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Yet another education emergency!

The purpose of the education emergency is to improve the education situation and to enrol out-of-school 2.6m million children



Yet another education emergency!
Yet another education emergency!

Dr Lubna Zaheer

Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif has recently announced the implementation of an "education emergency" for four years in the country. The announcement came during an educational conference held in Islamabad. The purpose of the implementation of the education emergency is to improve the education situation and in particular to enrol the 2.6 million children who are still out of school. The premier says that he will supervise the whole process himself and will also talk to the chief ministers of all the provinces in this regard.

Although this announcement is welcoming, it’s not new at all. Such statements have been made by various governments in the past. According to my memory, the term educational emergency has also been used before. In the past, the prime ministers, chief ministers and senior government officials had expressed deep concerns about the educational situation. Of course, some practical efforts were also made to reform the education sector.

However, nothing happened to show any significant change. Had there been a big change, our 2.6m of school age today would not have missed the sight of a school, the posts of thousands of teachers in our government schools would not have been vacant for a long time, the incidents of paper leakage and cheating would not have become the norm during the exams, hundreds of our government schools would not have been deprived of regular boundaries, toilets, clean drinking water, etc, there would have been some improvement in the quality of education in government schools and even after 70 years, our governments would not have been trying to achieve the target of 100% primary education. This situation is because no revolution and no remarkable change have taken place in our education sector to date.

Dozens of educational programmes have been created and run in the country. Parha Likha Punjab (Literate Punjab) programme was launched. Then we heard about the Daanish Schools system. Another programme was run to provide milk to children in schools, an enrollment campaign was launched, fee waiver programmes were run, and the chief minister and prime minister scholarship programmes were also launched in the past. From time to time educational policies were devised and implemented without any positive results. Now the educational emergency is going to be implemented once again. The question is what difference will this announcement make? Has any strategy been formulated in this regard?

One real problem is that we always lack direction and don't take any decisions bluntly. Along with targeting the opposition political parties, their policies and plans are also subjected to political revenge. When governments around the world make policies or plans on a matter, all aspects of the matter are considered. After passing through various stages, when a policy is made or a plan is started, previous governments do not influence its continuity. The case is different with us. Here many good projects in public interest face political opposition. Instead of promoting or advancing the plan of the government of its political opponent, a government lays the foundation for a new plan to get its nameplates on the projects. A lack of long-term planning and leadership does not move things forward. The same has been happening in the case of education. Mention any plan or policy related to school education, which has been in progress for the last 10 to 15 years. At least I’m not aware of any such plans.

Lofty promises and claims are made for throwing dust in the eyes of innocent people and apartheid policies are also announced to appease the people. Take an example from the recent past. The PTI government had claimed to implement a uniform education system, the announcement, however, was limited to the uniform curriculum. A publicity campaign for this policy was carried out vigorously, but a uniform curriculum could not be implemented. How could it be? It was and still is very difficult work to do.

We have many different education systems in place and each has its curriculum. On the one hand, there are government schools, where the children of the poor study and on the other there are high-end English-medium private schools, reserved for the children of the rich. Apart from this, there are medium English medium schools established in the streets. Then there are religious schools. According to my poor understanding, religious madrassahs also teach different curricula according to the religion. This means that from day one of the euphoric announcements of a uniform curriculum, most educationists were aware that it was an impossibility. Yet government budgets and energy were spent on the issue.

Now PM Shehbaz has declared an emergency. This declaration is well known to the ears. May Allah make them [the rulers] achieve their goals. However, the question is how will the goals related to this announcement be determined? What strategy will be formulated in this regard? Who will implement this strategy and how? What is the magic wand through which more than 2.6m children will be sent to schools in four years? Those children who work to run their household expenses, who will bear the financial burden of these children?

To send these kids to school, hundreds, if not thousands, maybe millions of schools have to be built. We already have a shortage of thousands of teachers, the services of thousands of teachers will be needed for 2.6m children. This means that a large number of recruitments will have to be made. This entire process will require a huge budget. Currently, Pakistan spends the least on education in the region. It’s a shame that we are even below in spending than Bangladesh and Afghanistan. Where will the budget be provided to educate these children?

Of course, the goals of the educational emergency will not be limited to the number of students. These will also include improving the quality of education. The adoption of the curriculum to modern requirements, introduction of new technology in schools and teacher’s training will also be part of this emergency plan. Has it all been planned? Also remember that after the 18th constitutional amendment, the education sector is entrusted to the provinces. The PM has announced that he will talk to the chief ministers of the provinces for the implementation of the educational emergency. The political situation is that the chief minister of a province isn’t willing to talk to anyone and has threatened to attack Islamabad. Can a coherent strategy be formulated in this situation?

I could not listen to the Prime Minister's speech completely. So I don't know whether the declaration of the educational emergency is limited to school education only or it also includes the higher education sector. The higher education sector is also in dire need of an educational emergency. Dozens of universities across the country have been without permanent vice-chancellors for several months. The quality of education in public and private universities is declining. Tales of our teachers' poor research are gaining global notoriety. A couple of days ago, I came across the news of a foreign journal that Pakistani researchers are second in the world in publishing fake scientific (and research) articles. This situation is sad and shameful. May Allah Almighty have mercy on our education sector.

The writer is an educationist and analyst.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of