National education policy 2009 – a critique
Thursday, September 24, 2009
The announcement of the National Education Policy, 2009, was supposed to be the starting point for a nationwide debate on much needed systemic educational reforms. Yet apart from the odd cursory analysis or two, it seems as if educationalists, academics, politicians and the media are largely uninterested in the contents of the document. The silence of this group is puzzling and criminal in itself, but the larger and more important question is how good the proposed NEP really is. And what better way to judge the national educators and policymakers that authored the document than by marking them out of ten.
Marks are assigned to the following critical areas as follows: correctly identifying the problems (two marks), proposing meaningful solutions (two marks), proper implementation strategies and assigning responsibilities (two marks) and independent feedback mechanisms for reporting on progress and quality of reforms (two marks). One mark is for general neatness, grammar and organisation of the report and one mark I reserve for myself — to give as I please — as the privilege of being the examiner.
The NEP puts the right foot forward by recognising the two major weaknesses in the current system 1) low access and quality of education and 2) dearth and misappropriation of funds. It then clearly identifies the class barriers that a tripartite (public, A/O level, madrasa) system creates and expresses the desire to move away from the status quo by reviving confidence in public-sector education. It accepts that it is the failure of the state to provide quality public education for all that has resulted in the mushrooming of private institutions and madrasas, which by-and-large are free from any sorts of checks and balances. It accepts that the national curriculum is in dire need of reform and understands the need for greater provincial autonomy when it comes to administration. It also understands that lack of proper training and pay-scales correlates directly to a reduction in the quality of education. One point where the report is notably silent is on the inclusion of minorities with respect to curriculum subjects. However, all in all, a comprehensive analysis and an excellent start, two marks out of two.
The most visible and perhaps the only solution worth celebrating provided in the report is decision to increase educational spending to 7 percent of the GDP by the year 2015. However, the fact that the same government reduced the educational funding allocation from 2.4 percent to 2.1 percent (actual amount spent was 1.7 percent) last year creates serious doubts over it’s commitment to prioritise educational spending. The noncommittal attitude of the current government with regards to its statements and policies also lend weight to the argument that the projected figures are merely for political posturing and are unrealistic at the very least.
While the previous section clearly identified the pitfalls of a tripartite educational system, the policies put forward do very little to rectify the situation. Partnerships between private and public institutions are proposed while madrasa reforms are hinted at. Details of any sort regarding how and when these objectives will be achieved are absent.
Additionally, the policy sets itself a few notable milestones—i.e., provision of free primary education by 2015, provision of free education up to metric by 2025, increase in adult literacy rates to 86 percent by 2015, increase in higher education enrolment from 4.7 percent to 10 percent in 2015 and 15 percent in 2020. What is most worrying about all these milestones is that they seemed to have been plucked out of thin air, with no data provided to show any projections that might have been carried out. In the absence of any such projections, these numbers seem to be more of a wish-list than the result of any careful planning and deliberation.
This wish-list attitude has been notably present in all previous educational policy documents that successive military and civilian governments have come up with. It’s also notable that all such policies spread themselves too thin over what they hope to achieve rather than certain key areas to focus on. The NEP is no different in this regard, and for that reason, the recommendations and milestones it proposes seem highly unrealistic and just for political gain. Hence, for the reasons of not providing any visionary leadership, failing to ground projections on reality and strong allegations of doublespeak, I am compelled to give the solutions section a poor 0.5 out of 2.
After the particularly disappointing solutions section, the implementation plan needs to be clear, concise and to the point. It does exactly that when it proudly states “The NEP thus outlines what is to be done. The NEP does not deal with who will do what, how will something be done and when is something done.” 0 marks out of 2.
To report on the nonexistent implementation framework, the NEP proposes the setting up of a national forum—i.e., the inter-provincial education ministers (IPEM). Under this framework, the IPEM will serve as both the judge and the executioner in that it is both responsible for creating an implementation roadmap as well as gathering data to see how well the implementation is being carried out. Those familiar with public policy and development work will know that policymaking and research bodies are kept separate and independent from each other so that their conclusions can be considered to be unbiased. On a brighter note this section talks of implementing both 1) greater provincial autonomy and 2) greater interaction between policy monitoring bodies such as the Higher Education Commission (HEC) and the National Vocation and Technical Education Commission (NAVTEC), though again details regarding how these goals will be achieved are notably absent. Therefore for getting the very basics of policy monitoring wrong, this section gets graded 0.5 out of 2.
On the general neatness, grammar and organisation front, this report gets a 0.5 out of 1. Half-a-mark has been docked for it being very repetitive between sections and in places referring to itself as NEP 2008.
It’s clearly apparent that NEP 2009 is not the solution to the myriad of problems plaguing our educational system. The situation is extremely grim, given that work on the NEP was started as way back as 2005 and that it serves as an educational policy document for the next 10 years of our nation. Furthermore there is the highly contentious fourth chapter of Islamic education. Including such a section into the national policy document is clearly a political move. In doing so it risks further alienating the religious minorities which are already under significant pressures following recent attacks and events. The chairman of the Pakistan Minorities Teachers Association (PMTA) has already condemned the policy, calling it discriminatory towards non-Muslims. Educationalists also hold the opinion that this education policy, like all others before it, violates the article guaranteeing religious freedom in the Constitution when it makes Islamiyat a compulsory subject from grade 1 to 12.
It is clear from the scorecard that the NEP is merely an elaborate exercise in political posturing and offers very little in terms of meaningful reform. And while the responsibility for this lack of vision and determination falls largely on the shoulders of the current government, the silent members must also be taken to task; educators and policymakers for their inability to create a national debate on the subject, political parties for being uninterested in taking ownership in the educational arena, the media for showing more interest in the conspiracies of ex-generals than in education, so-called secular parties for not protesting over the Islamic education chapter and all of us for our general disinterest in the genuine problems that face our nation and the possible solutions that might help put us on the long road back.
As those that are keeping count will notice, I haven’t allocated my final mark yet. That’s because it hardly matters. At the current score of 3/9, even my deciding editorial vote is not enough to help NEP 2009 reach the minimum 50-percent massing mark.