Analyzing the Practicality of the Lifelong Learning Policy in Pakistan
With recession looming and unemployment rising, politicians and economists are trying to find ways of stimulating economic growth. For any country to sustain through these times and to elevate the falling economic frames, it is essential to equip people to deal with it as economic growth is increasingly driven by knowledge, and no country can remain competitive without enabling its people to apply knowledge in all spheres of life (Robbins; 1996). Economic stability needs a new model of education and training, a model of continuous learning; from early childhood through retirement, irrespective of the heterogeneous age, gender and socio-economic backgrounds of a nation (Holford & Griffin; 1998). To keep abreast with the modern world, emphasize on the ability to continuously acquire knowledge, skills and competencies has increased immensely in the developing countries especially after the promotion of Lifelong Learning in Europe, countries beyond Europe are striving hard to promote the trend. Developing countries and countries with transition economies are at a risk of being further marginalized in a competitive global knowledge economy because their education and training systems are not equipping learners with the skills they need today; neither are they preparing for the future. Human resource development contributes to boost the economy; it reduces skill mismatches in the labor market, and ensures a country’s sustainable development (Bhola; 2006).
Sustainable development is integral to sustainable human development, which focuses on the development of the society; beyond the economic aspects only. It focuses on developing people’s capacities throughout their life span; in a way to encourage lifelong learning amongst masses. The advantage of encouraging lifelong learning skills amongst the people of developing and developed countries too is not only to increase production, productivity or economic well-being but rather to elevate the social cultural standards of any nation, enabling people to live a better life, to be aware of their potentials and expand the range of their abilities to do more, to live a better, healthier and more secure life, to be safe from diseases, crime and violence, to apply knowledge for better causes; and enjoy a healthy, affirmative and creative life, in harmony with the changing trends of the world (Perraton; 2000).
In the 21st century; nations need to be lifelong learners, bearing the capacity to adapt continuously to the changing opportunities and the demands of the world. The current education systems followed by developing countries will have to evolve in the new direction of continuous learning. Practically every country has identified providing quality education to all as one of its top national priorities. For this purpose, many countries have already revamped their educational policies and have opted modern ways of teaching and learning. A few developing countries like Philippines, Bulgaria, Ukraine, India, now regard Information and Communication Technology (ICT) integrated teaching and learning as a core ingredient of education practices. The initiation of ICT and the Internet has greatly influenced the way knowledge is delivered now. This has resulted in the development of e-learning, which is considered as a tool for the promotion of lifelong learning skills (DeZure: 2000).
In the developed countries it is the norm for every household to have a computer and practically unlimited and uninterrupted access to the Internet. However, it is certainly a different scenario in the developing countries of the world. With feeble infrastructure, connectivity issues, many countries are finding it difficult to compete in this new e-learning era. Although, in the recent years there had been a substantial enthusiasm and argument regarding the role of ICT in overcoming educational crisis in Pakistan, due to feeble policy, weak governance and limited resources it still faces tremendous challenges towards this notion (OECD; 2006).
This article aims to evaluate the significant reasons for the downfall of lifelong learning through technology integration in Pakistan.
2- E-learning and Lifelong Learning in Pakistan:
Like other developing countries, the policy makers of Pakistan also recognize lifelong learning as a powerful tool for socio-economic development. In 2006 the Ministry of Education (Here after MoE) of Pakistan launched a National ICT Strategy for the Education of Pakistan (Here after NICTSEP) as an off-shoot of the National Education Policy (Here after NEP) 1998 – 2020. Its fundamental objective was to make education accessible for all; irrespective of the age, place and time constraints by adopting ICT integrated learning approach. Although e-learning had already made its way into Pakistan since the initial years of the new millennium, it is seen as a tool for making education accessible for all, especially the marginalized groups in urban areas, e-leaning is a cheaper and more flexible alternative of regular educational opportunities (Dhanarajan, 2001; Bhola, 2006;). However, in Pakistan this approach is constrained to the private education sector only. Except for a few public schools in Sindh which are adopted by Intel for its global program ‘Intel World Ahead’ and have Intel-equipped classrooms with extensive gadgets, the rest of the public schools have so far no substantial access to modern ICT tools.
