such an arrangement can very well be imagined. It is a foregone conclusion that this would cause en masse closure of educational institutions in our conservative rural areas. It is ironic that, while the demand for single-sex academic institutions for boys and girls is gaining momentum even in Europe and America, Pakistan’s rulers are trying to inflict co-education on its people against their time-hallowed traditions and culture.

 

Medium of Instruction: The White Paper includes a discussion on the subject of the “Medium of Instruction” for education (pp. 30-32). This is a settled issue all over the world: almost all over the world and particularly in all developed countries, education is imparted in the national language. Unfortunately, however, our planners seem bent on keeping the issue alive and unresolved. The Paper presents Pakistan’s linguistic, ethnic and regional diversity in a highly negative and exaggerated manner. It is as if its authors intend to foment narrow nationalistic sentiments and serve the cause of those who believe, not in one federally united Pakistan, but in a confederation of many ethnic nationalities. The impression given is that Pakistan is not home to a single nation but a loose conglomeration of different nationalities, forcibly kept together for the last 60 years through a wrong national language policy.

 

Describing what it calls the “existing tension” concerning the medium of instruction, the White Paper says: “The language of common use in society is Urdu and it has assumed the status of the regional linguafranca. However, in certain areas, Urdu is perceived as an imperialist language” (p. 31). This is a remarkable revelation; no ordinary citizen of Pakistan would share this opinion. Nevertheless, the document claims that anti-Urdu sentiments prevail in the country and the question of medium of instruction has turned into a religious hoax. After making this damaging—indeed, derogatory — reference to the national language, the likes of which have in the past been associated only with anti-national elements, the author of this official document goes on to assert that English is an economic necessity that should be promoted as the national medium of instruction despite the existing constraints. The year 2008 has been earmarked as the target date for making the English language compulsory at all educational institutions.

 

Nobody would condone attempts to ignore the regional languages, nor should the importance of learning English be undermined. However, the ground realities must also be kept in view. The people in Punjab have all along been quite lukewarm about teaching their children in the Punjabi language, while in the North West Frontier Province (NWP), adopting Pashto as the medium of instruction would lead to severe complications because of the multiplicity of languages spoken in non-Pashtun areas, such as Seraiki, Chitrali, Hindko, Baltit, etc. There are places in the NWFP where children with different mother tongues study at the same institution. How could they be inflicted with one medium of instruction? Similarly, in Sindh and Balochistan, there are populations speaking more than one regional language, such as Sindhi, Seraiki, Brohi and Pashto. This is why even the government of the nationalist National Awami Party, during its tenure in 1972, retained Urdu as the medium of instruction in NWFP and Balochistan.

 

The handicaps of making English the medium of instruction are, to say the least, enormous. Successive governments have been unable so far to find proper academic staff and materials for teaching English at high school, higher secondary and degree levels. We remain short of adequate numbers of qualified teachers, textbooks and the necessary environment required for teaching English as a compulsory subject. Under the circumstances, when teachers are not even available to teach compulsory subjects like mathematics, to our school children, how would it be possible to teach English on such a larger scale? If the government succeeds in making satisfactory arrangements for teaching functional English from class VI up to degree level, this would be a big enough achievement and may well serve the purpose. To put undue stress on English from the primary level would simply mean destroying the academic careers of the country’s youngest generation and keeping it tagged to a system in which success would always remain elusive.

 

Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah, the founding father of the country, was prepared to go to any extent to establish Urdu as the national language of the fledgling state. He got nine resolutions passed in this respect from the platform of the All India Muslim League between 1908 and 1938. Later also he consistently declared Urdu the national language of the Muslims of the sub-continent and, in 1948, he categorically announced, not once but four times, that Urdu was the state language of Pakistan. It may, therefore, be appropriate to say that Urdu formed as one of the basis of the struggle for Pakistan. How unfortunate it is that, against this backdrop, the country’s educational planners are busy making this very basis of the state a subject of controversy! Following the East Pakistan debacle, the language issue was raised in Sindh during March-July 1972. Still, the 1973 Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan provided that Urdu would replace English as the country’s official language within the next fifteen years. This grace period offered by the Constitution expired on 14th August 1988. In spite of the so many flagrant violations of the Constitution, the pledge remains there, but there are no actions to fulfill the pledge.

