Ed­u­ca­tion & man­i­festos

The Pak Banker - - 4EDITORIAL - Faisal Bari

IT is heart­en­ing to note that the elec­tion man­i­festos of three of the main po­lit­i­cal par­ties — the PPP, the PML-N and the Pak­istan Tehreek-iIn­saf — not only men­tion ed­u­ca­tion as an im­por­tant area re­quir­ing ur­gent at­ten­tion, they also give some de­tails of the plans they have for the sec­tor in case they are in a po­si­tion to form government and/or in­flu­ence pol­icy on ed­u­ca­tion.

The PML- N’s man­i­festo says that “Ed­u­ca­tion must be num­ber one na­tional pri­or­ity.” And the PTI and PPP man­i­festos also ac­cord sim­i­lar im­por­tance to ed­u­ca­tion.

There is a clear re­al­i­sa­tion, coming through the doc­u­ments, that ed­u­ca­tion is not only nec­es­sary for the so­cial and eco­nomic well-be­ing of the coun­try, it is cru­cial for en­sur­ing so­cial mo­bil­ity, re­duc­ing in­equal­ity and ad­dress­ing poverty. The doc­u­ments ac­knowl­edge that ed­u­ca­tion is an is­sue of ba­sic hu­man rights.

There is also recog­ni­tion of the need for ur­gent ac­tion in the field of ed­u­ca­tion. Two of the man­i­festos men­tion the need for hav­ing an “ed­u­ca­tion emer­gency”, while the third ex­presses sim­i­lar ur­gency but with­out us­ing th­ese words.

All three of them prom­ise sub­stan­tial in­creases in out­lays on ed­u­ca­tion over the five years of their government, if they do come to power. The PML-N prom­ises to raise ex­pen­di­tures on ed­u­ca­tion to four per cent of GDP, the PPP will raise them to 4.5 per cent while the PTI, if it comes to power, will raise ed­u­ca­tion out­lays to five per cent of GDP by the end of their five years of government.

All the par­ties be­lieve in uni­ver­sal en­rol­ment as an es­sen­tial goal, but they re­frain from mak­ing ex­plicit prom­ises as to when uni­ver­sal­ity will be achieved and to what level.

Be­yond this point the poli­cies be­gin to di­verge. The PPP and the PML-N have been in power for the last five years. They feel com­pelled to de­fend some of the choices, right or wrong, made over this pe­riod and want to ex­pand and uni­ver­salise the am­bit of some of th­ese poli­cies. The PPP wants to do con­di­tional cash trans­fers for ed­u­ca­tion, es­pe­cially for the ul­tra poor, through the Be­nazir In­come Sup­port Pro­gramme. The PML-N prom­ises to set up Daan­ish schools across the coun­try. They also want to repli­cate the en­dow­ment fund model for schol­ar­ships for tal­ented stu­dents across Pak­istan.

The PTI has not been in power and has been, in a way, pre­par­ing for this elec­tion for the long­est pe­riod. It has the deep­est, most devel­oped and co­her­ent pol­icy vi­sion for ed­u­ca­tion. It takes the trou­ble of iden­ti­fy­ing all of the ma­jor is­sues we face in the sec­tor and then goes into a lot of de­tail to ex­plain what it pro­poses to do. One can take is­sue with their un­der­stand­ing of the prob­lems, the pro­posed so­lu­tions or the im­ple­men­ta­tion mech­a­nisms that they pro­pose — and one should — but there is no deny­ing the work and ef­fort that must have gone into iden­ti­fy­ing the is­sues in such de­tail and propos­ing so­lu­tions.

For ex­am­ple, the medium of in­struc­tion de­bate is a ma­jor is­sue. The PML-N chose to solve it, in Pun­jab, by sim­ply declar­ing English as the medium of in­struc­tion for all pub­lic schools with­out any prepa­ra­tion, dis­cus­sion or de­bate. And now the topic is not men­tioned or ex­plained in its man­i­festo. The PPP also does not ad­dress the is­sue.

The PTI not only talks of why the is­sue is im­por­tant and prob­lem­atic in any mul­ti­cul­tural, mul­ti­lin­gual so­ci­ety, it also pro­vides a so­lu­tion: Urdu and/or the mother tongue to be the medium of in­struc­tion till grade VIII and then a switch to English, while English will also be taught as a sub­ject from the be­gin­ning. One can ar­gue whether the switch should hap­pen ear­lier or later and ask what the role of the mother tongue may be (there are 40 plus lan­guages/di­alects spo­ken in Pak­istan) ver­sus Urdu. But at least the is­sue has been given its due in the man­i­festo and de­bate can oc­cur around it.

Af­ter go­ing through the pro­pos­als given by the PPP and the PML-N, one does feel that there is a dis­con­nect be­tween their claim that ed­u­ca­tion should be one of the top pri­or­i­ties, if not the top one, and what they are propos­ing to do about it. The pro­pos­als do not ad­dress ed­u­ca­tion as an emer­gency or as a top pri­or­ity and feel more like busi­ness as usual sort of pro­nounce­ments. There is dis­tance even be­tween rhetoric and prom­ise. The dis­tance be­tween rhetoric and re­al­ity might be even more.

By con­trast the PTI does give the pro­pos­als the needed gravitas. Is this a re­flec­tion of the fact that the PML-N and the PPP, hav­ing more ex­pe­ri­ence of gov­er­nance, are be­ing more real­is­tic and the

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