By Iftikhar A. Khan
ISLAMABAD, Feb 5: Mainstream political parties Tuesday committed themselves to enhance the education budget from 2.4 per cent to 4 per cent of the GDP within the next three years with an increased focus on areas lagging behind in education and literacy indicators.They signed a declaration to the effect at the conclusion of a multi-party conference on ‘Education for All in Pakistan’ organised by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) and the Pakistan Institute of Legislative Development and Transparency (PILDAT), a foreign- funded NGO.
The parties committed to allocate 10 per cent of the annual education budget to literacy programmes, arrange free and compulsory primary education, and ensure 100 per cent primary enrolment, and 85 per cent adult literacy by the year 2015.In a bid to impress that they mean it, the parties promised to abolish political favouritism and interference in education departments, to modernise and introduce a uniform core curriculum in schools across the country and to effectively utilise the allocated education budget each year.Though the political parties pledged to enhance the education budget, the commitment by almost half of them does not mean anything at this stage due to their decision to boycott the polls.
The three major political parties including PML, PML-N and PPP remained in government, but took no practical steps in this direction. These parties, however, have made promises in their election manifestoes to focus on the education sector.The 16 political parties which signed the Joint Declaration were represented by Senator Mushahid Hussain (PML), Raja Zafarul Haq (PML-N), Shah Mahmood Qureshi (PPP), Prof Ibrahim (JI), Senator Tahir Mashhadi (MQM), Senator Anisa Zeb Tahirkheli (PPP- Sherpao) and Dr Arif Alvi (PTI), Haji Mohammad Adeel (ANP), Takri M. Mengal (BNP-Awami), Dr Jehanzeb Jamaldini (BNP-Mengal), Senator Shahid Bugti (JWP), Maulana Amjad Khan (JUI-F), Pir Nasir Jamil Hashmi (JUP-Noorani), Prof Sajid Mir (JAH), Dr Abdul Hayee Baloch (NP), Senator Abdur Rahim Mandokhel (PMAP).Some of the participants of the moot called for a proper system of check and balance to ensure proper utilisation of funds, alleging that a huge chunk of funds for education was siphoned off by the bureaucracy.
Speaking on the occasion, Senator Mushahid Hussain announced that his party had the plans to initiate mass literacy programmes across the country, increase teacher retirement age from 60 to 65 years, modernisation of curriculum and to ensure transparency in scholarship awards.He emphasized the need to ease visa restrictions on Pakistani students seeking to undertake advanced studies in physics and engineering due to a negative perception of Pakistan’s nuclear state status.
Shah Mehmood Qureshi, Punjab PPP chief pointed out the sustained lack of political will in developing the education sector citing over 22 policy action plans introduced by various governments and their inability to foster any change in basic education and literacy indicators.While endorsing the Joint Declaration commitment of increasing education budget to 4 per cent of the GDP, he stressed on removing institutional weaknesses that hinder effective use of education funds and building of institutions’ capacity to enable them properly utilise funding.
Raja Zafarul Haq highlighted the potential of youth and pointed out that when given the right opportunities and access to education they can exceed internationally set standards of high learning achievement. He observed that mere increase in the education budget would not make any improvement, but an overall change in the strategy was required for it.
Senator Anisa Zeb Tahirkheli termed education as the key to success. She said under the constitution free primary education has to be ensured in minimum possible time. Advocating for allocating more resources for public sector education, she pointed out that Malaysia spends 26 per cent of GDP on education.Dr Abdul Hayee Baloch and Haji Adeel elaborated stressed the need for teaching mother language at primary level. Endorsing this view, Senator Shahid Bugti compared the bleak education and literacy scenario in Pakistan with the much poorer countries of Africa with better adult literacy rates including Rwanda, Malawi and Nigeria.Senator Abdur Rahim Mandokhel underlined the need to make political parties accountable to the masses and not to the perceived power bases of the country as witnessed over the years. He said education budget should be increased, but there must be a system of accountability in place to ensure proper utilisation of the funds.Dr Jehanzeb Jamaldini and Nasir Jamil Hashmi pointed out the problem of political interference at the district level and proposed more accountability and transparency in the system.
Yasin Zafar called for encouragement and improvement in religious educational institutions bringing them at par with the mainstream educational institutions.Senator Mashadi endorsed the mainstreaming of religious institutions with a focus on modernising their curricula and to abolish the existing multi-class education systems in the country.
(Coutresy Dawn, Feb 6, 2008)
Wednesday, February 6, 2008
By Iftikhar A. Khan