August 3, 2023
By Fauzia Kalsoom
Independent education policy experts, government stakeholders and political parties agreed on introducing reforms for more inclusive and equitable quality education.
They had gathered at a conference organized by the Centre for Social Justice (CSJ) in collaboration with the Idara-e-Taleem-o-Aagahi (ITA) and Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) on ‘Mapping Educational Reforms in View of the Next Democratic Tenure’.
Speaking at the occasion, Dr. Baela Raza Jamil, ITA Chief Executive Officer (CEO), said that education without discrimination was a lifeline for all citizens. She said that Pakistan remains lowest on key indicators of Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 4 in South Asia failing to live up to Article 25-A, a fundamental constitutional right to education.
In spite of progressive manifestos, political parties repeatedly fell short of delivering what they promised, compromising instead and excluding,and crippling the lives of millions of children, especially girls and marginalized groups. She expressed hope that the coming elections would usher in a new beginning for progressive education investment and delivery for all citizens protected with strong learning foundations.
Dr. A. H. Nayyar said that the state has failed to implement Article 25-A and provide free and compulsory education to all children under 16 years, as nearly half the country’s children are deprived of schooling on account of the failure of the state to provide the resources needed for the task. He said that political parties must promise in their election manifestos to enhance allocation to education by 6% of the gross domestic product (GDP).
Dr. Shoaib Suddle said that the government had been violating Order no. 2 of the Jillani Judgment (SMC 1 of 2014, etc.) and Article 22(1) of the constitution, as school curriculum and textbooks of compulsory subjects like Urdu, English and Social Studies carry substantial content relating to the religious instruction of the majority religion, compelling non-Muslim students to learn Islamiyat in all courses.
Peter Jacob, CSJ Executive Director, said that fulfilling and implementing Articles 22 (1) and 25-A of the Constitution of Pakistan on the right to education without discrimination, is a fundamental constitutional obligation and a pressing need for improving foundational literacy, and the quality of education. He added that civil society will continue to engage effectively with political parties for positive educational reforms before and after the elections in 2023.
Senior columnist Wajahat Masood appreciated the landmark decision of the Supreme Court issued on 19 June 2014. He added that it is not possible to implement articles 20, 22 (1), and 25-A of the constitution in letter and spirit unless related laws and policies are made likewise, as they are sectarian, religion-based and discriminatory. He added that the state of Pakistan needs to ensure the equality of citizens and discourage appeasing groups promoting division on the basis of identity.
Dr. Prof. Yaqoob Khan Bangash said that there has to be social interaction among students from majority and minority communities inside and outside classrooms to promote inclusion, pluralism, and diversity.
Meanwhile, Waseem Ajmal, Federal Secretary of the Ministry of Federal Education & Professional Training, assured that the ministry is committed to removing religious instruction and hate speech present in compulsory subjects to implement Article 22 (1) of the Constitution.
Educationist Saima Anwer said that school curricula and textbooks should focus on promoting inclusion, diversity, critical thinking, and learning outcomes. Moreover, minorities should have access to suitable alternatives to compulsory Islamic education.
Former Pakistan Peoples Pary (PPP) Senator Farhatullah Babar said that quality education should be a priority of the political parties to inculcate pluralistic values in children. He also urged that measures to transform schools into religious seminaries with the single national curriculum (SNC) and induction of madrassa graduates as teachers must be revisited.
Senator Sana Jamali, who is also convener of the Education Parliamentary caucus, said that civil society, government and politicians need to work together and take meaningful actions to educate all children who are out of school and are drop-outs.
Balochistan Awami Party (BAP) Member of the National Assembly (MNA) Zubaida Jalal said that our primary aim in pursuit of educational reforms should be to cultivate equitable learning environments, where every student can access quality education and excel. Public education must be centered on creating inclusive spaces that empower students to become valuable and participative members of society. By building on these principles, we should strive to drive meaningful changes and advancements in our education system.
Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) MNA Mehnaz Akber Aziz emphasized bringing out-of-school children into schools, quality education and learning outcomes. She supported the cross-party caucus on inclusive education and proposed to initiate a scorecard of every legislator regarding their education-related interventions in their constituencies.
President of the Haqooq-e-Khalq Party (HKP) Dr. Ammar Ali Jan said that there is a need to allow critical thinking on campuses. which will only be possible if we stop viewing education from a security lens and start treating universities as sites for dialogue and debate. Moreover, we must plan our economy to ensure a university-to-jobs pipeline. It is unacceptable that so many bright young people with degrees are jobless. We must ensure that there are adequate jobs available for students graduating from universities.
Dr. Baela Raza Jamil, Dr. A. H. Nayyar, Peter Jacob, Wajahat Masood, Dr. Yaqoob Khan Bangash, Saima Anwer, Waseem Ajmal and Dr. Shoaib Suddle were among the panelists. Whereas politicians including Farhatullah Babar, Mehnaz Akber Aziz, Zobaida Jalal, Senator Sana Jamali and Ammar Ali Jan presented their parties’ perspectives on educational reforms. Faaria Khan hosted the conference, while Harris Khalique and Munizae Jahangir moderated the panel discussions on different topics focused on inclusive and equitable quality education and political parties’ commitment and actions for educational reforms.
Key recommendations for implementation of Articles 20 and 22 (1)
In view of the need to build social cohesion and religious tolerance in Pakistan, and encouraged by the steps for introducing the subject of religious education for minority students in schools, the participants of the Conference recommended the following as priority measures to improve inclusivity and equity in the education sector:
Implement Article 22 (1) of the Constitution of Pakistan in letter and spirit to ensure that religious materials are removed from textbooks of non-religious compulsory subjects, and a clear distinction between religious education and religious instruction is made.
Review all the textbooks for religious and Islamic studies to ensure that the materials are age-appropriate, etc.
Encourage all provincial textbook boards to implement the teaching of Religious Studies as an alternative to Islamiyat/Ethics for minority students according to their respective beliefs.
For an inclusive learning environment, and efficient induction of teachers for each religion comprehensively, teachers training should cater to more inclusive training; and those teaching social studies, civics, and humanities should be trained to teach the subject of religious education for minority students as well. However, there should be at least one well-trained teacher/ supervisor at the district level who should be able to facilitate, respond to all questions, and resolve issues as they may arise.
Take affirmative measures on an urgent basis to improve literacy among the children from religious minorities to match the national literacy rate at least (58-60% ). It is urgently recommended to carry out mapping of the locale and intensity of illiterate groups.
Fulfilling and implementing Article 25-A of the Constitution of Pakistan on the right to education for all children, is a fundamental constitutional obligation and a pressing need for improving foundational literacy, and the quality of education. Whereas Pakistan faces various policy, fiscal, and structural constraints, including; chronically low financing (low tax base), economic instability, lack of facilities and services, climate catastrophe, poor governance, ideological and institutional obstacles.
On the other hand, there are enabling factors such as interactions and dialogues among political stakeholders which can help strengthen consensus for electoral reforms, the Charter of Democracy and the prospective Charter of Economy.
The participants of the conference were hopeful that the elections in late 2023 will result in a stable government and policy improvements for quality education in Pakistan. The endorsing political stakeholders and civil society organizations recommended the following measures for improving the quality of education in Pakistan:
1. Increasing allocations on education up to 6% of GDP to fulfill the constitutional guarantee of Article 25-A and achieve targets under SDG 4 encompassing the right to education and learning for all. Furthermore, utilize funds for addressing the learning crisis, post-primary facilities gap, improving and maintaining infrastructure, teacher adequacy, preparation and support, continuous curriculum and content development, integrating climate change and life skills-based education (LSBE), and access to the internet and technology-enabled learning resources without discrimination.
