Assessing PTI’s vision for education

Published: March 4, 2013
The writer is a development consultant and a PhD student at the University of Melbourne

The writer is a development consultant and a PhD student at the University of Melbourne [email protected]

A few days ago, the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) released an education policy vision, which outlines an ambitious plan to address the multiple challenges ailing our education sector. Foremost amongst the proposed measures is increasing educational spending from 2.1 per cent to five per cent of GDP. Creating the fiscal space for this purpose, given the lacklustre economic growth, the pressures of defence and the debt servicing burden, is not going to be simple. There are, however, many other radical suggestions within the proposed policy vision which also merit attention.

The PTI has termed the use of English by elite schools to be a vestige of cultural imperialism, which causes cultural and social divisions. It acknowledges that English is an international language, which should be taught as a subject but not used as a medium of instruction. Instead, the PTI wants to declare the mother tongue and/or Urdu to be the medium of instruction for not only public but also private schools up to class eight. The criteria for schools optioning for use of a regional instead of the national language as the medium of instruction is, however, not clear at present, but allowing schools to easily opt for use of regional languages would be a step in the right direction. However, allowing government schools to teach in regional languages in areas where Urdu, let alone English, is not widely spoken is one thing, but expecting private schools, which are preparing children to compete in internationally administered examination systems, is a different matter. This would have implications for Pakistan’s integration in the global economy.

The PTI has, at least, assured that it will not ban internationally recognised exam systems and that English is to be used as the medium of instruction for professional/higher studies, until an Urdu curriculum has been developed for these degrees within five years. The PTI hopes to make its standardised national curriculum to be of a high international standard, lest this happens, Pakistani students would have a tough time pursuing education abroad and competing for jobs internationally.

The PTI intends for provincial governments to set up curriculum committees capable of devising uniform curricula and examination systems for all government and private schools. Desiring these committees to produce curricula and examination systems comparable with global standards seems a tall order, given the state of examination boards and the problems of updating and revising syllabi and textbooks.

The PTI wants to bring madrassa students into the mainstream by a mix of inspiration and incentives, which again is a bit vague. There is no mention of the need for removing myopic aspects included in the madrassa curriculum.

Some good suggestions are put forth with regard to making special provisions for marginalised communities and providing boarding school facilities for higher studies at the tehsil level. These ideas are more feasible than pumping money into a handful of Danish schools in Punjab for instance, which strive to become “Aitchisons of the poor.”

The PTI’s plans for adult literacy and vocational training lack sufficient detail. It would be good to see its education advisers pay attention to these gaps in case it does get a chance to put its vision into practice.

Published in The Express Tribune, March 4th, 2013.

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Reader Comments (25)

  • Nawaz Sharif
    Mar 4, 2013 - 1:17AM

    ” It would be good to see its education advisers pay attention to these gaps in case it does get a chance to put its vision into practice.”
    Agreed. But for that they need to come into power first. Otherwise all these policy papers will remain academic discussions only.


  • Zain
    Mar 4, 2013 - 2:05AM

    They also recommend starting a voucher system, where parents can use the voucher to pay for education in private schools.

    Upgrading and improving an abysmal public education sector and private school vouchers cannot work at the same time.


  • Falcon
    Mar 4, 2013 - 2:32AM

    A very neutral analysis. I would just mention few things: One is that I don’t remember PTI suggesting that governance committees at the local level should determine curriculum by themselves. I think their sole purpose is to fix school governance such as ghost schools, missing facilities, teacher attendance (which from what I remember are the most pressing issues in primary / secondary education sector). Secondly, I don’t think PTI is pro-Urdu because of anti-imperialistic orientation but because educational stratification in our society is super-imposed on top of socio-economic structures; as a result of which, we have very limited mobility across classes. Education is supposed to be the opportunity creator for under-privileged people to rise up in the society and have a better life. Lastly, the concern that higher emphasis on Urdu medium will make our students less competitive for international education, I think the concern is over-blown. If that were the case, many European students won’t even get to see the inside of U.S. universities.


  • Usman
    Mar 4, 2013 - 3:15AM

    Some great points raised. Let’s not forget the fact though that we are debating PTI’s education policy because there IS a PTI education policy. All other political parties have policies that are simply non-existent. I cannot fathom why self respecting Pakistani would not vote for PTI, now that our need is indeed great for a truly democratic party.


  • Ch. Allah Daad
    Mar 4, 2013 - 5:22AM

    A Leader whose own children are getting education in England and prescribes Urdu medium for my children is a hypocrite.


