Written by: Ghulam Fatima
“Seeking knowledge is an obligation upon every Muslim.” – Prophet Muhammad (Peace Be Upon Him)
Islam lays a great emphasis on seeking knowledge. The first revelation of the Holy Quran begins with the word “Read”. Prophet Muhammad ﷺ set free the prisoners of the Battle of Badr on the condition that they were to teach 10 Muslims how to read and write, and this teaching was to count as their ransom.
All the rightly guided caliphs of Islam made special arrangements for the education of Muslims during their respective regimes. Education is a key to a progressive nation. The world has witnessed that only those nations succeed who use education as a tool for progress and development.
PTI Government’s Focus on Education
Ever since the PTI government came into power, they are trying to live up to their manifesto of the 2018 Election campaign, especially in terms of education. The standard of education at the National University of Modern Languages (NUML) reflects how much importance Prime Minister Imran Khan accords to education. Prime Minister Khan always emphasizes the importance of education in his speeches.
As in his maiden speech as premier, he said, “His government’s utmost effort would be to improve the provision of education in the public schools.” He frequently mentions the students enrolled in madrassas, and highlights, in his addresses, his will, and policy for mainstreaming them. Chief Minister of Punjab Usman Buzdar and Punjab Education Minister Dr. Murad Raas, following Imran Khan’s vision of education, have formulated policies and taken initiatives to provide quality education to the citizens of Punjab.
Punjab’s Education Policy
In February 2019, Chief Minister Usman Buzdar announced a five-year education policy for Punjab titled, “The New Deal 2018-2023” for transforming school education with an aim to improve — improve learning, access, retention and equity, and overall governance. The Chief Minister, while introducing this policy, said that this policy would end the class system in education and would provide equal opportunities to the students living in distant and backward areas. The main objective of this policy is to enroll the estimated 4.8 million out-of-school children.
To deliver quality education in schools, a number of initiatives have been taken.
Firstly, a Classroom Observation Tool (COT) is being exercised to collect data on 11 teaching practices associated with improved learning outcomes.
Secondly, for the comprehensibility of students, Urdu has been introduced as the language of instruction at the primary level, whereas English will be taught as a language subject.
Thirdly, the Taleem Ghar program has facilitated remote learning for students of Class 1-8 through YouTube and a television channel.
Fourthly, the first-ever transgender school has been opened in Punjab.
Fifthly, Danish Schools which were not accessible to all students earlier, are now been opened for every student.
Sixthly, the establishment of the Insaaf Afternoon School program, an economical initiative, is catering to the high retention of students as well as the lack of school buildings, encouraging more students to attend schools.
Seventhly, the up-gradation of 1227 schools from elementary to higher secondary has been completed. Eighthly, 110 Model Schools, 2000 new classrooms, 1000 Science and IT labs, and 400 libraries have been established under the Punjab School Construction & Rehabilitation Program (PSCRP).
Welfare and Education for Special Children
For the first time in Punjab, the government is paying exceptional attention to the welfare, and education, and training of special children. In this regard, the Government of Punjab has taken several initiatives so that such children may also avail themselves of opportunities of acquiring education and becoming financially independent in order to contribute to the development of Pakistan.
Rs. 755 million have been allocated to the Department of Special Education in the ongoing fiscal year. Collectively, in these three years of the PTI government in Punjab, 14 institutions for special education have been upgraded and 17 new buildings have been constructed for establishing Special Education Centers in different districts of Punjab, including Gujranwala, Attock, Faisalabad, Sialkot, and others.
As many as 13 new Special Education Centers and 2 Special Degree Colleges have been established in Sargodha and Dera Ghazi Khan respectively. The Department of Special Education initiated a door-to-door admission campaign in 2021, which resulted in the admission of 4,000 special children. Moreover, for the establishment of Special Education Village in Sharaqpur, the government has approved a land of 104 Kanals at a cost of Rs. 500 million, where stay, food, and recreational facilities will be available to special children free of cost.
Besides, a facility of 63 buses will be provided to Special Education Centers for easy mobilization of special students free of cost. CCTV cameras will be installed in these buses for the protection of special children. A helpline (1162) has been set up for counseling and resolving complaints of parents and caregivers of special children.
More Budget Allocated for Education
Keeping in view the importance of higher education, development funds of Rs. 15 billion have been allocated in the budget, which is 285 percent more compared to the fund allocated in the last year. The Government of Punjab is establishing new universities in every district of Punjab to promote higher education. Six universities have already been established.
