Education remains among the least prioritized concerns for the the government, despite the fact it is a crucial component for Pakistan’s economic progress and development. The problems of illiteracy at 38%, increase in out of school children, lower retention rates at primary schools, and rise in learning poverty are further compounded by post-pandemic and the recurrent climate crisis in Pakistan. How can Pakistan aspire to make education inclusive, enhance skills development and bring its human capital in competition to the needs of modern world economies?
Below, we present our key considerations for policy makers, education officials and the legislators in their efforts for ensuring inclusive education opportunities for every child in Pakistan.
Consideration 1: Shift away from the idea of a centralized education system in times of emergency
Data from 2020 pandemic induced Learning poverty, as reported by World Bank research, had stood at 79% which is 16.3 % points worse than the average for the South Asia region and 19.5 % points worse than the average for lower middle-income countries . The economic losses incurred by it can reach up to $67-155 billion losses . The situation has further deteriorated with current flood situation, where 22,000 schools have reportedly been damaged – over 17,400 in Sindh, over 2,300 in Balochistan, over 1,400 in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, and some 1,250 in Punjab.
The losses incurred recently in terms of schools and learning require special consideration by our education ministries and departments to imagine reforms in emergency context. With over 25 million children out of schools, poverty and food insecurity concerns rising exponentially, human displacements, damaged school infrastructure, and teacher availability constraints in light of climate crisis, we need to shift away from the idea of a centralized education system. 18th Amendment, that empowers a province to decide on educational reforms in local contexts, should not be compromised or undermined. Every province of Pakistan has its unique own learning requirements which now need to be aligned with local climate crisis mitigation efforts.
Consideration 2: Align education standards with the diverse learning requirements of communities
Foundational literacy and numeracy outcomes as assessed by ASER 2021 for rural areas reported only 15% of grade 3 students able to read in Urdu, Pashto, Sindhi, whereas 20% could read sentences in English, and only 20% could manage grade 2 basic arithmetic sums. In such circumstances where pupils already enrolled at schools are not able to perform at their basic foundational levels of school, and with their learning levels further deteriorated by recent floods, there is a need to examine whether the National Curriculum of Pakistan (formerly Single National Curriculum) is effectively addressing required competencies? Currently, recommendations for revising curriculum standards and making it less content-heavy and more skills oriented (soft skills, critical thinking and practical learning) remain unaddressed.
Learning levels are not the same across all streams of education, and currently, the standards are not aligned with diverse learning requirements. Diversity of children coming from underprivileged, marginalized and even ostracized communities need to be assessed by the government and its bodies to smartly tailor curriculum that is need-specific and skills oriented for communities with different needs. The second priority laid out by National Education Policy Framework, on making standards uniform, may not be realistic or practical without first bringing all learning outcomes from different educational streams at par with each other.
Consideration 3: Open avenues of diversified learning by breaking the nexus between examination boards and textbook publishers
Examination system should be based on SLOs, not on textbooks. This kills the spirit of creative learning in students. Exams based on textbooks also leads to the ultimate ills of rote learning, which advance in plagiarism and academic dishonesty when students progress into tertiary level of education. This also kills genuine research and original thinking that is needed for any nation aspiring for economic progress.
Academics of repute in Pakistan have time and again expressed concerns over the strong nexus between textbook publishers and examination boards that results in students developing reliance on single textbooks. This nexus needs to be broken and diversity in knowledge-sources should be allowed for students. Developing own academic opinions and original thoughts based on the principles of objectivity and critical inquiry are the much needed academic values that can address the intellectual and scholastic gaps we commonly find in our students progressing to the next level of schooling.
Consideration 4: Gathering indigenous data to understand barriers to education is more sustainable than sole reliance on donor-driven programs
One way to tackle our millions of out of school children in Pakistan, is by generating demand for education. Education is effective if it is addressing their requirement for vocation or higher education, or religious training. It is therefore recommended to not make national curriculum mandatory or conditional on schools.
The requirements for education here should be determined in light of local communities’ expectations from it. The general bureaucratic practice of donor-driven data gathering may not be able to address the situation as indigenously as is desired. The willingness to understand learning needs should come from within our government and bureaucratic policy making circles. One of major obstacles to our national education goals is the lack of consistency in donor-funded education projects taken up by provincial governments. Once the tenure of that project is completed, it may or may not continue depending on the government’s relations with donor agencies or countries.
Consideration 5: End denial of educational access by upholding fundamental rights as enshrined in the constitution
We have witnessed instances where access to education is conveniently impacted by parallel legislations, court directions or government notifications. There have been instances of denial of education when schools have been forced to evict or close by education departments or the local magistrates. Such steps undermine the right to education which is enshrined in the constitution under Fundamental Rights chapter. These are the invisible barriers to education that need proper identification and redress.
Weightage needs to be given to our constitutional fundamental rights, such as article 25-A and article 22(1) over those falling under Principle of policy chapter, such as the much quoted Article 31. This demarcation between chapters is necessary because fundamental rights cannot be compromised at any cost, whereas principles of policy are subjected to availability of resources. For example, the education department revoking school licenses due to non-implementation of a policy principle–such as non-availability of Quran teachers is in itself a fundamental right violation of 25-A. The directors at NCC are also found to be justifying inclusion of religious content in compulsory subjects (violation of fundamental right under article 22-1) by invoking article 31. There is a need to ensure that fundamental rights are safeguarded at all costs, this can be brought through proper legislation and policy recommendations.
Tag:18th amendment, access to education, Barriers to Education, climate change, climate crisis, education emergency, education policy recommendations, fundamental rights, Human Rights, inclusive education, LearningPoverty, legislation on education, principles of policy, recommendations for inclusive education, Right to Education