It needs no argument to prove that education provides the foundation of a strong, proper and developed nation. The development in almost all sectors of life in the West and Europe is a living example of this fact. The significant factor of these developed states is that they place education sector among their higher priorities as they consider that this is the key to achieve their goals of prosperity, development and, of course, superiority. That is why a major chunk of their budgets is allocated to the education of all levels – elementary, secondary and higher. While on the other hand, the under-developed states or developing states including Pakistan the situation is almost reverse.
This can be linked to many factors like political influence and governments wrong priorities and lack of understanding about the significance of education. Creating awareness among the political leadership as well as the general public is must in addition to adopting a revolutionary approach to defeat the illiteracy.
To highlight this factor, a three-day conference on Participatory Federalism and Decentralisation: From Framework to Functionality has recently been held on the topic of 18th Amendment and Education Governance.
The event was jointly organised by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), Inter-University Consortium for the Promotion of Social Sciences (IUCPSS) (an alliance of 16 universities), Ministry of Inter-Provincial Coordination, Higher Education Commission (HEC) and Forum of Federations against the backdrop of the 18th Constitutional Amendment and democratic transition in Pakistan.
International experts from more than 15 countries, academicians, politicians, policy makers, civil society, young scholars and representatives of international and national organisations participated in more than 10 sessions of the conference.
In their remarks, the speakers highlighted that Pakistan needs urgent and revolutionary steps with respect to future financing and investment in education, and federal as well as provincial governments need to undertake practical steps for effective implementation of Article 25-A of the Constitution through allocating required resources.
While expressing his views, the chair of the session Barrister Aitzaz Ahsan, Senator Pakistan Peoples Party highlighted the importance of education for developing countries like Pakistan. He was of the view that promotion of education is essential for progress of societies. In Pakistan, less attention has been paid to education, its quality and implementation of education policies.
Chairperson of Inter-University Consortium and Vice Chancellor University of Gujrat (UOG), Prof. Dr Mohammad Nizamuddin, said that Pakistan is confronted with serious challenges in education that include huge disparities in opportunities, particularly for the rural poor and girls, poor quality education, low levels of enrollment and completion rates, high drop-out rates and low levels of transition to secondary education. It is estimated that currently at primary level, around 7.3 million children are out of school and 58 per cent out of those are female.
The eminent human rights activist Tahira Abdullah was of the view that Pakistans educational system needs reforms especially after the 18th Constitutional Amendment.
She pointed out that less budget allocation and non-provision of funds are the main obstacles in order to improve education sector in Pakistan.
Prof. Dr Mukhtar Ahmad, Executive Director Higher Education Commission, emphasised upon collective efforts for improving state of education in Pakistan and implementation of article of 25-A.
Prof. Dr Nasser Ali Khan, Vice Chancellor University of Haripur, said that right to education is the basic right of every citizen of Pakistan. The country cannot make headways unless we declare education emergency and take practical steps to improve state of education at the grassroots level.
Prof. Dr. Khawaja Alqama, Vice Chancellor Bahauddin Zakaria University Multan, said that quality of education is itself a question which needs to be addressed properly.
While speaking on the occasion, Prof. Syed Shabbir Hussain Shah, Director University of Gujrat, said that there is no uniformity in education system as every class has its own education system, which is the major bottleneck in achieving the higher education results on national level.
Education Advisor DFID Javed Ahmed Malik gave a presentation about the educational reforms especially in Punjab.
During the session, it was also apprised that the 18th Amendment has removed the Concurrent List from the Constitution and made education a primarily provincial subject. So, the implications of article 25-A will have to be worked out by each province. The Article 25-A has been included in the section of the fundamental rights of the Constitution as part of the 18th Constitutional Amendment under which “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.”
The participants were of the view that the devolution of education has raised several serious questions and concerns. Amongst them the most important are: curriculum development, comparability with national and international standards in local, national as well as global context.
There is a serious need to bring these issues into light that whether provinces are well prepared in their infrastructure to achieve free and universal education to all children aged 6 to 16 years.