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Pakistan urged to hold transparent education consultation

Rights groups, academics call for a process that encourages feedback from a wide range of people

Pakistan urged to hold transparent education consultation

Education Minister Shafqat Mahmood speaks at President House on Dec. 23 on women's education and the way forward. (Photo: Twitter)

A group of minority rights organizations, academics and educational institutions have delivered a letter to Pakistan’s Education Ministry seeking transparent, inclusive and historically informed consultation about the country’s new education policy.

The letter, addressed to Federal Education Minister Shafqat Mahmood on Jan. 18, was written by the Working Group for Inclusive Education and endorsed by representatives of Idara-e-Taleem-o-Aagahi, the Centre for Social Justice, Pakistan Minorities Teachers' Association, Lahore Diocesan Board of Education, Church of Pakistan, The Salvation Army Pakistan and St. Patrick’s College, Karachi.

"We urge the ministry to make the consultation process transparent, inclusive and historically informed, which will generate public trust and promote welfare of the beneficiaries of the policy. The absence of these values in the policy making leads to negative perceptions about the motives of the government, alienation among the stakeholders and, eventually, difficulties in the implementation of the policy,” the group said.

The group proposed that a section of the ministry’s website should be devoted to the policy-making process.

The public will be able to find all the feedback received through the consultation, with the names of the respondents/institutions; the draft of the policy together with the ministry’s responses to the public feedback, and an explanation of what was incorporated and what was not, the letter said.

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The policy should be published first in a draft version, inviting further feedback, before a final version is published, it said.

“Education is a public concern and, therefore, democratic principles require that the consultative process should be carried out in a manner that encourages feedback from a wide range of people. Given the context of Pakistan, the current approach of requesting feedback through an English-language notice and an email address is not likely to be very inclusive,” it said.

The group further proposed that “the consultation should be carried out in Urdu, in addition to English; Given the wide penetration of social media, consultation should also be carried out through a Facebook page and a WhatsApp number. The latter will allow people to record and send their messages orally; Inclusivity can also be increased by designing a focused questionnaire on key aspects of the policy through which feedback can be solicited.”

The group called for a review of past educational policies, analysing what worked and what did not. It also requested the ministry to extend the duration of the process.

“The timespan of three months to formulate a policy is unreasonable. Policy making takes much longer and requires analysis, evidence and consultation, all of which take time. Fast-tracking leads to the exclusion of many voices and overlooking of complex issues,” the group said.

“Usually, the curriculum-making exercise follows a new policy. It makes little sense to develop a curriculum before drafting a policy. We urge the ministry not to put the cart before the horse and delay the implementation of phases II & III of the single national curriculum pertaining to middle and secondary classes until the new policy is formulated.

“Is it important to tell the public the names of the people making the policy and of those who would be responding to the input from the public? Policy should be followed by an implementation plan that lays out how the pledges made in the policy will be achieved in terms of timelines and resources.”

Shafqat Mahmood, the federal minister for education, invited suggestions for the new education policy last month.

“While we have taken a number of initiatives including a single national curriculum, A formal education policy for the country is necessary. So, on my direction, a process has been started by the Ministry of Education which includes widespread consultation. All suggestions welcome,” the minister tweeted.

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