Globally, the elected governments are voted to power on the basis of the priorities enshrined in their manifestos. This process does include some miniscule elements of relatability and ownership by the general public in the beginning. However, when these elements come into play in shaping up the policy decisions and subsequent legislations, it instantly becomes too complicated and far from comprehension for the people it is primarily formulated. Stakeholders’ consultation, particularly the participation of the citizens remains highly tokenistic. Feedback if taken is not always factored in the revised documents. Such detached engagement further deepens the trust deficit between the decision makers and the masses.
In Pakistan also, public policy has always been an arid zone. Under the 18th constitutional amendment, the concurrent list was abolished and most of its powers were transferred from the center to the provincial governments. The provincial government can further delegate authority, powers and resources under its control to the local governments. But when it comes to public policy, the people who lead it are hard to reach, the process its takes is immensely cumbersome, and the content and communication it involves is always complex and jargon-laden. Above all, whether we like it or not, everything is in English language. So, it’s all about preaching to the priest with no relevance to the people who are at the bottom of the pyramid. This is why the key message doesn’t trickle down and most of the public polices either sink into oblivion with the change of the political leadership or the rhetoric does not translate into intended action.
Lately, it is really heartening to see that a very comprehensive but user-friendly book unpacking all the impenetrable dynamics and perplexing technicalities of public policy and reform administration has been published in Urdu by Javed Ahmed Malik. “Teachers, Bureaucracy and Politicians” was in the market in early January this year which is more of a guiding manual not only for the beginners in the nonprofit sector but is equally insightful and reassuring for the social development practitioners, researchers, academicians, policy analysts, legislatures, donors, influencers in both print and electronic media and many others as well. As lead education advisor, Javed led the DFID’s largest £450m education program in the world in Punjab for seven years (2009-16), while leading Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif's Education Reform roadmap in collaboration with multiple international and local partners strongly backed by the line departments of the provincial government.
According to Javed, the basic intent behind writing this book was to bring to light the intriguing story of the ebb and flow of the power, politics and people involved in the reform process, intrinsic failures, daunting challenges, inimitable strengths of contributors and the phenomenal progress in a system of 54,000 schools of Punjab from its inception to completion. It’s too likely that writing on these rough subjects, the author who himself had had the first-hand experience of being in it, could easily fall prey to cynicism and inadvertently starts building on his positive or negative biases. Here, Javed very deliberately stays calm, collected, very neutral and avoid any myopic perspectives but at the same time doesn’t lose sight of the brutal realities, criticality of issues and all the missing links of the system, behavioral and technical incompetencies. This pragmatism and broad-sightedness helps establishing a friendly connection and the reader revels in an engaging visual experience of a fascinating story telling.
At the very outset, one tends to agree with his candid premise where Javed unfolds the fundamental gaps and stark imbalances of power, authority and skewed relationships between the teachers, head teachers, EDOs/CEOs of the education department and senior bureaucracy. He talks about the disinterest, innate slackness and lack of professionalism of the teachers which is always compounded with system-oriented lacunas and absurdities. He convincingly argues that how total exclusion from the decision making, essential processes of reforms and public policy formulation becomes the cardinal and most disheartening issue for the teachers keeping them alienated, embittered and enraged. The subsequent 9 chapters inclusive of the way forward are highly interdependent and coherently unravel the prevalent misconceptions and misinterpretations about reforms, core issues of Pakistani education system, challenges of quality standards, assessments and implementation, unresponsive governance, logistical constraints and administrative impediments, significant role of the private sector and a critical analysis of the modern educational reforms. These multiple facets of information are substantiated by the latest evidence and inferences from the publically available research pieces and reports, easily understandable infographics and footnotes.
At the end, based on his proven and strongly embedded experience, he shares 4 concluding recommendations which he believes could turn things around. “1) Holistic transformation of the administrative infrastructure of provincial education from the centuries old, overly exhausted entity to an aspiring, highly progressive and goal-oriented system. 2) After every two months, the Chief Minister needs to hold a regular learning and review meeting with all critical stakeholders to ensure continuous monitoring and evaluation of the progress against set targets and timelines. In order to guarantee that the education is the top most priority of the provincial government, the consistency of these meetings should not be affected by any kind of emergencies. 3) There is no harm in being bold and radical in our target setting. We need to be realistic but ambitious enough to push our boundaries. National goals, targets and key performance indicators should be very clearly defined and one of such targets must be the uplift of the public sector schools.
By and large, government spends more resources on a public school in comparison to a private school. Unless, schools from both sectors are not equally balanced in terms of overall enabling environment, cognitive, personality and social development of a leaner and the ultimate learning outcomes, the state of affairs will only regress not progress. 4) In order to modernize our education system, we need to go back to the basic impetus and quintessence of the Aligarh. The ownership and promotion of Urdu in our schools must be our highest priority. Simultaneously, we should leave no stone unturned in creating the appetite for the English language naturally and build inherent capacities of our teachers and students on international standards. Furthermore, there is a dire need to develop and promote critical thinking, scientific aptitude, approaches and behaviors in our students and teachers to explore and tackle the global imperatives.
Besides his ever-growing love and both intellectual and emotional affiliation with Aligarh and Sir Syed Ahmad Khan, to me, the best bit of the book is contained in the attribution. Javed ascribes his marvelous piece to all those teachers, officials and politicians who have been persistently making the difference and amidst all the seemingly endless challenges, have the grit to smile with optimism and are uncompromisingly determined to continue their hard work in bringing about transformational change in education. This earnest acknowledgement and human-centric sentiments corroborate that unless people are placed at the heart of the public policy work, it will remain an infertile land of a few.
Saeed ul Hassan is an educationist, policy analyst, campaigner, poet and entrepreneur. About two decades ago, his career began as a volunteer in a public sector office. He later rose to senior leadership roles in international and national nonprofit organizations. Saeed is a published poet. As a writer and public speaker, he talks on personal, organizational and social change. Twitter @saeedulhassan7