The PML-N’s manifesto says that ‘Education must be number one national priority.’ And the PTI and PPP manifestos also accord similar importance to education.
There is also recognition of the need for urgent action in the field of education. Two of the manifestos mention the need for having an ‘education emergency’, while the third expresses similar urgency but without using these words.
All three of them promise substantial increases in outlays on education over the five years of their government, if they do come to power. The PML-N promises to raise expenditures on education to 4 per cent of GDP, the PPP will raise them to 4.5 per cent while the PTI, if it comes to power, will raise education outlays to 5 per cent of GDP by the end of their five years of government.
All the parties believe in universal enrollment as an essential goal, but they refrain from making explicit promises as to when universality will be achieved and to what level.
Beyond this point the policies begin to diverge. The PPP and the PML-N have been in power for the last five years. They feel compelled to defend some of the choices, right or wrong, made over this period and want to expand and universalise the ambit of some of these policies. The PPP wants to do conditional cash transfers for education, especially for the ultra poor, through the Benazir Income Support Programme. The PML-N promises to set up Daanish schools across the country. They also want to replicate the endowment fund model for scholarships for talented students across Pakistan.
The PTI has not been in power and has been, in a way, preparing for this election for the longest period. It has the deepest, most developed and coherent policy vision for education. It takes the trouble of identifying all of the major issues we face in the sector and then goes into a lot of detail to explain what it proposes to do. One can take issue with their understanding of the problems, the proposed solutions or the implementation mechanisms that they propose ‘and one should’ but there is no denying the work and effort that must have gone into identifying the issues in such detail and proposing solutions.
For example, the medium of instruction debate is a major issue. The PML-N chose to solve it, in Punjab, by simply declaring English as the medium of instruction for all publicschools without any preparation, discussion or debate. And now the topic is not mentioned or explained in its manifesto. The PPP also does not address the issue.
The PTI not only talks of why the issue is important and problematic in any multicultural, multilingual society, it also provides a solution: Urdu and/or the mother tongue to be the medium of instruction till grade VIII and then a switch to English, while English will also be taught as a subject from the beginning. One can argue whether the switch should happen earlier or later and ask what the role of the mother tongue may be (there are 40 plus languages/dialects spoken in Pakistan) versus Urdu. But at least the issue has been given its due in the manifesto and debate can occur around it.
On the whole it is heartening to see some agreement between the parties on a) the importance of getting the education policy right, and b) spending more in the area. If a coalition government is formed, this overlap might become a basis for working out a broader consensus in this area. But detailed policies for this consensus will still need to be worked out as not only are the proposals in the manifestos generally weak, there is less agreement over them as well. But the real test will be whether the public is able to hold the parties accountable for the promises they are making in their respective manifestos.