  • talha
    Mar 4, 2013 - 9:22AM

    how come PTI will increase educational spending from 2.1 per cent to five per cent of GDP. whereas the country has already problems in financial and defense sector. The policy cannot be implemented without any solid details and background. it’s a futile effort to just giving a hype for people and showing that they are more sincere to the nation. The policy seems just a tongue services.


  • Iram
    Mar 4, 2013 - 9:33AM

    @Ch. Allah Daad: A Leader whose own child/children are doing business in England and prescribes INVESTMENT in Pakistan is a ……………?


  • MSH
    Mar 4, 2013 - 9:33AM

    @Ch. Allah Daad: all one can do for people like you is quote Voltaire” You cannot free the fools of the chains they revere.”


  • shahid
    Mar 4, 2013 - 10:57AM

    but expecting private schools, which are preparing children to compete in internationally administered examination systems, is a different matter. This would have implications for Pakistan’s integration in the global economy.

    So it seems that the Chinese, Japanese, Turks, French, Germans, Arabs, Iranians, Russians are not interested in “integration in the global economy”. Or may be they live on a different planet. And remember they do not neglect English or other international languages, those are taught as special languages to those who need them but are not forced upon every one. They use their languages to teach in their schools and are neither ashamed of it, nor are disadvantaged by this in any way. When was the last time that we heard a leader visiting Pakistan from any of these countries use English to express themselves on formal public occasions? Have we ever watched and heard the proceedings of the UN security council and the general assembly? Unlike us, they are proud people and do not live in inferiority complexes and recognize and value the worth and value of their own cultural heritage. It is only in Pakistan that silly ideas such as using English as the primary medium of instruction – current plan of Punjab government is a case in point – from day one can find any takers. Unfortunately in Pakistan this is necessary to maintain a dual bifurcated society with some small number of people living it up while the rest are there only to serve them and live their lives as surfs. Even after six decades of so called freedom we really are still mentally, intellectually, economically slaves of our former colonial masters. Any wonder that our country is such a mess?


  • AK
    Mar 4, 2013 - 11:06AM

    No one said he’s flawless but he’s better than the other options on the table.


  • ahmad
    Mar 4, 2013 - 11:21AM

    Medium of instructions should be english from class one. We should change our present urdu alphabets by roman alphabets. Children learn better in its mother Language is one of the reason PTI supporting school circular all in urdu and english as language.
    I want to tell to PTI when I wrote my exams in urdu for grade ten and I got promoted to first year of F.Sc. It is was very hard for me to compete in F.Sc with those children from english medium schools, at that stage I was struggling to get acquaintance with English science books while my english medium back ground class mates thriving lot. All my english medium class mate got the first division in F.Sc and I got fail because of my F.Sc science books were in English while I red my all science books in urdu till grade ten. So being my personal experience we should start all books in english from class one and urdu should be taught by grade eight.

    The logic that UN research proves children learn in its mother Language better must be very valid research but one must keep in mind these sort of research are fall in the category of social sciences. And research in such categories should not take as fundamental measures because there is chances research in this field may replace this concept in near future.

    English is International Language and now even Chines French and German are regrating for not teaching there children English from very early age. Now these countries start english as compulsory. Even there is lot private schools are starting with all english syllabus from class one in Scandinavia.. Why they are not strictly adhere to UN research because they know what is going on in practical by there experiences.


  • Chicago uni
    Mar 4, 2013 - 11:59AM

    In the words of Tariq ali(Acclaimed writer and historian in England) while addressing the study festival at Lahore “Ali said that English was used as a preserve of the wealthy and elite. He cited the example of Malaysia, which has made the English language compulsory for all, so that people can access books and go abroad to obtain a higher education. He stressed that English needs to be made compulsory in Pakistan too.”

    Malaysia introduce all its school syllabus in English from class 1. Same way Hundreds and thousand of schoola are start to open in China which have all syllabus in english from class 1.
    We should not take UN research as last word. Such research have importance to certain extent. We should have take in to account all there consequences for having all school syllabus in URDU. Although 98% schools of Pakistan have already all its school syllabus in urdu. And we have experienced children from these systems are the 98% of the whole studentspopulation but are they achieve the 98% share in better higher education and Jobs???? rather to change the 2% english medium schools in to urdu medium we should change 98% schools in to complete english medium like India. As India and Pakistan have same circumstances we must follow the example of Indian schools. More than 70% of Indian schools have english syllabus.

    We are one of lucky country in world were english is official language.


