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Pakistan needs educational reforms for the knowledge economy. By Kashif Mirza


Oct 30, 2023

The writer is an

economist, anchor,

analyst and the

President of All

 Pakistan Private

Schools’ Federation



Pakistan’s journey toward a knowledge economy through educational revitalization is a complex but necessary one. The steps taken today in revitalizing education for building the foundation for a Knowledge economy will determine the path Pakistan treads tomorrow. The progress of a country or a nation depends on better reforms for quality education. The knowledge economy is a construct of a neo-liberal imaginary that is linked closely to the promotion of educational technology use in schools. In the belief that educational technology can assist in the rapid development and modernization of the education systems in  Pakistan. Education, is, therefore, considered as a pre-requisite for combating poverty, raising productivity, improving living conditions, and making enlightened citizens. Education has always been the major concern of successive governments in Pakistan since its inception. But no successful headway has been made in the field of education as half-hearted attempts have been made in the past and the situation has assumed an alarming proportion, that is why the mandate to implement the provision of Article 25-A of the Constitution of Pakistan couldn’t fulfill under which the state is obligated to provide free and compulsory education to all children of the age of 5 to 16 years in such a manner as determined by law. Article 25-A1 says that 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. Whereas, Article 25‐A, Article 37-B, and Article 38-B all give guarantees for the protection of educational rights. Under the 18th Constitutional Amendment, Education has been devolved to the provinces which are responsible for the award of education up to the intermediate level. Fulfilling and implementing Articles 22 (1) and 25-A of the Constitution of Pakistan on the right to education without discrimination is a fundamental constitutional obligation and a pressing need for improving foundational literacy, and the quality of education. It is not possible to implement articles 20, 22 (1), and 25-A of the constitution in letter and spirit unless related laws and policies are made likewise. But, unfortunately, Pakistan is faced with the challenge of 25 million children out of school in the age group of 5-16 years, and around 2 million children are estimated to be added every year. There are clear constitutional provisions: Article 25-A, 37-B, and 38-B, our commitment to the MDG and SDG where our failures are palpable. While there is no dearth of excellent plans and proposals in the various national education policies since 1947 and provincial and area development plans, implementation is the weakest area. All Pakistan Education Conference was organized in November 1947, just three months after the creation of the country. Quid e Azam  Muhammad Ali Jinnah clearly asked for target-oriented interventions in the education sector. Quid Azam said we need to focus on scientific and technological education to compete on a global level and reap the benefits of modern economic structure. Policy reforms continued during the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s and are still ongoing. In 1984, the government introduced a two-year comprehensive plan to increase the literacy rate in the country. Then, a series of education policy documents were introduced one after another, setting new targets and extending the previously set dates. These policies included the 1970 Education Policy, the 1979 Education Policy, the 1998 Education Policy, the Framework of Action 2000, the Millennium Development Goals 2001, the Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper 2003, the Medium-Term Development Framework 2005-2010, and the 2010, and 2021 Education Policies. Moreover, projects like Education Sector reform programs, Afternoon Schools, Iqra projects, Mosque projects, NGOs Volunteer Literacy Corps, etc. Unfortunately, all these plans and policies could not revolutionize the education sector. Among other factors, one of the main reasons is the experimentation of the government with the education sector. The existing Primary Education scenario presents a dismal picture. As per the latest population census, the total number of children in the age group 5 to 16 has risen to 75.4 million out of which 25.36 million are out of school. All of these documents had set some major targets in terms of literacy, gender equality, teacher education, and qualitative improvements in education. Most of these targets have yet to be achieved. There are a number of factors that frustrate the proper implementation of policies. These factors have academic, political, social, and management dimensions. The major challenge is to enroll this large number of out-of-school children in the age group 5 to 16. Related to this, there are challenges to the availability of the quality of teachers, school and basic facilities, quality curriculum, and textbooks. The gaps in infrastructure, teachers, budget, and quality education still persist.

The political parties must promise and honour their commitment of election manifestos to enhance education budget at least by 5% of GDP. Educational reforms must be to cultivate equitable learning environments, where every student can access quality education and excel, without any gender discrimination and class discrimination for the base of knowledge economy. 

