Despite the devolution of Health and Education to the Provinces through the 18th constitutional amendment, confusion still prevails in the minds of top bureaucracy of the Federal Capital about their leftover mandate. This is evident from exchange of a plethora of official letters and summaries between the center and the provinces.
One of the authors of the 18th Amendment Senator Raza Rabbani explained time and again about the spirit of devolution of power and opposed the interference into the affairs of the federating units but it appears that Islamabad just want to extend its influence by extending arms beyond constitutional boundaries.
Post devolution formation of Education Ministry in Islamabad and the existence of Capital Administration and Development Division (CADD), a body established after devolution of education and health to the provinces to take care of left over departments in Islamabad, are at logger-heads with each other as well as with the provincial authorities. The federal education ministry is currently looking after technical institutes including the National Commission for Human Development and the National Vocational and Technical Training Commission (NAVTTC). The Supreme Court in its judgment on November 25, 2011 had maintained that under Article 25-A of the Constitution, the federal government could not absolve itself of the responsibility of providing education to its citizens.
The Council of Common Interests (CCI) has constituted a committee under the federal law minister to look into the role of the federal government vis-à-vis education in light of constitutional provisions and the Supreme Court judgment. The federal government in June this year renamed the ministry as the Ministry of Education, Trainings and Standards in Higher Education, this is the third time its name has been changed after the landmark 18th amendment.
Recently, the ministry released a three year “National Plan of Action,” containing data provided by provinces for devising a strategy to gradually enroll over eight million out-of-school children across the country. According to the ministry’s website, it outlines policies, plans and programs for ensuring mass education and integrated professional, vocational and technical training in sync with national needs and international requirements. The background conversation with ministry’s officials demonstrates that they are convinced that the ministry should stay with the federal government as it is unlikely that international donors would contact provinces to make commitments to the cause of education in the country.
A summary seeking jurisdiction over various education bodies not taken by the provinces after the 18th amendment, has been sent for the Prime Minister’s approval by the Ministry of Education, Trainings and Standards in Higher Education. “All subjects related to the defunct ministry or any other remaining department or subject yet not handed over to the provinces should be given to the ministry,” read the summary. In a discussion during a secretaries’ meeting, it was decided in principle that education and health bodies should be brought under their respective departments or ministries. A proposal to hand over the administrative control of Pakistan Institute of Medical Sciences and Polyclinic to the Ministry of National Health Services is also under consideration.
After the approval of the summary, the Federal Directorate of Education (FDE), Federal College of Education, Academy of Educational Planning and Management, National Education Assessment Centre, Directorate General of Special Education, National Institute of Science and Technical Education, Private Educational Institutions Regulatory Authority and National Language Authority would be controlled by the ministry. Now officials are campaigning that getting control of the FDE will be a big success for the Education Ministry that is keen to bring reforms as dozens of issues halting educational progress in the capital are pending with the department including regularization of over 2,000 employees, enhancing quality of education in the capital’s institutions and addressing issues like provision of textbooks.
The legislators too question the justification for a federal education ministry. A parliamentary panel questioned the Education Minister on September 10, 2013 and asked him to answer why there was still a federal education ministry when it had become a provincial subject after devolution of power to the provinces. Education and health are federal subjects everywhere in the world and devolution may result in national disconnect, replied the state minister for education, Balighur Rehman, to which Awami National Party (ANP) Senator Afrasiab Khattak had remarked that they debated the issue for months before devolving it to the provinces through the 18th Amendment. Calling it a federal subject means reverting it to the centre, the legislator said. Rehman and Khattak had also exchanged hot words and the ANP senator had alleged that the current government was trying to retain the education and health ministries.
The official record suggests that the education ministry also assumed the role to coordinate with provinces at least for uniform education system. The minister of state of the education ministry has sent letters to four chief ministers, seeking recommendations from all the provinces regarding the structure and main features of the uniform curriculum authority. The minister is sure if he is not following the spirit of constitution then he is toeing the party’s manifesto for a national curriculum. The minister has urged chief ministers to ensure a uniform standard in syllabus for both public and private schools at all levels across the country.
The letter particularly seeks recommendations on topics like national ideology, common values and maintenance of minimum standards in each subject. The proposed commission for a national curriculum will have representation from all provinces and federal territories. Education secretaries and experts from all provinces would comprise the commission, which will be headed by each province and the federal government on a rotational basis. But so far no headway has been made as the provinces are reluctant to surrender what they earned after extensive democratic dialogue.
[Azam Khan is Islamabad based journalist]