Saturday, February 7, 2015

Balochistan’s plan for education reforms


Needs more than just good intentions

A Girls School in Balochistan

The government of Balochistan approved ‘Balochistan’s Education Sector Plan (2014-18)’, almost a year and half ago. The BESP is estimated to cost PKR65 billion, to be implemented in addition to the usual annual budget which is estimated to be PKR172 billion, for five years of the plan period. Reviewing BESP, one wonders whether it is a serious effort to reform the sector or just a wish list and a routine departmental exertion. Keeping in view similar efforts in the past, there is little hope to be buoyant. But putting cynicism aside, one needs to analyse it with respect to two palpable yardsticks: first, does it correctly identify critical predicaments responsible for decade long failure of public education system? And second, does it suggest practical solutions to the diagnosed bugs? Political will and institutional capacity are other equally important factors that will decide fate of the plan.

After devolution of education from federal to provincial government under the 18th amendment in 2010, BESP is the second plan of the government of Balochistan. The first one was presented in 2011 and was expected to be completed in 2015. It’s needless to say that the plan failed to realise its expected outcomes and the government was compelled to present a new one in 2014 without even waiting for completion of the duration of the first plan.

Most of the targets set out in the plan for the initial one and half year have not been achieved so far.

The current state of education in the province presents a dismal situation in terms of access and quality. Two third of school-age children are out of school, figuring to 1.8 million. Only 1.1 million are enrolled in three different type of educational institutes namely public schools (8 lac), private schools (2 lac) and ‘Madrassas’ (1 lac). Girls constitute only a minor proportion of the enrolled children (4 lac). Majority of enrolled children are getting poor quality of education. According to ASER survey 2013, more than half of the children enrolled in class five are unable to read a simple sentence in Urdu.

The provincial government has recently passed an act, ‘Free and Compulsory Education Act 2014’, but has so far failed to provide quality education to majority of the children, especially girls and deprived children. The plan pledges to construct 4000 new primary schools by 2018, to enrol 700,000 new children. It is however not cited in the plan that what will be fate of those 1.1 million children who will still be out of school, even after achieving the set target? There is still little hope to expect that the target of constructing 4000 new schools will be achieved, keeping in view progress of the past one and half year.

The government at the political level has indeed showed will by providing financial resources for implementation of the plan. The government has declared education as its top priority, which is commendable, but at the same time has failed to realise that institutional capacity is equally vital to implement the plan effectively and to achieve set targets. During its first year of implementation, the BESP required PKR32 billion, instead the department was provided with PKR35 billion. By the end of the year, only half of the budgeted amount had been spent. Needless to say, targets of the year were not achieved. The political leadership has failed to realise this gap and did not ensure timely measures for institutional capacity building and restructuring of the department in order to be able to absorb additional financing. In its effect, this negligence is critical enough to let down the entire effort.

This reminds us the fact that without preparatory measures, even sincere measures backfire and cause damage. Devolving departments from federal to provincial governments without assessing institutional capacities and taking corrective measures is a similar venture. Federal role of monitoring of the devolution process from provinces to districts is a major negligence which has caused a halt of the process of devolution to the grassroots level. After all, education is a constitutional right of every child and federal role and obligation cannot be ignored. Secondly, federal support to less developed provinces like Balochistan, in terms of special programs and grants like National Commission of Human Development (NCHD) which used to run 1300 centres for Non-Formal Education prior to the devolution, has ceased after the amendment. This will further deteriorate the state of education in the province.

Provincial level role of the department should be restricted to financing, regulating and monitoring of standards for quality education.

Most of the targets set out in the plan for the initial one and half year have not been achieved so far. These include targets like devising provincial language policy for medium of instruction, revision of standards for curriculum and textbooks, institutionalising Early Childhood Education, initiating voucher schemes for 10 of the 32 most deprived districts and formation and strengthening of Parents and Teachers School Management Committees (PTSMCs).

It can hardly be expected that the department will achieve targets of the plan with the current pace and enthusiasm and without ensuring urgent and drastic structural reforms at the higher level. Community participation is equally important to make the plan a success. The department needs to devise an urgent restructuring plan in addition to out-sourcing components to the private sector and devolving the powers to the district level with full financial and administrative authority. Education Councils need to be established at the district level with representation of elected representatives, civil society and academics with authority and responsibility to devise local level plans and implement them to required outcomes. District education authorities need to be accountable to the councils. Each school needs to elect its Board of Directors from PTSMC members entrusted with full authority to hire and fire local teachers as per need and performance.

Provincial level role of the department should be restricted to financing, regulating and monitoring of standards for quality education. An effective language policy needs to be devised urgently with mother tongue to be medium of instruction up to primary level with Urdu and English as subjects only. The latest ‘Mother Language Act 2014’ which requires Mother Langue to be an optional subject, is far from serving the purpose of quality education. Without these and similar purposeful endeavours, the BESP is more likely to be a mere wish list and half hearted venture which is unlikely to play any role in improving the situation of education in the province.

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