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Education: Overstepping Constitutional Limits

Education: Overstepping Constitutional Limits | Asghar Soomro

Can the federal government still make education policy after the devolution of education to the provinces under the 18th Amendment? This question has been haunting me since the day it was decided in the Inter-Provincial Education Ministers’ Conference (IPEMC) that all provincial and area governments would hold a policy dialogue on theNational Education Policy 2009 and propose tangible recommendations. In the wake of the conference, a series of policy dialogues started across Pakistan. Now, it is said that a revised National Education Policy will be announced in January 2016. Silence on the part of provinces, particularly smaller ones, amounts to volunteering surrender of their constitutional right.

There is no ambiguity in the Constitution as far as education is concerned. After the 18th Amendment was passed, the concurrent legislative list was abolished and responsibilities of policy, curriculum, syllabus, planning, centres of excellence, standards of education and Islamic education were transferred from the federal government to the provinces. In order to confirm that there is no misunderstanding or misinterpretation of constitutional clauses, I consulted some legal experts. One legal expert was of the view that after the insertion ofArticle 25A in the Constitution, education has become a part of fundamental rights; and fundamental rights come under the federal legislative list, part II. So, the federal government might have based its argument on those lines. Otherwise, education should come under the purview of provincial governments. Barrister Zamir Ghumro has maintained a very clear position on this. According to him, education is a completely provincial subject and the federal government cannot make education policy. If it does, this should be considered a violation of the Constitution. He quoted the Article 142 (c) which categorically states, “A provincial assembly shall, and Majlis-e-Shoora (parliament) shall not, have power to make laws with respect to any matter not enumerated in the federal legislative list.” So, how can the IPEMC approve the revised education policy when the Constitution clearly forbids this, asks Barrister Ghumro.

Unfounded apprehensions regarding devolution have led to overstepping of constitutional limits. Those who believe that the federal government should formulate education policy and curriculum fear that if this work is given to the provinces, it will harm national integration and cohesion, and promote provincialism. Furthermore, they doubt the capacity and technical expertise of provinces to implement plans, and say that the National Education Policy 2009 will go to waste, which was formulated after lots of hard work and research of experts, educationists, public representatives, planners and other stakeholders. Let’s take these arguments one by one.

From 1973 to 2010, education has been in the hands of the federal government. During that period, we have seen many education policies developed and implemented by democratic governments and powerful military rulers. But did they achieve the goals of national integration and cohesion? No, rather, the impact has been quite the opposite if we look at the ongoing insurgency in Balochistan, prevailing religious extremism in educational institutions, even in elite institutions, and violation of rights of minorities, women and smaller nations. What provinces lack is autonomy and empowerment, not necessarily capacity. Earlier, we used to hear that provinces will not be able to carry out the duties related to revenue collection when the Sindh Revenue Board was set up. Everyone is quick to point out its inadequate capacity to undertake the assigned task. But the board was not only able to accomplish the revenue collection target, it even exceeded it within a short span of time.

Punjab is making very good progress in the field of education and its efforts are praised at national and international levels. Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa is also doing well. All this is creating a culture of positive competition rather than promoting provincialism. So, we need to learn how to trust provinces and not view them as suspicious entities as that widens the trust deficit. I think we must honour the Constitution and trust provinces if our agenda is to achieve true integration and cohesion in Pakistan.

Published in The Express Tribune, August 21st,  2015.

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