 

General and Technical Education: Recommendations have been made to introduce technical subjects in all schools, starting from the middle level to Class IX, while separate polytechnics and vocational training institutes are proposed to be established from Class IX onwards (p. 48-49). These recommendations have been made at a time when the country already has a vast network of technical training institutes. On the other hand, our higher secondary schools remain chronically short of science labs and quality teaching facilities. Under these circumstances, who would come forward to offer the much-needed facilities of technical workshops and vocational training at these schools?

 

Moreover, it has been established by advanced research in educational training the world over that general and technical education cannot successfully function under one roof because technical education has its own requirements and culture.

 

Military-run Private Schools: The White Paper repeatedly acknowledges that private sector institutions are interested more in minting money than imparting quality education. At the same time, however, efforts have been made to patronize and promote these institutions. Despite talking about a uniform education system, the document is silent about the chains of schools and colleges being run directly by or under the patronage of the armed forces and its various wings, such as the Cantonment Board schools, Garrison schools, Air Force Model schools, Cadet Colleges and schools run by the Fauji Foundation, Askari Boards.

 

These institutions are functioning as islets, independent of the Ministry of Education and the state education system. Along with using English as a medium of instruction, they are engaged in promoting a separate culture, which serves the needs and temperaments of a particular class of the country’s elite. They enjoy special privileges, monetary advantages and sprawling campuses. Has the time not come to bring these institutions too within the national mainstream?

 

Subsidizing Higher Education: The White Paper recommends against subsidizing higher education (p. 41). This would obviously justify the government’s practice of raising fees for higher education, which is adding to the problems of students seeking excellence in different fields. Degree and postgraduate studies are already fairly costly in our country and unless proper subsidies are offered, it would be difficult for the average student to get a higher education.

 

Indeed, the weakest point of this document remains its patronage of the upper class coupled with the creation of hurdles for the underprivileged, who are already living as social outcasts under the present dispensation. To further illustrate this point, one may refer to a recent news item, which inter alia said: “The Government of Punjab has provided an assistance of rupees 36 crores to the FC College, Lahore for its various projects.” Today, the rising fee structure of public sector universities, the charade of entry tests, and self-finance and self-support schemes present the outlook of an educational departmental store. The academic ‘sanctity’ and atmosphere of these institutions of higher learning have become things of the past. Unfortunately, there is nothing in the White Paper for the redressal of such unhealthy developments.

 

Public-Private Partnership: The White Paper goes on to support the system of “public-private partnerships,” which it would like to develop further, “particularly in fields of teacher education/ development, technical and vocational education and higher education” (p. 14). The damage already caused by such “partnerships” has been so enormous that further boosting this heartless system can hardly be justified. It should have been foreseen that the dominance of the private entrepreneur would be bound to erode the writ of the government in the education sector, while further blocking the avenues of quality education for the poor and the underprivileged. The arrangement only serves the ambitions of the neo-colonialists and lets their client organizations and corporations gradually take over this highly sensitive sector to ideologically subvert and intellectually subjugate the country’s younger generation. In this context, efforts are on in the Punjab to rechristen around 85 colleges as “Model Colleges” in the first phase.

 

There are innumerable examples of ugly incidents where teachers from the public sector have been reduced to the status of second-rate citizens following induction of the private sector in their educational institutions. In order to get even petty things done, they are often required to stand in queue at the gates of distant offices of the Madams or Sirs of the opulent NGOs. These mostly foreign-funded NGOs, or a few well-placed civil or retired military officers, now control the day-to-day affairs of such institutions and no district or provincial education officer is authorized to intervene or come to the rescue of hapless teachers, even for their petty requirements, like furniture and fixtures, basic resources and equipment.

 

It would be appropriate to recall here what transpired on November 29, 2006 when Federal Minister for Education Lt. Gen. (R) Javed Ashraf Qazi visited the USA. The joint statement issued on the conclusion of the visit reaffirmed: “The US has offered Pakistan 200 million US dollars from 2002 till date for educational reform. The amount is now being raised by additional 100 million dollars. The money will be spent, in addition to other schemes, on maintaining contacts for ‘public-private partnerships.’” One is fully justified in asking the authorities why, when the agreement is between two governments, the US should be given the exclusive right to oversee the induction and functional control of ‘private’ bodies in our education sector. The joint statement, which according to the US government relates to an agreement of a strategic nature, confirms how the handsome amount doled out to the Government of Pakistan will be used by its most-favored local and foreign funded NGOs and Christian missionary institutions. This would facilitate, under official protocol, America’s proxy sale and purchase of national academic institutions and their lands on long-term lease. These people, influenced by the US agenda, would have the license to introduce the syllabi and curricula of their choice in institutions under their control. About a century ago, the Jews similarly started grabbing Palestinian lands and their resources until, finally, they succeeded in establishing the illegitimate State of Israel. The Christian missionary institutions are advancing in the same fashion and educational institutions now under their control give the impression of being states within a state.