  • Mar 4, 2013 - 12:11PM

    The suggestion to force a language change is at best shortsighted, and at its worst, ridiculous. People vary in their level of intellect, ability and motivation to learn. Some people are above average, some below average and others somewhere in the middle. The goal of any education policy should be to raise the level or baseline for the below average people, which will pull the national average upwards. Any policy that aims to bring the above average down to average, will drag the national average down.
    The English language is no longer an imperialist symbol – it is a common medium for exchange of ideas and information in the world, just as the dollar is the common currency for transactions in goods and services in a global marketspace.


  • Afzaal Khan
    Mar 4, 2013 - 1:47PM

    Funny I don’t see chinese, Italians, french, arabic or for that matter any other cuntry not teaching thier kids in thier own language and still doing good. This aversion to our own langauge and almost awe of english is only the domain of Pakistanis.


  • John the Baptist
    Mar 4, 2013 - 1:49PM


    @Ch. Allah Daad: all one can do for people like you is quote Voltaire” You cannot free the fools of the chains they revere.”

    Well said but there is more one can say to Ch. Allah Daad type darbaris: the mind of a bigot is like the pupil of the eye; the more light you shine on it, the more it contracts.


  • saqib ali rana
    Mar 4, 2013 - 2:38PM

    the main thing is that his party is sincere and willing to bring changes. when there is intention ,ways can be found out by discussions etc.


  • saqib ali rana
    Mar 4, 2013 - 2:39PM

    @Ch.Allah dad
    plzzzz, b4 commenting atleast read the article or atleast know the topic, instead of just bashing on any page about PTI, atleast respect the ‘ salary’ you are given for abusing PTI


  • Kashif Zia
    Mar 4, 2013 - 5:21PM

    At the basic level, the mother tongue (or national language) should be the medium of education. It is a standard applied all over the world. In addition of being more intuitive, natural and productive, the basic level subject keeps the children entangled with their culture and values. Language is a basic ingredient of a society. Every now and then, I see an Indian or Pakistani family here, talking and behaving like their mother language is English or German. They may feel proud to show it, but in reality they seem so disconnected from wherever they belong. Frankly, I haven’t seen two Turkish, Arabs, French, Germans talking with each other in any foreign language.
    In case PTI start acting on its policy (which has a very bleak possibility even if they form Government: “door kay dholl suhaney”), the first problem in this direction would be to convince private schools’ owners and parents to change what they want / doing. In urban areas they are bearing more than 50% (if I am not wrong) of the share. How would someone convince them if they cannot be convinced. Ultimately, it comes down to changing the thinking of the (influential) people which has gone down to a pathetic level, like all spheres of life including “love for the country and your language”.


  • ok
    Mar 4, 2013 - 5:38PM

    @Ch. Allah Daad: how much do you get paid for commiting treason ??


  • Ali Tanoli
    Mar 4, 2013 - 6:17PM

    I think English should be a national lang after all our best leader were english educated Mr Jinnah, Z.A Bhutto, Benazir Bhutto, Imran Khan himself and chaudery Rehmath Ali and one more reason is when we come to english countries we dont have trouble in getting jobs and we can sing song come on girl one pound fish, one pound fish, get proud……..


  • Ali Tanoli
    Mar 5, 2013 - 12:44AM

    many countries lived under occupation but the way india sub contienent does is just wonder


  • Usman
    Mar 5, 2013 - 3:55AM

    @Smartypants PK: So,… according to your logic, reading English is for above average students and reading Urdu is for below average students This is exactly the mentality IK is trying to break and for good reason. No one is stopping you from learning the international language, English, but it should not become a status symbol. And that is the psyche IK’s education policy wants to tackle.


  • gp65
    Mar 5, 2013 - 8:16AM

    @Kashif Zia: “At the basic level, the mother tongue (or national language) should be the medium of education.”

    Mother tongue and national language are not identical for everyone in Pakistan. But somehow you ae using the terms interchangeably.


  • Mar 5, 2013 - 10:38PM

    @ Usman. I don’t intend that at all. The point is that barring a language will not solve any problems for us. Education policies should focus on content. Children in other parts of the world where there’s a thing such as “standardized curriculum” study similar topics or have similar learning objectives, regardless of language or geography. The PTI policy should focus on setting that baseline for Pakistani kids. Let them study in Urdu, Sindhi, Punjabi, Saraiki, Pushtu or whatever. How difficult is translating once you have the content with you? Banning English will just eliminate an option for people who want to study in that medium. And frankly when you start dictating what others should not be able to do, you are denying them a liberty or right that is in no way yours to withhold.


  • Ali Tanoli
    Mar 6, 2013 - 6:12PM

    i agreed on your last comment sir, but is not fare if we all have one education system like every where in the world english or arabic persian can be optional to choose one.


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