The 18th Amendment to the Constitution of Pakistan provides for handing over all the 47 subjects in the Concurrent Legislative List to the provinces. Earlier, it was in the domain of both the provincial and federal governments to legislate in these areas and in case of any ambiguity the federal law would prevail. From now onwards, only the provinces will legislate on these subjects and for this very reason the federal ministries looking after these matters have been abolished.
The subjects in question include laws governing marriage, firearms possession, educational planning and development of curriculum, environmental pollution, divorce, adoption of children, arbitration, special education and so on. Soon after the passage of the amendment, dissenting voices about the impracticability of the decision rose from different quarters.
Though the support has always been there for the provinces’ demand to strengthen them, critics believe the transition is going to be abrupt and without much homework. The lack of capacity on part of the provinces to take up new assignments and shortage of required funds are termed the main causes of concern in this case.
Of all the subjects, the proposed devolution of education to the provinces has triggered a debate and caused worries for the academic community. Even the former Federal Education Minister, Sardar Aseff Ahmed Ali, objected to the devolution of the ministry of provinces. He went to the extent of saying that the 18th amendment would create circumstances that led to the Fall of Dhaka, where the syllabus was not in line with the national curriculum and self-serving people used it for their vested interests.
In a December 2010 meeting of the National Assembly Standing Committee on Education he had said: “Curriculum is a sensitive subject whose devolution would mean that we are giving free hand to provinces to teach the syllabus of their desire without any check of the federation.”
In the same meeting he expressed his fears saying: “What I am looking forward to is the situation where we could produce Sindhis, Balochis, Punjabis and Pakhtuns but not Pakistanis.”
However, the non-compromising stance of the Implementation Commission on the 18th Amendment, headed by Senator Raza Rabbani prevailed and Sardar Aseff is no more criticising the issue. Sources in the PPPP believe it was following his decision not to further criticise the move that he was inducted as a minister in the new cabinet and awarded a new portfolio.
Dr Shahid Siddiqui, an educationist and professor at the Lahore School of Economic (LSE), tells TNS that the provinces’ mandate to look after curriculum, syllabus, planning, policy, centres of excellence and standards of education has worried many. However, he says the provinces should have the autonomy to design the curricula according to contextual needs and learners’ requirement. He says if the federation is concerned about the curriculum issue, it can keep Islamic Studies and Pakistan Studies under its control.
Dr Siddiqui, who is also the author of the book Rethinking Education, says the education standards can be monitored through provincial quality assurance departments and the inter-provincial coordination committee. Similarly, he says, the provinces may introduce regional languages as a subject in their respective provinces as Khyber Pakhtunkhwa is attempting to do.
He believes most of these concerns seem to emanate primarily from a lack of trust in the capacity and ability of the provinces. In reality, he says, things are different. “The provinces are already providing for school and college education and they do have the capacity to handle the job. These provinces are also funding education from their budgets and only partial grants are coming from the universities.”
Siddiqui’s comments are quite similar to the Implementation Commission which had said that the development of the curriculum and syllabi had always been with the provinces and the federal government was only vetting and providing ‘No-Objection Certificates (NOCs)’ to the curriculum developed by the provinces.
Irfan Ahmed, a development professional working in the field of education, says one of the major concerns of the development sector was how the commitments of international donors with the federal education ministry (now defunct) will be fulfilled.
He says after deliberations it has been decided that the Economic Affairs Division will implement all the international and bilateral agreements made by the ministries being devolved to the provinces. Ahmed says once these commitments are fulfilled the newer ones will be between the provinces and the donors. This will also dispel the provinces’ fears that they will lack funds to run the affairs of the ministries passed on to them, he adds.
Dr Sohail Naqvi, Executive Director, Higher Education Commission (HEC) tells TNS that the perceptions that the role of HEC under the new arrangement will be undermined are not correct. He says a lot of universities are working under the charters issued by the provinces and the commission will keep on extending support of all types to them.
The latest is that the provinces are ready to take control of assets, funds, fixtures etc but have shown reservations over accommodating the employees of the federal ministries devolved to them. The Implementation Commission is in talks with the provinces to sort out the issue, amid escalating protests by the uncertain employees of these ministries.
PML-N MNA and National Assembly Standing Committee on Education Chairman Abid Sher Ali, who had strongly condemned the plan to devolve education ministry, seems to have resigned to fate. He says they could only raise the issue and point out the ensuing problems and were not in a position to roll back any decision.