 

Mandatory Aptitude Tests:According to the White Paper, “mandatory aptitude tests at secondary level should ensure bifurcation of students into two streams, higher education (humanities, social, Islamic and physical sciences) and technical/vocational training” (p. 49). One wonders how this idea would be translated into practice and which agency would be responsible for conducting these “mandatory” tests? Apparently, the job is going to be entrusted to some Retired General or bureaucrat, or a pro-West NGO, professionally least concerned about education or the national cultural ethos that should be its driving force. Millions of rupees would thus be squandered on an arrangement, which is bound to be yet another factor adversely affecting the future prospects of the younger generation.

 

Islamic Education:Under the heading of “Islamic Education,” the document laments: “The spirit of Ijtehad having been lost due to its lack of enquiry…the Pakistani Muslim is drowned in a sea of bigotry” (p. 52) and, therefore, Islamic education should be tailored so as to produce “proactive [Muslim] thinkers and not reactive incrementalists, whose beliefs degenerate into dogmas.” (p.52) It has thus been recommended that: “The quality and access of publicly funded schools should be raised to the level that there is no compulsion for parents and pupils to be driven to parallel streams of education; be it private tuition, English medium schools or Madrassas.” (p. 52). One is left wondering what relevance this policy recommendation has with Islamic education.

 

In its second recommendation, the document adds: “Similarly, individuals desiring to pursue higher education in Islamic sciences should be encouraged till such time that these seminaries are provider of education and not as indoctrination grounds for any divisive or destructive activities” (p. 52). This, again, reflects an aggressive tone that is devoid of any positive message.

 

It is relevant in this context to quote what the Education Minister recently told newsmen: “The NWFP Government had asked to include in Urdu Textbooks of Class IX more subjects relating to Islamic history and in books of Islamiyat more Ayat (verses of Holy Qur’an) and Ahadith (sayings of Prophet [pbuh]) with their Urdu translation. We have accepted their request, but these changes will be introduced in the NWFP only.” It may be questioned whether such decisions are in line with the concepts of good governance and unity of command.

Awareness About Democracy: Under the sub-heading “Linkage with Environment,” the Paper recommends that awareness about democracy “as a way of life” form “a conscious part of education provided particularly in schools” (p. 55). While no one can deny the importance of such an initiative such a statement amounts to nothing but cheap sloganeering in a state that is controlled from top to bottom by the civil and military bureaucracy, where the Constitution is treated no better than a worthless document, where Parliament has been reduced to the status of a rubber-stamp, and where autocracy rules supreme so that a single person, foisting his one-man show upon the entire nation, can do or undo anything at his sweet will.

 

It is important to recall here that all previous education policies provided that the country’s system of education would promote “Islam as a way of life.” This was in consonance with the policy statements of the country’s founding fathers, Dr. Muhammad Iqbal and the Quaid-e-Azam. The White Paper’s glib replacement of “Islam” with “democracy” in this statement suits the ruling clique’s ‘enlightenment’ agenda and reeks of hypocrisy.

 

The Issue of Intolerance: Under the heading “Linkages with Principal Social Issues,” the Paper states: “Pakistan has suffered, in recent decades, from tension (and even terrorism) triggered by social polarizations based on sectarian differences and intolerance. This has resulted in wastage of national efforts and economic losses attributable to disputes emanating from disunity and extremism. The over-blown conflict is diagnosed as a result of indoctrination due to political agendas.” It has, therefore, been recommended that: “School education must now be designed to smoothen the turbulences of sectarian differences and develop a national character and outlook of inclusion and tolerance,” and that: “Curricula and textbooks must not foster, or lead to, sectarianism. All divisive material be weeded out from the natural curriculum and textbooks.” (p. 53-54). This is obviously a highly exaggerated account of a situation that is far less volatile than the champions of ‘enlightened moderation’ would actually like it to be. Except for sporadic incidents of sectarian troubles at a few places, there is hardly anything that may be termed as explosive or alarming. Nowhere in the country is there any sectarian divide at the popular level. Such alarmist propaganda is actually in line with the thinking of the imperial powers and serves their agenda very well, which is to present the religious forces into the darkest of colors and discredit madaris (plural of madrassah) and their system of education.

