2004 — education issues, problems and reforms
By Waqar Gillani
LAHORE: Opposition to the textbook curriculum reforms and a controversy between the federal and Punjab government were the major educational issues in 2004. The Punjab governor’s neglect towards critical aspects of the Inter University Faculty Board curriculum reforms was another major issue.
However on a positive note, the Punjab Sector Education Reforms Programme (PSERP) and its Provincial Implementation and Monitoring Unit has been working to improve the educational sector. In other developments, the Forman Christian College was denationalised and given university status, while the University of Management Technology, the University of South Asia, the GIFT University in Gujranwala and Superior College were given university status.
The following are the major issues that developed in 2004:
Curriculum issue: The issue started when the federal education ministry’s curriculum wing approved alleged ‘objectionable material’ in textbooks for the Sindh and Punjab boards, from class I to XII in 2000-01. Zubaida Jalal was the education minister during this period. The curriculum for science subjects was revised in 2000 and for arts subject in 2002. This was the first revision since 1986.
Since no formal training was given to curriculum or revision committee writers, there were illustrative and typographical mistakes. The exclusion of Quranic verses from the Sindh Textbook Board’s textbook ‘Biology for class XI’ was approved by the Education Ministry through a notification on June 24,2003. The publication approval was given by the National Review Committee, which also gave a no objection certificate (NOC) to the syllabus for various Punjab Textbook Board grade books.
The federal government approved the inclusion of chapters ‘Model millionaire’ and ‘How to live on less income’. The controversial story in the Class X (Bahare Urdu) book, about Hazrat Umar listening to music and poetry was not objected at that time.
However, the government has failed in tackling the propaganda surrounding the curriculum revision controversy. The government has avoided the issue rather than addressing it, fuelling further unrest among academic quarters.
Academicians are worried that the revision of the curriculum would be reversed. They were concerned that unless the controversy around the changes was not tackled, a syllabus with an enlightened vision of Islam would not be possible. Later, a national committee was formed to look into the matter.
Chancellor’s curriculum reforms: Punjab Governor Lt General (r) Khalid Maqbool revised 50 courses being taught at government universities and approved a number of new master, bachelor and diploma courses. He stressed opening sub campuses of major universities, which were planned and constructed at various locations.
A total of 50 subjects were revised and universities were told to get them cleared from the boards of studies so that they could be taught from the beginning of the next academic year. University departments were directed to start four-year degree programmes.
There were also attempts for universities to start using semester system, along with making language courses, functional courses, communication skills, internships and entrepreneurship skills compulsory.
Maqbool approved a number of diplomas, bachelors and masters courses in the subjects of pharmacy, psychology, sociology, political science, philosophy, information science, history, Pakistan studies, economics, zoology, botany, mycology and plant pathology, law, nursing education, dental science, medicine, social work, sport sciences and physical education, administrative science and human resource development, information technology, mass communication, various engineering disciplines and physical sciences. The University of Engineering and Technology set up a sub campus in Faisalabad.
Politicisation of campuses: Political interference in campuses and educational institutions remained a major thorn for the government. Although Chaudhry Pervaiz Elahi, the Punjab chief minister, abolished the student wing (Muslim Students Federation) of the Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid, other political parties chapters, especially the Islami Jamiat Talaba remained active in campuses. It caused major confrontations at Allama Iqbal Medical College in July and in the Punjab University throughout the year. The PU administration was allegedly backing them.
Madrassas reforms: The Education Ministry failed in making the madrassa (seminaries) reforms successful in 2004. They asked the government to reopen madrassa registration for more people to benefit from the Madrassa Reforms Package. Rs 6 billion were set-aside for the reforms’ first three years and the government gave an additional Rs 225 million to all the provinces, but the provinces failed to utilise the funds.
Provincial convention: Maqbool also arranged a provincial convention in which 29 universities participated. The convention followed up the national convention held in early 2004. However, he remained silent on the issues of politicisation of campuses and did not take any action against political elements. He avoided serious issues, creating a bad reputation for the government because he thought it was not helpful to highlight such issues. A major example of this is the complete failure of the University of Education and the University of Health Sciences. The negligence and inefficiency in these universities sparked several student protests.
PSERP and PIMU: The Punjab government claimed that it was dedicated to implement and monitor the Punjab Sector Education Reforms Programme (PSERP) 2003-06. The programme aims to improve infrastructure and provide facilities to 63,674 schools in Punjab. It was also announced that in the programme’s next phase middle schools would be upgraded, another 15,000 teachers would be recruited, primary school students would be given free stationary, municipal corporation schools would be given free textbooks and teachers would be sent for training in Britain, Australia and the United States. The government also started a computerised record of facilities that would soon be available on the Internet.
The PSERP, which is allied to the federal government’s National Education Sector Reform Programme, is based on three fundamentals: to allocate more financial resources to education at the provincial and district level, to support the devolution process and to improve quality and access of education.
The programme includes stipends to female students, free textbooks, restructuring the Punjab Education Foundation, teacher recruitment and training, monitoring and evaluation, reactivation of school councils and an awareness campaign. A Programme Monitoring and Implantation Unit (PMIU) had been established to analyse data of missing facilities. The analysis will be shared with districts and used to plan course corrections. The technique is being applied in a social sector programme for the first time in Pakistan.
Fake degrees/substandard campuses: Fake degrees and sub standard campuses were another issue which tarnished the image of the federal and provincial governments. The Higher Education Commission (HEC) issued a warning to colleges and universities saying, “All substandard universities will be closed and colleges upgraded to the university level will be reverted if they don’t meet the criteria within two and a half years.”
Meanwhile, the fake degree business continued to flourish. Around 70 students of the 2000 and 2002 final sessions of the PU’s Economics Department received their Masters degrees from the PU, despite being absent or failing the examinations. Mian Naeem Javed, the district nazim for Sialkot, caught a group of people involved in making fake degrees. The people who started the campaign against fake degrees were also victimised, as the HEC, perhaps not liking this issue being highlighted, took offence to them.
Other issues: The Technical Educational and Vocational Training Authority (TEVTA) chief being replaced seemed to calm down the employees. However, Yousaf Kamal, the new chairman, was also removed after a while and Elahi’s close relative was appointed the new chairman. Kamal was removed against the TEVAT Ordinance. Meanwhile, The government announced it would help the Aga Khan Foundation to establish an examination board in the country.