2. Reviewing and integrating the examination system with curriculum, textbooks, and teacher preparation to replace rote learning with creative learning.
3. Ensuring accountability and transparency through assessment of budget allocations and utilization, as well as ensuring timely disbursements to schools.
4. Introducing institutional reforms to enhance coordination among government departments dealing with education and skill to improve performance and accountability.
5. Ensuring due consultation with relevant civil society stakeholders for the transparency of the police-making processes.
6. Establish a Cross-Party Caucus on Inclusive Education with representation from all political parties to strengthen the narrative on inclusion by raising it on the floor of the house and within different political party ranks.
7. Allocating sufficient funds to expand public-private partnerships and strengthen government initiatives to meet education targets for all, at all levels for better learning outcomes. Furthermore, by utilizing funds for improving facilities and learning resources in public and education foundation-supported programs, and providing support to low-cost private schools, and non-formal community-led programs.
8. Notifying the rules of business and enforcing the federal and provincial laws on the right to free and compulsory education for all children to implement Article 25-A of the Constitution of Pakistan.
9. Developing programs to expand access to quality early childhood education/pre-school education embedded in multi-sectoral support for health and nutrition; investing in a cadre of early childhood educators (ECEs), building capacity for a strong foundation for children’s lifelong learning through comprehensive professional development inculcating play-based pedagogies, inclusive education, social emotional learning, parental engagement and effective use of technology, to ensure the quality of care and age-appropriate learning.
10. Ensuring a high-quality curriculum to integrate critical thinking, problem-solving skills, digital literacy, and diversity.
11. Improving the standard of learning, teaching and examination by committing to the principle of student learning outcomes (SLOs) across subjects/grades, without a single prescribed textbook, but multiple approved textbooks; setting assessment questions from the curriculum-based SLOs for assessing students’ ability to comprehend ideas and concepts, analyze, think and reason, rather than examining their rote memorization skills.
12. Making girls’ education a priority within the education budget at all levels in diverse geographies in rural and urban areas including growing urban slums, with adequate safe facilities, construction and rehabilitation of schools, training and recruitment of female teachers and provision of supplies, to address extreme gender imbalance in education and achieve gender equity across students and teachers.
13. Declare a national education emergency and invest in implementing systematic interventions to reduce the number of out-of-school children and drop-outs, which may include introducing double shifts in existing schools, building new schools, and upgrading existing primary schools to secondary schools, ensuring healthy and safe learning spaces by offering proper nutrition, free transport, providing boundary walls, safe toilets for girls and boys with hygiene facilities, and access to safe drinking water.
14. Prioritize marginalized communities, including rural areas, slums, and remote regions, to ensure that no child is left behind in learning and skills, and take measures to provide social safety nets, cash stipends for transport costs to encourage poor parents to retain their children in school, and waive all tuition, registration, and exam fees at government schools, and provide poor students with school supplies, uniforms, bags, shoes, textbooks, and nutrition.
15. Ensuring the provision of necessary infrastructure, assistive technologies and trained staff to facilitate the participation of children with disabilities in mainstream schools.
16. Creating a safe learning environment in schools (all types) receptive to all students at educational institutions and implementing a strategy to deal with complaints related to harassment, bullying, and discrimination faced by girls, minorities, and persons with disabilities, and monitoring potential threats to students, teachers, and schools, and introducing safeguards to protect them against violence and abuse in educational settings.
17. Enforcing the abolition of child labour, and increase the legal minimum age of employment and marriage to prevent child labour, end child marriage, and promote the benefits of education.
18. Introducing a teachers licensing policy to improve the capacity of teachers as professionals, and enhance the standards of teaching and quality of learning in Pakistan.
19. Amending laws dealing with private educational institutions to ensure that the regulatory authorities are able to identify unregistered schools, oversee the functional private schools, and issue registration certificates or renewal letters to institutions without compromising quality of education.