ISLAMABAD: The senior leadership of all political parties failed to show up in a conference held where they were required to make commitments regarding the quality and provision of education to all Pakistani children.
Given the education challenges the country faces due to lack of efficient governance, institutional imbalance, and lack of political will, the conference was organised to bring political parties to a consensus regarding a minimum education reform agenda that every political party should commit to implement if they form a government.
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Media persons were told that opposition leader Khursheed Shah, Shafqat Mehmood Qureshi and others would join the event but none of them were present on the occasion. The organisers said party chairmen were invited to give political commitments to implement an education reform agenda but they refused to come.
But the lower tier of leadership from almost all major political parties came together in Islamabad to commit their support for the delivery of quality education as it is a constitutional obligation of governments now.
However, in the education conference titled Ailaan-e-Amal, the leadership from PML-N, PPP, PTI, National Party (NP), ANP, Jamat-e-Islami, Qaumi Watan Party (QWP), PSP, MQM-P, PML-Q, JUI-F, PKMAP, and BNP-M pledged to go beyond political differences and proceed with a minimum national reform agenda for education. The national education conference was hosted by education campaign AlifAilaan.
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Though the representatives of political parties endorsed the agenda and agreed to implement it, the suggestion involved an agreement with the highest leadership. Khyber Pakhtunkhawa Elementary and Secondary Education Minister Mohammad Atif said, “Though we represent our respective parties the decision power of important matters like budget allocations lies with the chairmen and for that they need to be taken on board for commitments. Party leaders should sign Ailaan-e-Amal so that their voters can hold them accountable after the elections.”
He said the provinces raise only eight to ten percent of their own budget while the rest come from the federal government. The provinces need to increase their incomes to spend on issues important to the public.
Awami National Party’s Afrasiab Khattak said more than 80% of the budget goes to debt servicing, defense and administration and only 17% to 20% budget left is distributed among all other sectors including education and health. The governments need to think and reconsider allocation patterns if they really want to improve the education and health of the nation.
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PTI’s Chaudhry Muhammad Sarwar stated: “In a country like Pakistan, where 23 million children are still out of school, a national emergency must be declared after the General Elections. We will need to set strict targets to get them all in school and get them learning.”
PPP MNA Dr Azra Pechuho was of the view that there is a need for legislation extending beyond the provision of free and compulsory education to legislation on quality, teacher availability and budget utilisation.
Punjab School Education Minister Rana Mashhood stated “It is heartening to see that all provincial governments have prioritised education since 2013 and Punjab specifically has focused on providing quality education.”
The ‘Education Agenda for Pakistan’ demanded from political parties to pledge to increase the education budget up to four percent of the GDP, and provincial governments to commit to a minimum of 20% of their budget annually.
They also pledged to form a national data regime that captures data on all children in all types of schools, which is shared openly and publicly to ensure transparency in reform.
Mandatory pre-service and in-service teacher training, with career progression based on performance and training is also included on the agenda.
All Pakistan’s children to be tested at class III, class V, and class VIII, regardless of geographical location or schooling system they are enrolled in, ensure enrolment and retention of all children between the ages of 5-16 (in primary, middle and high schools, including madrassas) and bringing gender equivalency in graduation rates from primary to middle; Designation of “education deprived areas” for Union Councils who are underperforming on gender parity, retention, provision of post primary schools and quality of infrastructure are also important points of the reform agenda.
The reform agenda was detailed in a Charter for Education, which was signed by all the present political leadership. All parties committed to ensuring that the agreed charter was adopted into their respective election manifestos. They also committed to developing a plan of implementation within 100 days of the oath-taking of the future CMs after the upcoming elections.
Published in The Express Tribune, May 15th, 2018.