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Education remains the sufferer in the power game of devolution and decentralisation

The ways in which public primary and secondary education is financed and delivered varies greatly throughout the world. Many developing countries and countries in transition to market economies have highly centralised government administrations of education and other public services. During the 1990s and early twenty-first century, many of these countries began to decentralise education. This phenomenon proceeded fastest in Latin America and Eastern Europe, but several countries in Asia and Africa also began initiating decentralization policies.

Education in Pakistan is still emerging as a result of poor public allocation, experimentation in delivery methods, nationalization followed by privatization, poor management of the sector and now devolution.

The educational mission of Pakistan is on a collision course with politics.  The 18thAmendment in constitution of Pakistan passed by the National Assembly on April 8, 2010 did not require a complete abolition of the Federal Ministry of Education according to experts. It only stopped the federal government from undertaking any legislation relating to education.

With far-reaching implications for education, the syllabus, curriculum, policy, planning and standards of education are likely to fall under the purview of the provinces, hence raising a big question mark over the capacity of provinces to handle such a big challenge. The Ministry of Education could have been retained as a platform for the provinces to share views and harmonise their policies pertaining to larger national academic interests in support of primary and secondary education.

Devolution  in  Pakistan  is  occurring  in  the broad  context  of low educational attainment,  poor coverage and highly unequal access – across income  groups, between  urban  and  rural populations. The major issues and challenges include high dropout rate, wide spread teacher absenteeism, weak management and supervision structure, shortage of trained and qualified teachers, lack of teachers dedication, motivation and interest in their profession and lack of physical infrastructure and facilities.

Devolution has increased the social and political complexities in the form of language, curriculum uniformity, teacher training, capacity building, monitoring and assessments. For example provincial authorities are given  responsibility for the curriculum but their  freedom of action is limited by national requirements dictating the minimum standards students  must meet to move up to the next level.

To add to the complexity, policies on the whole are ramshackle compromises, hit and miss affairs that are revised, twiddled with, refined and enacted through complex processes of influence, text production, dissemination and ultimately, re-creation in contexts of practice.

The public education system is unable to meet the demand for education resulting in a decrease in enrolment in public schools. The relationship between province and districts is not very cordial on some unresolved matters such as finance, school curriculum, student’s assessment and teacher training.

Non-availability of funds makes it difficult for education managers working at the district level to take clear decisions. Officials working at the district level are hesitant to take decisions, particularly for allocating resources among schools due to lack of guidance for allocation of funds to schools. There is no formula for distribution of funds for developmental activities which is having a direct impact on quality of education

The provision of quality education is the responsibility of the provincial government while the district governments have been assigned the task of identifying development indicators and on-ground implementation within the given structure. But the linkage between the provincial and district government in certain areas still remains weak.

There is even some ambiguity about the role and responsibilities among DCO/ EDO and other officers which is creating frustration among the officers. There is a mismatch between officers and job descriptions. By changing the titles of government officials, one cannot change their mindsets and beliefs that seem to be passive resistant in sharing their power with other key decision-makers. It is a universal fact that there can be people who may be good teachers but may not be good managers. The majority of these officers do not have the experience and technical skills to deal with planning, financial management and implementation, monitoring and development of schemes. To sum up, there is simply delegation of responsibilities without any authority.

At the opposite end of the governance spectrum, centralised decisions had by and large, not proven to be poor ones. Measures that are the product of unwieldy and disconnected systems accomplish very little. Ultimately, educational change requires coherence and stability and at present, education remains a sufferer in the power game of ‘devolution’ and ‘decentralisation ’.

Even if local authorities are given the exclusive right to take initiative on educational matters, a certain level of control may still remain at the centre. The best strategy for the legislature is not to cede complete control to local authorities.

The federation should act as a catalyst and facilitator for the service delivery of quality education, especially within the scope of curriculum, policy, review, text books, publishing, teaching and learning standards, training, evaluation, assessments, donor and stakeholder management and educational capacities.

Limiting  the  powers  of local  authorities  may  influence  their  willingness  to undertake  new  functions. Nevertheless, such  a  restriction  may  be  justified as the  local  bodies  are inexperienced and if they fail to perform  the  newly assigned  functions  correctly,  the  central federal authority  would  be  allowed  to neutralise and override  their powers.

Effective collaboration and coordination between federation, provincial government and the district governments would serve as a building block towards effective implementation of educational reforms. Shared distribution of power may affect local accountability and efficiency.

If decision-making capacity is awarded exclusively to local bodies with the centre supervising them, accountability may be enhanced.  On  the  other  hand, shared responsibilities  may  promote  efficiency  and  consistency  if  the central authority  can  better  the  process  or if local  bodies  are  not  ready to  assume full  responsibility.

The new economy is the digital economy; this economy is based on knowledge workers and knowledge products. To reach this  level,  the  devolution  plan must be  supported through making necessary adjustments  and  demarcating  the roles  and responsibilities  of  each  tier  of  government. Thus, effective power devolution in education is possible by improving educational services and strengthening accountability.

Today Pakistan needs to carefully asses and monitor both the process and outcomes of education devolution in order to identify and implement best practices. While it is relatively easy to monitor intermediate measures of outcome, enrollment rates, teacher attendance, expenditures per pupil etc., it is equally important to monitor processes, community participation, decision making practices, the flow of funds, etc., in order to be able to interpret both unusually good and unusually bad performance. There is no institutionalized mechanism at present, at any level of the government, which attempts to do this evaluation, monitoring, accountability and to systematically identify the best practice into the design and implementation of the education policy.

To conclude, we need to construct a long term plan sustainable of education, training and awareness to gradually develop a new culture which sustains tolerance for the devolution of power. But the problems arising from local-centre relations can instantly be solved provided that will and wisdom are in place.

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