Shakeel AhmedWednesday, January 19, 2011 - The reasons for Pakistan’s failure to become a knowledge based society can be ascribed to the non-enforcement of the provisions that existed in the 1973 Constitution. The country’s chequered constitutional history and the usurpation of power by non-democratic forces spelled disaster for the fund starved education sector. The 1956 Constitution was scrapped by Field Marshall Ayub Khan. He decided to frame his own constitution to suit “the genius” of the Pakistani people. This constitution was scrapped by his successor Gen. Agha Mohammad Yahya Khan who remained inebriated most of the time, lost half the country to boot and was buried with full military honors. It fell to a civilian, the late Mr. Zulfikar Ali Bhutto to frame the 1973 Constitution which was accepted by all the federating units as well as the political parties and leaders of the time. This was a singular achievement.
This was a sacred document on which rested the foundations of the Pakistani federation. It was scrapped and thrown in the waste paper basket by Gen. Mohammad Zia-ul-Haq also affectionately known by many other names but mainly as Zia the tyrant. The present democratic dispensation has succeeded in purging the constitution from the mutilations brought about by Gen. Zia and commando Gen. Musharraf through the passage of the 18th amendment. Although under the Constitution of 1973 the Government of Pakistan was obligated to provide education for all as a guaranteed Fundamental Right this was never honoured. Enough funds could not be found and allocated to the education sector. Article 37(2) specifically entailed: The State shall: a) Promote, with special care, the educational and economic interests of backward classes or areas; b) Remove illiteracy and provide free and compulsory secondary education within minimum possible period; c) Make technical and professional education generally available and higher education equally accessible to all on the basis of merit; d) Enable the people of different areas, through education, training, agricultural and industrial development and other methods, to participate fully in all forms of national activities, including employment in the service of Pakistan. Brave words these. Hollow when considered that not even two per cent of the GDP could be allocated to the education sector. The utilization each year was far short of the allocation. No explanations were called. No action taken for incompetence. The neglect of the State was appalling.
The State is also mandated under various International Conventions to guarantee this fundamental right to its citizens without fail or discrimination. The Government of Pakistan has ratified five International Conventions which concern education directly. There are also seven other international conventions which have indirect bearing on education. Aside from these, Pakistan has yet to ratify eight other conventions. There are also eight UN resolutions that effect education such as Universal Declaration of Human Rights. There is one article in the convention that guarantees the right to education. The declaration is important because it sets a basic standard of human rights upon which many conventions are based. World Declaration on Education for All, World Conference on Education for all, was another forum where 155 countries and representatives from 150 organizations agreed to universalize primary education and massively reduce illiteracy before the end of the decade. It is a national disgrace that Pakistan today has more illiterate people in absolute numbers than it had five years ago.
Pakistan has generated a large number of literary laws over the last sixty years. These Statutes should have provided a detailed legal frame work of improving literacy, creating specific obligations on Government machinery, spell out timelines and above all recognize that education was a fundamental right of the citizens of Pakistan. These statutes should have been the most potent, intensive and comprehensive legislation to spell out the operational side of educational policy. Regrettably this has not been the case. Even the Literacy Ordinance 1985 has only one operational provision that is of little significance. Its claim to fame is only a declaratory definition of a literate person.
Real reforms in the education sector which are long over due cannot be undertaken without a comprehensive review of the existing constitutional provisions and legislation. This does not appear to be on the radar screen of the luminaries that claim to represent the people of Pakistan in the Parliament and the Provincial Assemblies. There are areas that cry out for attention even before any meaningful reforms are undertaken. The late autocrat Gen. Zia had decided that he would return Pakistan to the days of Nizam-ul-Mulk and the madressah system of the 11th century. The 21st century modern education was anathema to him. As a result, education in government managed schools started resting on the belief that repeated sermonizing and strict regimentation of the school environment will produce moral and patriotic Pakistanis. Gen. Zia caused mutilation of the school curriculum.. A great deal of un-related material was injected in the biology and science text books. The over-all objective was not to produce scientists and engineers of world repute or academicians that would shape the future of Pakistan as a progressive and tolerant Islamic state. The results are before us. We have succeeded in producing millions of “educated” but unemployable youth that are a drain on the national economy and creating enormous social problems.
The 18th Constitutional amendment has abolished the Concurrent List of the 1973 Constitution. Education has now been devolved on the provinces. Our commando President Gen. Musharraf had devolved primary, middle and secondary education to the district governments. The District nazims many of whom never went to any educational institution placed education on the back burners. The enrolment rates especially of female students actually fell nationally. This disgrace caused no alarm. No questions were raised in the National Assembly. No adjournment motions were moved. No resolutions were passed. There was a total collapse of the education system as it had existed before devolution became the panacea of all our ills. We seem to be persisting with our follies.
The Preamble to the 18th amendment states that: “Whereas it is expedient further to amend the Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan for the purposes hereinafter appearing; AND WHEREAS the people of Pakistan have relentlessly struggled for democracy and for attaining the ideals of a Federal, Islamic, democratic, parliamentary and modern progressive welfare State, wherein the rights of the citizens are secured and the Provinces have equitable share in the Federation.” It is presumed that the authors of the 18th amendment after deep and thoughtful meditation had arrived at the concensus that a modern progressive welfare state (Pakistan) will be achieved through devolution of curriculum, syllabus, standards of education and Islamic education on the four federating units. According to Dr. Ishrat Hussain, former Governor of the State Bank, “the reasons for Pakistan’s low educational status are varied but one important factor is that Pakistan’s educational system is highly fragmented and segmented. It has, therefore, created some intractable problems in the optimal utilization of human resources under the given labor market conditions.” Devolving curriculum and standards of education to the Provinces will generate the kind of educational mayhem not witnessed in the country before. The mayhem unfortunately will be irreversible.
The Government of President Zardari is beset with a host of other problems that it is attempting to tackle quite unsuccessfully. It would be futile to expect that it will demonstrate the political will for a meaningful attack on preventing the rot in education before it sets in through the devolution plan of the 18th amendment.
—The writer is a member of the former Civil Service of Pakistan.