 

Furthermore, there are no textbooks, past or present, which are designed to “foster or lead to sectarianism.” The spirit of religious harmony and Islamic brotherhood has all along been their hallmark. The stress in the textbooks of Islamiat and Pakistan Studies has remained on tolerance and ethical values of Islam and its moral teachings. The author would have done well to illustrate his point regarding the so-called “divisive material” by providing examples.

 

Teaching Birth Control at School: Under the sub-heading “Linkage with Population Growth,” the Paper says: “Till the 60s, the governments took many measures of creating awareness of population welfare and management. However, many of these efforts suffered failures due to dogmatic fatalism and expensive awareness programmes being transient in effect” (p. 53). It, therefore, recommends: “Population Growth and Management should find due, and positive, articulation in school textbooks” (p. 55). It is not difficult to foresee what a ‘healthy’ impact this proposed education of population planning will have on the younger generation when it is included in textbooks from the middle to high school levels. The rising tide of moral waywardness and sex-related crimes is just a reflection of this new era of ‘enlightened moderation.’

 

The Unstated Nature of US Cooperation: On November 29, 2006, Education Minister Javed Qazi met his US counterpart Margaret Spellingz. Assuring him of her country’s support, the US Education Minister said: “Cooperation in the national education strategy of Pakistan and bilateral dialogue in the field will continue between the United States and Pakistan.” However, the million-dollar question remains: Which particular fields are going to benefit from the much-touted US help to Pakistan in the field of education? As we are all aware, there is no room for any US assistance to Pakistan in the more important sectors of physical sciences, including nuclear technology and space research, which are so important for the development in today’s world.

 

Ideological Blind Spot: The White Paper’s author complains that the education policies of the past used to reflect the political and ideological approach of the governments of the day and therefore could not produce the desired results. However, the same is true of the present document, which blatant attempts to implement an agenda dictated by the international patrons of the government.

 

Moreover, when the Paper lists the relevant laws and constitutional provisions concerning education under the heading “Legal Framework Governing Education Sector of Pakistan,” it conveniently avoids making any reference whatsoever to the Objectives Resolution, which provides constitutional authenticity for the past demands concerning education in Pakistan. No national education policy can achieve any real sanctity and legal validity if it ignores the Objectives Resolution and Article 31(1) of the Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan. The White Paper purposely avoids and tries to bury those articles of the law and the Constitution that are inconvenient for its purposes.

 

This brief review of the White Paper makes it clear that the overall perspective, framework and design of this policy are geared to the desires of global imperialism. It falls far short of national aspirations and only marginally caters to the needs of the country and its people in this vital sector of national progress and development.

 

Epilogue
The White Paper on Education was issued in December 2006. Its second edition, released online with a dateline of February 2007, was not available before March 5 (p. 4). The authors of the revised version claim to have modified it “in the light of comments received.” As in the case of the original document, which also claimed to have been written “after an extensive diagnostic and consultative stage” and to reflect “the aspirations and expectations of the people of Pakistan,” the revised version lacks the basis of proper consultations or any serious attempt to make it a consensus document.

Arrangements were made to have a consultation on this document 10 days after the release of the revised version. This meeting’s venue was, significantly, the high security zone of Parliamentarians Lodges, where it was held on March 14, 2007, under the aegis of the Pakistan Institute for Parliamentary Services (PIPS). Importantly, PIPS is an organization that has been created under the auspices of USAID.
The consultation meeting was attended by 37 persons. The occasion was used to release a new document on Pakistan’s future educational framework called the “Parliamentary Review of Education Policy (PREP).” It has been jointly prepared by the Federal Ministry of Education, the team associated with the White Paper, and the US management of PIPS.

PREP claims to offer “the outline of Pakistan’s tenth education policy” (p. 9). It introduces the problems facing Pakistan’s education sector under 12 different headings. This is followed by a synopsis of the views expressed by the participants about each of the problems. Finally, it presents recommendations.