Reforms in any sector always need consultations with different stakeholders to lead the way to ownership, which is an important condition for successful implementation. After 2010, the 18th amendment in the 1973 constitution of Pakistan the slogan of civilian governance compulsory education for children from ages five to sixteen (free education for all). Here millions of children still have not registered in education to achieve the target. There are so many other flops like religious factors and sectarian violence. Through the 18th Amendment school education is the subject of provincial matter. Whole reforms and policies in the education sector from 1947 to 2023 on a common point agenda that is to be formulated reforms and policies operationalize on the Islamic Ideology of Pakistan. However, most education reforms in Pakistan are directly imported from abroad. These reforms aren’t discussed with the stakeholders involved. Most of these reforms are conceived outside Pakistan by donors. Some examples of these schemes include pilot schools, comprehensive school initiatives, education sector reforms (ESR), and Danish schools. Most of the educational reforms announced in Pakistan lack strong political will from decision-makers at the high level. The rulers make educational claims for self-projection to earn goodwill among voters. Some of these claims are ridiculously unrealistic. Indeed, the education budget allocations decreased over time and are now around 1.7 percent of GDP, due to the lack of priorities, improper planning, without a suitable roadmap of action, and lack of required resources to begin with. A very recent example is the devolution of education to the provinces after the 18th amendment in the constitution. Another important reason for making such claims and then forgetting about them is that there is no accountability system. Political leaders know that they can make tall claims and get away with it. The discontinuation of policies from one government to another often leads to abortive endings for some useful initiatives. Instead of focusing on the effective implementation of existing education policies, every new government decides to come up with a brand new policy. Consequently, we find a number of official documents, policies, and plans in Pakistan with useful recommendations. Although, all main political parties claimed and promised for minimum 5% of the GDP to invest in the education sector, but failed to fulfil their election manifesto promises. ANP aimed to allocate at least 6% of the GDP to education, but failed to implement in it’s provincial tenure. MQM proposed to increase education expenditure from 2.2% to 5% of the GDP, but also failed to implement in its collusion government tenures. Whereas, PPP committed for 4.5 percent of GDP to education but always failed to implement it. PML-N, PML-Q, and PTI also committed for dramatically increase funding from 2.1 % to 5% funding, but couldn’t spent more than 1.7 percentage of GDP. The educational reforms and policy of civil-military governance regimes 1999-2018 of Pakistan with a major focus on education for all, introducing technical education and Madaris reforms to achieve 80% literacy rate. These education sector reforms did not fruitful due to the involvement of bureaucrats for making policies and ignored educationists in the relevant field specialists. However, in the last 7-decade, all governance has stressed to increase literacy and primary education compulsory. But it remained on file papers only. Only in Gen. Zia ul Haq and Gen. Pervaiz Musharaf’s tenures, we can say that educational policies and reforms achieved their set of targets. During the Zia and Musharraf governments’, the education scheme aims and objectives in Pakistan are to educate the philosophy of sympathy and background the path to attain its nationwide objectives.

It is obvious that our education system needs structural reforms to ensure the quality of our graduates. Our education must be a part of the knowledge economy-based service industry and manufacturing sector. Industry based on knowledge economy with skills development and non formal education must be introduced at schools with the help of private sector. These forward and backward linkages in the skills market will ensure decent jobs, good remuneration and employment to educate youth. Situation which emerges from the gap analysis is alarming as Pakistan is faced with the challenge of 25 million out of school children in the age group of 5 to 16 years and around 2 million children are estimated to be added every year. Budget provision needs to be enhanced from present 1.7% of GDP to 5% of GDP. It would need to be ensured that funds are properly utilized and are not lapsed or allocated to other sectors. An annual increase of 25% in the existing budget of provinces and areas would be required to reach the targets. New 200,000 formal schools with 2.5 million teachers are required to meet the existing gap and future needs. Moreover, teachers need to be trained and equipped with latest teaching techniques on regular basis. Currently, artificial intelligence has surpassed human capacities. Given Pakistan’s weak economy, the prevalence of poverty prevents a significant portion of its population from accessing schools and colleges. Therefore, efforts for reforms to promote a knowledge economy are the wisest decision of our time. It will also strengthen Pakistan’s capability to innovate, adapt and create indigenous technology and design, develop and market new products; thereby providing the foundation for local growth. In addition, the knowledge and technology-based economy will complement and accelerate the change from an input-driven to a productivity-driven growth strategy, which is a major policy thrust initiated under the Plan. Six modern technologies are considered highly important such as computers, micro-electronics, human-made materials, telecommunications, biotechnology and robotics. These technologies will make paradigm shift in businesses throughout world. knowledge economy based on creating, evaluating, and trading knowledge. In a knowledge economy, labour costs become progressively less important and traditional economic concepts such as scarcity resources and economics of scale cease to apply. The four pillars for knowledge economy are: Economic and Institution management; Education and Skill; Information and Communication Infrastructure; and Innovative System i.e. Research. The knowledge economy focused on the production and management of knowledge in the frame of economic constraints, or to a knowledge-based economy. The government should arrange enough funds and improved syllabus with innovative ideas for the growth of knowledge economy for the young generation. In the fast-changing world of today, underdeveloped nations have no chance of joining the larger competitive mainstream. Teachers are the most important element in the whole education system, quality education can only be achieved through quality teachers. Basic facilities like school buildings, electricity, laboratories and drinking water are necessities for education. Curricula of school education do not fulfill the requirements of technological era. Teachers learn this curriculum only for degree, but not for knowledge. Our school curricula do not match and prepare for knowledge economy for the students for the market. Better quality text books at affordable prices are necessary for promoting Pakistan in knowledge based society. It needs to be ensured that teachers go and work in remote areas for teaching duty. Incentive to teachers be provided in the shape of promotions related to their performance. Basic facilities missing in the existing schools must be provided on a fast track so that all schools and buildings are fully functional. Incentives need to be provided to poor parents to send their children to school as one of the primary reasons for large number of students being out of school is that poor parents cannot afford to send their children to school and pay school fee and bear expenses to school books and uniform. The incentive programme may include waiver of school fee, provision of free text books and payment of stipends for poor students. All above measures require substantial increase in expenditure on education. As formal school system is not in a position to cope with the growing demand of knowledge economy, skills development and non formal ways of education should also be adopted such as non formal schools, community schools and public private partnership. It is also critical that double shifts are introduced in all schools where sufficient numbers of students are available to ensure enrolment and education for each and every child. Its implementation would also require additional recruitment of teachers and staff with budget. A merit based management with enhanced funding 50 % annually is recommended to expand the network to meet the requirement. Among the long term measures, quality education is very important. A well thought out practical and doable intervention framework needs to be worked out to ensure quality education in the long run. The quality and standardization of curriculum for knowledge economy are important challenges which require our attention and Federal Government and the concerned Ministry along with provincial representatives should undertake immediate review and up-gradation measures in this regard. Therefore, there is an urgent need to declare education emergency, and award minimum 10-year amenity and tax exemptions for investing in education sector and for establishing new educational institutions. Under the housing laws, each housing society is under obligation to earmark amenity plots for community service but usually most of these plots are leased out to commercial purposes. It is recommended that directions may be issued to the housing societies to give these plots at subsidized rates for the establishment affordable schools. Since the numbers are so large, and the private sector is already involved on a major scale, the role of regulatory bodies needs to be made more effective with the positive approach by facilitating the private sector with integrity and merit. Government in consultation with the representatives of Deeni Madaris should devise a programme for imparting formal education. This would entail capacity building at the provincial and district level so that funds can be properly utilized and are not lapsed or allocated to other sectors.

