Right to education in Pakistan is embedded in the fundamental constitutional rights; “The State shall provide free and compulsory education to all children of the age of five to sixteen years in such a manner as may be determined by law”.
A lack of commitment and resources has kept Pakistani’s deprived of education. The PTI led government has launched a national education policy framework which aims to reform the education system across the country.
Matrix Mag meets Federal Minister for Education and special training Shafqat Mehmood to inquire about his vision and hopes from this policy.
MATRIX: As an integral part of the 100 days agenda of the PTI Govt, this national education policy framework looks ambitious. Pakistan has announced nine comprehensive national education policies in the past but none could get successfully implemented. How do you plan on implementing and evaluating your education policy? Do you think you will be able to implement it as a whole or to some extent?
Shafqat Mehmood: Over 22 million out of school children are a real concern for the government. National policy on education is addressing this issue at top priority. The literacy rate in Pakistan is 58 percent, the quality of education is poor, skills are limited and there is no uniformity across curriculums. All these areas are a top priority of the government; we have already launched a pilot program for out of school children in Islamabad. We have started working on a single national curriculum – a national curriculum council and technical committee have been established to complete this sensitive task. Curriculum is serious work. It will take some time to come up with well thought out recommendations on what needs to be added and changed in our existing framework. Another area which we are focusing on is the quality of education. In my view, we need to take drastic measures to improve. While reforming curriculum , we need to have teachers’ training programs in place, especially in higher education we have set a priority of faculty development.
Ensuring quality education along with skills development is another important area where we are investing a lot of resources. Once the finance department has completed budgeting, we will be spending Rs. 21 billion in the next four years.
MATRIX: You have talked about teachers’ training. Do you think we need to revisit basics regarding education?
Shafqat Mehmood: Irrespective of which education system the students belong to – children of public schools, private schools and madrasahs – our aim is one curriculum for every child .
Madrasah reforms are another focus of this inclusive policy. We don’t want exclude them since we aim to reform the entire education system. In the case of madras, who have agreed to comply, the first step is for these schools to get registered with the education ministry.
We will register madrasahs with an agreement on a basic code of ethics to stop hate speech and extremist views. With the revised mechanisms in place, we will work together to avoid promoting sectarianism.
We will also share various resources with madrasahs; for example if they require teachers, the Ministry of Education will provide them with it. Our government believes that a general uplift in the quality of education in madrasah system will create a long lasting impact on our society.
Therefore, we are planning on introducing additional compulsory subjects of contemporary education. To evaluate the effectiveness of a single national curriculum, we want to introduce a uniform examination system across the board.
Although we can not ensure 100 percent equality in the education system, we are certainly trying to do our best. The ultimate goal is to create a positive impact of education on our society – to have a curriculum which promotes interfaith harmony instead of hatred and sectarianism. We wish that our education system produces positive results and enhances the productive capacity of people
MATRIX: Are provinces on board this policy after the 18th amendment?
Shafqat Mehmood: We are taking provinces on board with us on the core policy issues because we don’t want to push any unilateral decision. For coordination with provinces, the Inter Provincial Ministerial Conference meets regularly to discuss important issues. This interaction has been very productive for us.
Our society has to redefine some basic questions around the education system. It is important to ask what is the purpose of education and why do we send our children to school to set an ideological discourse to reform the existing education system.
Before we make changes to the curriculum, we need to identify outcomes like what are the desired results we want from educating our children and what kind of citizens are we producing out of this education system?
This will give a strong foundation to young children; we will know what we desire from first five years of a child in school. For instance math and language skills are non negotiable; once the outcome is determined the curriculum changes will follow the course, it will be an outcome and results based approach.
MATRIX: What should be the budget allocated to the Ministry of Education?
Shafqat Mehmood: Despite our poor financial status, we will try to allocate more to the education budget. Education is one core area of Prime Minister Imran Khan’s vision and I as a minister am committed to reforming the education for a progressive Pakistan. We are elected for five years, to evaluate our performance people should wait for five years and InshaAllah we will deliver on our promises.
Under Special Arrangement with Matrix Mag