 

In the details of discussions, one finds little difference from the approach of policy makers discussed above. There are some useful recommendations on logistics and technical aspects, such as adopting an integrated and coherent approach, creating ownership to ensure implementation, increased resource allocation, constructive monitoring through increased use of modern technology, making the teaching profession attractive, regularly reviewing curricula, raising standards in the universities, providing quality education in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), and improving coordination among education stakeholders. However, the ideological aspect remains confusing. This is reflected throughout the document but most emphatically in the sections dealing with the purpose of education and the role of Islam. It is not difficult to perceive the definite bias of the team that is orchestrating the entire process of discussions and consultations against the ideological aspect of education in Pakistan. Here, it is pertinent to quote what the document underscores at the very outset:

 

“There has been disproportionate focus on the ‘ideological basis’ of the education system in Pakistan and the role of Islam. This too has diverted attention from fundamental weakness in the (education) system.” (p. 5)

 

Every conscientious Pakistani has the right to ask the authors of this document what they mean by this so-called “disproportionate focus” on Islam in our textbooks and education system as a whole. Is it really true that the curricula being taught to our younger generation in schools and colleges have too much of Islam and Islamic teachings? Are the few chapters of these textbooks — which are often not even contributed by religious scholars of standing — so charged that they must be abridged or removed? And, what, after all, does this obsessive rejection of ‘ideology’ signify — is there a state worth the name in the world that does not have its ideology?

 

If the wizards in our Education Ministry took the trouble of comparing Pakistani textbooks with those of neighboring India, they would find that an ‘ideological’ orientation is by no means unique to Pakistan or something to apologize for. Although the books Indian schoolchildren study bears a pronounced ‘secular’ mark, there is a special focus on Hindi and Hindu culture, which the Indians justify as the language and culture of the majority of their population. Why then should we apologize for our Islamic orientation, which incidentally is the very basis of our independent existence?

 

Far from even attempting to understand these fundamental realities, the authors of PREP unabashedly lavish praise on our colonial legacy and the imperialist masters of pre-Independence days:

 

“Under the British there was no concept of corruption in education, but today (in Pakistan) there is so much that it is impossible to progress without it.” (p. 6)

 

Clearly, those claiming to tackle the problems of education in Pakistan are deeply ignorant of their colonial past. It is a well-known historical fact that British Imperialism patronized and promoted educational corruption of the worst kind. Christian missionary schools and elitist institutions for class-based education, such as Government College, FC College, Aitcheson College, Convent of Jesus & Marry, etc, remain glaring examples of such corruption, which is evident even today throughout the country. These were the institutions that offered all avenues of progress, jobs and privileges to their graduates, while poor men’s children, passing out from institutions like the Islamia Colleges, Anjuman Islamia and Anjuman Himayat-i-Islam, had to struggle for jobs. It is, to say the least, grossly unfair to pay homage to this colonial crusade against justice and the brazen British attempt to divide the local population into the lackeys of the imperialist power and the socially repressed. Indeed, statements such as the one quoted above are nothing short of cold-blooded murder of national history in the name of ‘enlightened moderation.’

While discussing the “Role of Islam,” PREP makes another quite interesting revelation:

 

“Islamic Ideology was first evoked in education in 1951, following the 1949 ‘Objectives Resolution’. Islam was viewed then as a tool for nation building…. The 1980s coincided with Afghan ‘Jihad’ against the Soviet Union, a factor that filled the ‘Islamization’ of education in Pakistan.” (p. 7-8).

 

A sinister attempt has obviously been made here to declare the Objectives Resolution as the root cause for Islam’s prominence in national polity. The inferences drawn against ‘Islamic Ideology’ and ‘Afghan Jihad’ are equally malicious. The authors of the document are either ignorant or are deliberately ignoring the fact that the outlines of an education policy for the independent Muslim state were framed as early as in the third month following the birth of Pakistan, when the country’s first-ever Education Conference was held in November 1947. This was exactly four years before the Objectives Resolution. Recommendations submitted by various committees of the Conference had then emphasized that the education policy of the fledgling state must essentially be based on Islamic teachings and the moral values of Islam. Ignoring these facts of history, the document seeks to build its case on wrong premises. It goes on to cast aspersions against the two popularly elected civilian governments of Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto and Mian Mohammad Nawaz Sharif for giving undue importance to the ideological aspect and Islamiyat. (p. 98)