As per All Pakistan Private Schools Federation‘s  data and Pakistan Education Statistics 2020-21, private educational institutions are serving sizeable number of students (56%) with 26.9 million students, 1.5 million teachers and 207,000 private schools. While acknowledging the contribution of private schools in imparting education to large number of school going children, the Government should support and facilitate private schools to rationalize the fee structure and to enroll at best level. Knowledge economy based target-oriented interventions in the education sector required. We need to focus on scientific and technological education to compete on a global level and reap the benefits of modern economic structure. The youth must be focused on their education because it is a prerequisite for personal growth and nation-building, and should not forget that we have to compete with the world which is moving very fast in this direction. A big jump in the establishment of new schools in the private and public sector, recruitment, and training of large number of teachers, furniture, etc. is required. Ghost and non functional schools may be made functional. Basic facilities missing in the existing schools will have to be provided on a fast track. However the public schools may also facilitate the non formal schools in the evening. Best practices in community schools, non-formal schools, public private partnership, and voucher scheme can be shared by the provinces and expanded for enhanced targets. A minimum of 50% annual increase in number under these projects is essential to supplement private and govt’s efforts. The private entrepreneurs and individuals should be encouraged and given incentives to open new schools and adopt schools for infrastructure development and provision of necessary facilities. The incentives could be in the shape of tax amenities and rebates or attribution of private schools for at least 10-year. In order to utilize the important sub-sector of education i.e. Deeni Madaris, the Government in consultation with their representatives should devise a programme for imparting formal education. The work of the National Commission for Human Development (NCHD) and Basic Education Community School (BECS) for promoting literacy and enrolling out-of-school children has been noteworthy in the past. A merit based management with enhanced funding of 50% annually should be expanded the network, to meet the requirement. Government should undertake immediate review and up-gradation measures. A special think tank can be constituted at the national level comprising experts and professionals and its performance reviewed on a regular basis. In order to prepare the students for gainful employment opportunities, the Government should introduce knowledge economy based skills education having avenues for profitable employment. In this regard NAVTCC, TEVTA and other skill development institutions may be asked to develop accredited vocational training courses to be imparted to larger members along with formal education – a manifold increase is needed. Therefore, emphasis should be given to the improvement of contents of training courses for enhancing teaching skills. Education must be deemed as a fundamental element of Investment, Human Resource (HR) development and the welfare of the people, to better structure educational institutes to achieve sustainable growth. The political parties must promise and honour their commitment of election manifestos to enhance education budget at least by 5% of GDP. Educational reforms must be to cultivate equitable learning environments, where every student can access quality education and excel, without any gender discrimination and class discrimination for the base of knowledge economy. Schools curricula and textbooks must focus on promoting inclusion, diversity, critical thinking, and learning outcomes. In any country education plays a key role for the promotion of economic, political stability and the desire for national identity. Education means producing skilled youth force for the help of economic growth and for a prosperous country. It’s also produced knowledge to committed people, who belief on nation building on the basis of ideology development through future generations. Public education must be centered on creating inclusive spaces that empower students to become valuable and participative members of society. By building on these principles, we must strive to drive meaningful changes and advancements in our education system. The steps taken today in revitalizing education for building the foundation for a Knowledge economy will determine the path Pakistan treads tomorrow. The vision is clear to empower its people with the tools of a knowledge-based economy and innovation, there by securing a prosperous and sustainable future.

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