ISLAMABAD: At a time when 22.84 million children are out of school in the country, major political parties have made tall claims about ‘transforming’ education in their election manifestos but have made a passing reference to school education.
A review of the manifestos of four leading parties – PML-N, PTI, PPP and ANP – indicates they are heavy on promises in general and focused chiefly on higher education, a sector already receiving over Rs100 billion each fiscal year.
The party’s education section starts with ‘Higher Education for All’ stating that PML-N’s vision is to make Pakistan a world leader in higher education and establish top quality universities and institutions. Since party’s former minister for planning and development Ahsan Iqbal was personally involved in affairs of the Higher Education Commission (HEC) so it has his fingerprints.
Similarly, the party has mostly focused on the higher education sector and nothing has been mentioned about early education in which, according to Pakistan Education Statistics report of 2016-17, 44% of children in the country are out of schools.
The document claims increasing funding for higher education to 0.5 per cent of Gross Domestic Product but makes no mention for school education funding. Similarly, during the five years tenure of PML-N funding for the education sector has been less than three per cent of GDP.
As Iqbal was involved with the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) it also mentions twinning programmes at university level with China.
The manifesto also claims to establish and implement Key Performance Indicators for all key positions but it is a fact that the same minister could not implement it in his ministry after pursuing civil service reforms for two years.
The newly appointed HEC chief recently announced establishing National Academy for Higher Education and the same has been claimed by PML-N including plans to start a competitive programme to support the 10 best performing universities to raise them to the level of top 100 universities in Asia and top 500 in the world.
The Pakistan Peoples Party has been ruling Sindh and has likewise not talked about school education substantively. Its manifesto states that PPP has been committed to fixing structural problems and modernising education.
“In 2010, we created the Right to Education Article 25-A which stated that “The state shall provide free and compulsory education to all children of the age of five to sixteen years in such manner as may be determined by law”, read the party’s manifesto which was launched by its chairperson Bilawal Bhutto on June 28.
The PPP also claims to increase public expenditure on education to five per cent of GDP by 2025. It plans to ensure that all provinces develop and implement strong plans for education as per the larger vision. “The 18th Amendment gave provinces the responsibility of providing education, and there have been varying levels of progress across the country since. Only Sindh and ICT have developed rules for its implementation,” it states.
The agenda further states that only five per cent of our population currently has access to university-level education and that PPP will ensure no young person interested in continuing higher and professional education is deprived of the opportunity.
Moreover, it talks about scholarships at higher education level, fundings, internships and minimum eligibility conditions including an educational qualification equal to matriculation. It promises to establish an employment bureau and work towards these goals by first reviving student unions and district and provincial level youth councils in Pakistan.
Again the manifesto of one of the country’s leading parties, specifically Sindh, has no special plans about school education where about 64% children between the ages of 10 and 12 are out of school. Likewise, the party’s election agenda also makes no mention about increasing the literacy rate which is stagnant at 58% for the last four years while the same in Sindh as per 2015-16 is 55%.
The Awami National Party claims it will announce education emergency at federal and provincial levels in the country with increase in education budget to six per cent of GDP and increase women literacy rate to 25 per cent. Interestingly, literacy rate of women in Pakistan as per latest available data is 48 per cent while in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, a stronghold of the party, it is 36 per cent.
It further talks about establishing a university in every district of the country but the idea has already been dropped by the PML-N government for being impractical as in some areas of Sindh and Balochistan population is way less than the required number for a campus of varsity.
It also claims that ANP will establish provincial higher education commissions while such bodies have already been established in Sindh and Punjab. It also says that the provincial HECs will work as an autonomous bodies with constitutional cover.
Furthermore, the manifesto states that primary and secondary education serves as initial building block while higher and university education enable a country to produce skills both in the field of social and natural sciences.
“The growing concern among researchers and practitioners that future universities may produce students with an intolerant and extremist mindset need an urgent policy attention,” it states.
The party that once ruled K-P also claims they will bring a policy for education at primary level in mother tongue while English and Urdu will be taught as languages. Other languages like Chinese will also be introduced at the higher secondary school level.
Finally it also claims that it will introduce a single system of education which meets international standards of quality education. The ANP has also largely focused on general discussion on education and early education is not a priority or ignored for unknown reasons.
The Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf will announce its manifesto on July 9 but in its 100 days plan unveiled in May this year it focuses on education of equal quality to the children of the rich and the poor, a uniform education system.
Same were the claims of party leadership after they established their government in K-P but nothing could be implemented during the five years reign of party including CM and governor houses to be turned into higher educational institutions, parks and libraries.