The superficial approach of the document on an issue of such great national importance is, to say the least, highly ignoble. Moreover, the diction it uses to discard the need for an Islamic orientation of our education system and its ideological basis is too harsh to be acceptable in any serious document, especially one of an official nature. The following statement is an example of the lack of objectivity:

 

“There has been too much focus on ‘Islamization’ and ‘Talibanization’…. The problem in Pakistan is that Islam has been promoted as a dogma: a fixed, rigid set of values that do not encourage exploration and innovation….The reality is that in Pakistan Islam has been used to justify the closing and even bombing of girls schools.” (p. 8)

 

The statements quoted above mirror the present policy-planners’ mindset for education and other sectors. One would like to ask the authors of PREP: Can they furnish details of this so-called “focus on Islamization and Talibanization” of education in Pakistan? Can they say when and where such “bombing of girls’ schools” has taken place? And how do they justify their non-acknowledgment of the real root causes behind the incidents of violence and extremism that have bedeviled society especially in the post-9/11 scenario: the extremist agenda of those ruling the country, and regional and global factors?

 

Let us have some perspective: The Russian Communists obviously had no Islamic background. Nevertheless, they brutalized Afghanistan by massacring 1.3 million Afghans, permanently disabling 2.5 million and rendering over 5 million hapless men, women and children homeless? What connection was there between the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, the Afghan people’s Jihad, and Pakistan and its education policy? Following King Zahir Shah’s dismissal, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto was the Prime Minister of Pakistan in July 1973. It was during his tenure that Afghan refugees and mujahideen started pouring into Pakistan, and he appointed Lt. Gen. (R) Naseerullah Babar to coordinate with them. Just as the Russian Communists were no ‘Islamists,’ neither Prime Minister Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, nor his appointed General could be accused of being overly Islam-oriented.

 

The later phenomenon of the Talibans’ emergence in Afghanistan took place in 1995. At that time, another enlightened moderate, Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto, held sway in Pakistan. It was during her rule that the same General Naseerullah Babar took charge of the Taliban chapter. Where was Pakistan’s education policy then and what were its contours? Even the United States then regarded the Taliban with esteem as its ally because of its immediate strategic interests.

 

The ‘brains’ behind the White Paper and PREP documents clearly and most unfortunately lack basic knowledge of Pakistan’s national ethos. Islam and its philosophy of life will remain the driving force of the Pakistani nation as long as it exists as an independent state. How is it possible for the body to survive without its life-blood? It is a universal truth that no nation can survive without an ideology.

The socio-cultural norms, values and traditions, and cherished goals of a people, as reflected in their popular will, form the basis for the ideology that serves as the anchor-sheet of their nationhood. This ideology can be ‘nationalist,’ ‘secularist,’ ‘capitalist,’ ‘racialist,’ ‘communist,’ or Islamic. If nobody raises an eyebrow at the United States for doggedly following its ‘nationalist’ ideology, or the West for its ‘capitalist’ ideology, or Israel for its ‘racialist’ ideology, or India for its ‘secular’ ideology, why then this consternation against Pakistan’s observance of the norms and dictates of its Islamic ideology?

References

Aly, Javed Hasan. 2006, December. Education in Pakistan: A White Paper. National Education Policy Review Team. Islamabad: Ministry of Education, Government of Pakistan.

Academy of Educational Planning and Management. 2006, December. National Education Census Pakistan. Islamabad: National Book Foundation.

United States Information Service (USIS). 2006, November-December. Khabar-o-Nazar. (US Embassy News Bulletin.) Islamabad.

Aly, 2006.

However, in a later revised version of the document, a “representative of Madrassahs” has been added (p. 68).

Academy of Educational Planning and Management, 2006, p. 27.

Daily Nawa-i-Waqt, February 22, 2007, Lahore.

United States Information Service (USIS), 2006, p. 7.

Nawa-i-Waqt, February 7, 2007, Lahore.

USIS, Op. cit., p. 75.

This states: “Steps shall be taken to enable the Muslims of Pakistan, individually and collectively, to order their lives in accordance with the fundamental principles and basic concepts of Islam and to provide facilities whereby they may be enabled to understand the meaning of life according to the Holy Quran and Sunnah.”

 
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