WEB DESK: Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif launched his Education Reforms Programme for Islamabad on Friday, vowing not to rest until every child of the country goes to school. Under the first phase of the programme, to be headed by his daughter Maryam Nawaz, 422 schools in the capital territory are to get an overhaul.
Equally, if not more important, is the assurance that “all new appointments of teachers would strictly be made on merit alone, and no undue recommendations or influence would be entertained.” However, the PM’s assertion that the government accords high priority to education and was doing all within its means to raise literacy levels can be taken only with a pinch of salt.
Pakistan has already missed, by a wide margin, the target of achieving hundred percent literacy by 2015 as a part of its commitments under the UN Millennium Development Goals. Yet the Prime Minister waited half way through his term to launch the present programme. But better late than never.
The programme, of course, is restricted to Islamabad because after the 18th Amendment education is a provincial subject. Sadly, it remains a low priority issue for provincial governments, perhaps, with the exception of KPK. While ghost schools are a common phenomenon, a large majority of the existing ones, especially in rural areas, lack basic requisites from proper buildings and boundary walls to drinking water, toilets, and electricity, serving as a disincentive for pupils to attend classes and for teachers to do their duty.
Now that the Prime Minister has taken the lead in initiating a reforms programme that, according to him, is to serve as a role model, it is hoped the provinces will follow his lead to make badly-needed improvements in the sector.
It won’t be enough to upgrade physical infrastructure alone, equally important is to ensure, like the programme for Islamabad promises to do, that duly qualified teachers are hired on merit basis and given proper training. Nothing is as critical as teachers of necessary competence to impart instruction in a chosen field. Student performance is the best measure to judge the success of intended outcomes.
It needs to be recalled that a while ago matric results in a Punjab education board were found to be particularly disappointing for science and mathematics, the building blocks of progress and development. The reason, it was discovered, was that the education department had been hiring general teachers, completely ignoring subject specialists. While Punjab government vowed to make necessary changes in its recruitment policy, it is not known if any lessons have been learnt by education authorities in other provinces.
Then there is the all-important need to promote rationale thinking and the spirit of free inquiry through what is taught. In his speech, Nawaz Sharif did talk of giving high priority, apart from teacher training, to modernising curriculum to meet the demands of the day.
So far some half-hearted attempts made by the Punjab government in that direction have failed due to religious parties’ resistance. Hopefully, in this particular regard also the federal government will show the way through its new Education Reforms Programme for Islamabad.