With elections round the corner and political parties holding rallies, it is time to review party manifestoes and release new ones. Imran Khan has already unveiled his eleven-point agenda that he promises to implement if he comes to power at the federal level. One wonders how many of these points he has achieved in KP where his party is completing its five-year tenure. For example, what prevented him from abolishing multiple education systems still used in KP, or how he is achieving his goals by granting Rs57 million to a seminary run by the self-proclaimed father of Taliban, and not giving a similar amount to any other educational institution.
The purpose of this article is not to criticise Imran Khan but to highlight some of the points highlighted by the latest HRCP report that can and should be thoroughly read by all political parties before finalising their party manifestos. The HRCP has been doing a marvelous job by analysing party manifestoes and looking at how human rights have featured in each party’s priorities. Here the reference point is HRCP report State of Human Rights in 2017. The report is divided into six sections from the rule and enforcement of law to fundamental freedoms and democratic development.
The subsection on education in the HRCP report laments the fact that though Pakistan is due to report on the Sustainable Development Goals to the UN in 2018, the country is in no position to meet the deadline of 2030 for ensuring that all children receive primary education. This failure to meet the deadline is almost certain as even the recent budget announced by the outgoing PML-N government does not take into account the need to allocate adequate resources for this task. Pakistan still has the most absolute number of children out of school anywhere in the world, with 5.6 million out of primary schools and 5.5 million out of secondary schools.
With that many children out of school, Pakistan needs to work on war footing. But even in the 21st century, first General Musharraf and then both the PPP and PML-N governments have neglected out-of-school children. General Musharraf did a lot of lip service by establishing National Commission for Human Development (NCHD) and appointed his old friend Naseem Ashraf as its head; but nothing substantial came out of it. The NCHD became a tool to appoint political favourites across Pakistan and one could see the NCHD employees hailing from Sahiwal or Swabi but working in various cities of Sindh and Balochistan.
Though the NCHD did manage to do some good work, its entire mechanism of functioning was not appropriate to tackle the issues at hand. With enormous challenges and many incompetent personnel, the NCHD became a white elephant like any other humongous government entity. Though the NCHD has been in existence for over 15 years now, its impact on human development has been negligible. It needs a major overhaul before it can produce tangible results. General Musharraf’s another decision was to appoint the likes of Zubaida Jalal and Lt-Gen Javed Ashraf Qazi as federal education ministers.
First, General Musharraf wanted to show that he was actually trying to bring the people of Balochistan to the forefront. His appointment of Zafaruallh Jamali as prime minister backfired. Though Jamali openly called General Musharraf his boss and held himself accountable to the general rather than to the parliament, he could not save his premiership. After a year or so the good general had to reconsider his decision by removing Jamali and bringing in Chaudhry Shujaat and Shaukat Aziz as prime ministers. In a similar fashion, a disgruntled General Musharraf replaced education minister Zubaida Jalal with Lt-Gen Qazi whose single-minded obsession was with establishing cadet colleges in each district of Pakistan.
The education minister, Qazi, also served as railway minister and was accused of corruption worth billions of rupees. Another of his good pastime was calling all provincial education ministers to Islamabad after every three months and have a chitchat with them. He wasted time and energies in cosmetic things such as shifting the start of the school academic year from March/April to August/September. Now all provinces have reverted back to the original timeline. All this resulted in a terrible waste of time. The most important step was neglected i.e. allocating at least 4-6 per cent of the GDP to education.
As the HRCP report highlights, even ‘in the financial year 2017/18, authorities in Pakistan again failed to fulfil their promise of allocating at least 4-6 per cent of their GDP and at least 15-20 per cent of the total public expenditure for the education sector’. All political parties must make this provision an integral part of their manifesto if they want to align their priorities in accordance with the public needs. The HRCP report mentions the Global Gender Gap Report 2017, which showed that Pakistan continues to rank as the second worst country — 143 out of 144 countries — with a score of 0.546 on a scale where zero denotes gender imparity and one represents parity.
One of the root causes of this gender disparity in education, especially at the school level, is a lack of functioning and secure toilet facilities at schools. Especially in rural areas, most government schools have one small cubicle without a door. If there is a door it is in most cases broken or without a bolt or latch. If the door is in place, there is no running water; sometimes a bucket of water is placed in the morning which runs out quickly because the bucket is leaking. In the absence of water, the toilet soon gets clogged and dysfunctional.
It may sound nauseating to some readers, but this is the ground reality most politicians prefer to ignore. Even the head teacher ignores it because he or she does have a functional toilet. You can’t expect a female student to go home a couple of kilometres away, just to answer the call of nature. No matter how trivial it may sound to be included in party manifesto, it is a need that affects millions of girls across the country, and if we want to eliminate or reduce gender disparity in school education, it should get a prominent mention in manifestoes.
Another point underscored by the HRCP report is the illegal and unrealistic increase in fees by private educational institutes. There appears to be no check on fees and private schools at all levels arbitrarily hike fees and parents have no choice but pay, as in the absence of any parent-teacher associations (PTA) or student councils, nobody can raise their voices against such injustices. All private schools should be legally bound to form a PTA and student council, with regular meetings and minutes of the meetings should be open to all parents. Again it may appear a frivolous detail to be included in party manifestos, but it is important enough.
The last important point on education in the report is about the leak of question papers. The provincial governments should develop a secure system of paper-development and checking especially at board exams of the fifth, eight, and matric levels. Then at 12th grade and for admissions to professional colleges a foolproof arrangement is needed. One hopes, these submissions attract the attention of parties and are included in their manifestoes.