Islamabad :17 Oct:"Even now after over two years of the devolution process being finalised, there is still critique on the variations in curriculum across the provinces."– AP (File Photo)
For all intents and purposes, the devolution of the Federal Ministry of Education is being regarded as an attempt to merely insert the word ‘education’ on papers in the provinces.
Skepticism still abounds on the devolution process with the centre being criticised for its reluctance to cede control.
Meanwhile, independent experts opine if the process is not smoothened out, the quality of education will tumble tremendously and will also affect commitments made with international donor agencies.
Technically, the 18th Amendment did not require a complete abolition of the Federal Ministry of Education. It simply stopped the federal government from undertaking any legislation relating to education. The Ministry of Education could have been retained as a platform for the provinces to share views and voluntarily harmonise their policies, and this would not have been against the spirit of 18th Amendment, said an expert.
In fact, even now, the provinces have not been given control of the federal ministries’ various departments and sections. “Provinces were only given powers to deal with the educational matters of kindergarten to grade 12 (FSc or FA level) system,” said a federal education official.
Take for instance, the institutions such as the Pakistan Academy of Letters (PAL), National Book Foundation (NBF) and the Urdu Science Board that are still housed at the Secretariat. All of them have been handed over to the Cabinet Division rather than to the provinces.
Similarly, the six wings of the education ministry – Planning and Development, Curriculum, Training, Institutions, Projects and the Administration – are still housed in the same buildings in the Secretariat blocks, while the Federal Directorate of Education (FDE) is still being administered by the Capital Administration and Development Division (CADD).
Given that administrative control is being phased out slowly and mostly to the federal government institutes, an official says that the most affected were those institutes that were linked with the Federal Board of Intermediate and Secondary Education (FBISE). “Several hundred institutions of cantonment and garrison schools and colleges are registered with the FBISE and have now been transferred to the CADD. But the problem is that the CADD is limited to the Islamabad Capital Territory only,” he said.
“The government has ignored the FBISE’s international role,” he said and added: “Some 50 embassy schools across the globe (most of them located in Gulf states) are registered with the FBISE but its national and international role is over looked and it is still working under the federal government’s CADD,”
“It (FBISE) should have been placed under the Cabinet Division,” asserted the official.
He also said that now provinces would have to start from the scratch. “For development of strong educational mechanisms for the provision of basic education at the elementary level, they (provinces) have to rebuild everything from policy level to human resources and institutions,” remarked the official.
On the other hand, future of the employees of Federal Ministry of Education is unsure at best. The federal official said: “After devolution, provinces maintained that they were not willing to use the services of educational experts who had been working with the education ministry for decades. Instead, they are hiring or appointing their own officials from provincial quotas for the provincial education departments. As a result, the human resources of the Ministry of Education got wasted during this drive and no one bothered to take them on board and benefit from their expertise.”
Even now after over two years of the devolution process being finalised, there is still critique on the variations in curriculum across the provinces.
The curriculum wing of the defunct education ministry was previously managing the curriculum of some 50 subjects for classes 1 to 12. One defunct education ministry official explained that previously, a national committee used to monitor the quality and uniformity of these subjects while the provincial governments compiled and printed the text books.
“One province may decide to review and raise the level of its standards or modernise its curricula for secondary or higher secondary for the subjects of sciences (such as physics, chemistry, or mathematics). On the same pattern, another province may follow a more liberal policy and may either simplify its curricula or may decide to keep them static. This may result in variations among the terminal competencies of matriculates from different provinces, and widening of development gaps between different areas,” he claimed.
The federal official warned: “Since there will be no uniform curriculum in the country, the provinces are likely to go for their own independent curricula thus creating a hotchpotch affecting the quality of education as well as uniformity in the subjects. This will raise complications relating to equivalence.”
He highlights graver problem that may arise in the long run: “Federally financed civil ministries, organisations and even the Inter-Services Selection Board will face administrative problems to test, screen, and recruit matriculates and intermediate pass candidates from different provinces, as they may have graduated through varying curricula.”
Lastly, many federal officials are worried about coordination of education departments with international bodies. A UN official said that achievement of Millennium Development Goals and Education For All have received constitutional support through the newly-inserted Article 25-A (Right to Free Education), but if there is no monitoring mechanisms in place, progress towards these targets would be affected because of the devolution.
The UN officer asked: “Who will take care of international commitments like MDGs and EFA since federal government would need quantitative data and qualitative information on various indicators and issues for preparation and presentation of reports?”
According to him, the federal government was supposed to annually provide educational data to international organisations which is then used for Human Development Index and for other global instruments. However, no agency was given the task to compile and provide this data to international organisations.
The donor coordination specifically with respect to United Nations agencies working in education sector has already been affected since it has to approach every province separately now. “The provinces may not spend more on education during their annual budget allocations thus leaving the subject on the back burner and ultimately affecting the educational system of the country,” observed the education official.
Since, he said, education is the responsibility of the ‘state’ as stated in Article 25-A of the Constitution: “Right of all children of age 5 to 16 to free and compulsory education has been recognised and the state has been made responsible for provision of this right to all children.”
The United Nations official enquired: “What role can the federal government play after the 18th Amendment. Which organ of the state will monitor the provision of this Constitutional right to all children of age 5 to 16 in Pakistan?”
It’s these issues that should be sorted out before the devolution progresses further as there is more at stake than a mere ministry or department – it’s the future of millions of children across Pakistan.Dawn.