Moreover, approval has been given for the establishment of universities in eight districts of Punjab, including Attock, Gujranwala, Pakpattan, Hafizabad, Rajanpur, Bhakkar, Layyah, and Sialkot, whereas for the next fiscal year, it has been proposed that seven universities will be established in Bahawalnagar, Toba Tek Singh, Muzaffargarh, D. G. Khan, Kasur, and Sheikhupura.
This year, a world-class engineering and technology university is being set up in Sialkot at a total cost of Rs. 16.60 billion, which reflects the science- and education-friendly policies of the Chief Minister. This engineering university will be a significant milestone in the field of engineering and technical education.
New Colleges and Development Schemes
Besides, 27 colleges have been established in three years of the Punjab Government, and it has proposed to set up 86 new colleges in the next fiscal year under the leadership of Usman Buzdar. Four-year BS programs have been started in 201 colleges, whereas the Associate Degree programs are being introduced, phasing out the two-year BA/BSc degree. New, the development schemes for this fiscal year 2021-2022 for higher education include approval of two new schemes for the provision of facilities in the existing public sector colleges at a cost of Rs. 1.1 billion.
These schemes include the launching of the Chip Designing Tools project for the first time in the universities of Punjab; introduction of new subjects according to the modern requirements and market demand to enhance the skills of students in colleges; introduction of Relative Grading System in Intermediate Board, and others.
Improvement in Global University Rankings
Thanks to the government’s excellent strategy and education-friendly policies, the ranking of Pakistani universities has improved significantly. The QS Asia ranking of the Punjab universities, which stood at the 11th position in 2018, shows them standing 6th in 2021. Similarly, the QS World University Ranking that put the Punjab universities at 5th in 2018 put them now at 3rd in 2021. Similarly, the Impact Ranking which was 21 in 2018 is now 3 in 2021.
For the facilitation of school teachers, the Punjab Government has launched an online information system known as Human Resource Management for the transfer, appointment, and other administrative matters. This is an innovative system that is helping improve school education departments by developing an e-transfer system for public school teachers across Punjab. Teachers can easily know all their data in just one click with the help of such an efficient data management system that was not possible in the past.
Single National Curriculum
The Single National Curriculum (SNC), which is a fabulous initiative of the PTI government, reflects the vision of PM Imran Khan about Naya Pakistan and was included in the manifesto of the PTI government during its 2018 Election Campaign. The Prime Minister always expresses his desire that students belonging to the poor class and Madrassas should also study the same syllabus as elite students in his addresses. “This was my vision for last 25 years that one day in Pakistan we will have a single core curriculum for the whole country,” said the PM while addressing the SNC launch ceremony.
Pursuing the vision of PM Imran Khan, the Punjab Government enforced Phase I of the Single National Curriculum in all public and private schools as well as seminaries of Punjab for classes 1 to 5 on August 2, 2021. Punjab Education Minister Dr. Murad Raas said the SNC would eliminate the societal division in the private and public education sector and will create equal opportunities for all the students of the country while briefing the media. For teaching SNC, training of teachers has been started and around 50 percent of trainers have been inducted from the private sector.
Key Features of Single National Curriculum
Some of the key features of SNC include teachings of Quran and Sunnah, Vision of Iqbal and Quaid, emerging international trends in teaching, learning and assessment, outcome-based approach, focus on values, Life Skill-Based and Inclusive Education, Respect and appreciation for different cultures and religions in the local and global context, promotion of intellectual, spiritual, aesthetic, emotional, social and physical development of learners, move away from rote memorization and focus on project, Inquiry, and Activity Based Learning, use of Information and Communication Technology (ICT), and Alignment with trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS).
The Punjab Government, under the leadership of CM Sardar Usman Buzdar, initiated Rahmatul lil Alameen ﷺ scholarship for deserving and talented Inter and Undergraduate students and in this regard, allotted funds of 1 billion rupees. Annually, 14,891 students will be awarded scholarships. Intermediate students will be awarded 25 thousand rupees. Rehmatul Lil Alameen ﷺ Chair is established in divisional universities along with the provision of scholarships for research on the blessed life of Holy Prophet ﷺ. The objective of such an initiative is to inculcate interest among students in acquiring higher education.
In a nutshell, the Punjab Government under the leadership of CM Sardar Usman Buzdar is striving for delivering quality education at primary, secondary, and tertiary levels. Above mentioned initiatives are a step in the right direction for making Punjab the most literate province of Pakistan. Compared to the past governments, the PTI government in Punjab is not only making promises for delivering quality education to all students, regardless of their socioeconomic background, but they are also taking practical steps and ensuring equal opportunities for all students.