NICTSEP is the first official lifelong learning policy for Pakistani nation presented by the Government of Pakistan.
2.1 National ICT Strategy for the Education in Pakistan – A Brief Overview
Education is a categorical imperative for individual, socio-economic, and national development. This is the vision that guides the programmes of the Ministry of Education (MoE). We believe that education must enable all individuals to reach their maximum human potential.
In today’s technology-intensive society, we cannot reach this objective without utilizing information and Communications Technology (ICT)
Lt. Gen (R) Javed Ashraf
Federal Minister of Education
Government of Pakistan
The fundamental purpose of NICTSEP was to use technology to provide modern, scalable, cost-effective, and rapid support to Pakistan’s broadening educational needs. The policy was based on the theory that there should be a continuous education for the people of Pakistan irrespective of their age and socio-economic background. The ideology behind drafting the policy was the research proven fact that technology and the skills to use ICT to enhance learning are key to preparing citizens to compete in the 21st century global marketplace (Robbins; 1996).
The objectives of the policy are very fascinating, however the strategy posed to meet these objectives is not sound. When we talk about e-learning and lifelong learning in a country like Pakistan, the feeble infrastructure, rapid demographic changes due to immigration of non-skilled people in the country, changes brought by acute natural catastrophes and weak financial constitution have to be taken in account. Introducing ICT is far more complex than simply distributing hardware among people. There has to be a plan to make e-learning possible and successful beyond the urban areas; into the rural areas where people have not ever seen or used a mobile technology. The national technology literacy rate as per the the statistics presented by Intel- Pakistan and UNICEF- Pakistan in 2007 is 11/100 people in urban areas and 3/100 people in rural areas.
Pakistan’s rural areas with population exceeding 72% of the total population of the country (PCO, 2006), the adult literacy rate of whom is less than 27% (Economic Survey, 2006); even out of this 27% people are unable to participate towards economic stability of the country because of lack of skill development amongst them. There are 163,330 registered schools in the rural areas of Pakistan (MoE) however, many of these schools are not even in operative condition due to low maintenance no teaching staff. In such a situation government policies, should not be a political ploy; with strong foundations they should be laid practically and should have a strategic action plan for successful implementation.
1- Practicality of NICTSEP:
For various reasons, using ICT in an education system of a developing country requires a cautious approach as irrespective of the benefits of e-learning and lifelong learning in the developed countries, there are many challenges and hurdles that need to be overcome in order to enhance the effectiveness of both in a developing country because of different ability groups among people with varying levels of access to infrastructure and diverse personal interests.
NICTSEP offers a uniform strategy to cater all the differences among masses. The six elements of the policy and the challenges to their success are discussed below.
Element 1: Use ICT to extend the reach of educational opportunity
The actions recommended by the document are to first determine the needs of the students, educators, and/or citizens, this leads to the selection of ideal equipment/ ICTs and finally an awareness campaign will be initiated to consciously involve a large number of people in this project.
In making education accessible to all, issues of planning need to be well considered, as the fundamental action defined by NICTSEP is also to draft the content as per the needs of the citizens/ students. According to Gboku and Lekoko (2007) on planning programs in adult education it is essential to be sure of what will interest them. However, in case of NICTSEP, to cater to a nation with heterogeneous skill level the bifurcation of beneficiaries on the basis of content is a humongous task and NICTSEP does not explain a practical framework to do so.
One of the major causes for the failure of this policy is the frail approach towards composing the learning content for various ability groups. The fundamental
Element 2: Apply ICT to strengthen the quality of teaching and educational management
NICTSEP focuses on lifelong learning opportunities for the teachers/ educators too as a stable learning environment will not evolve unless the teachers in service understand and go through lifelong learning ideas and practices (Longworth & Davies 1997:86). However, again for the success of this element, there are no concrete action recommendations given by the document. Continuous professional development is vital to promote lifelong learning opportunities for the educators yet; the challenge for the success of this element is the launching, scrutinization and governance of the strategy across the country.
Pakistan, with 220,885 schools out of which 131,113 are public schools, requires an extensive teacher training as according to a report presented by UNESCO 34 % of the teachers serving in the public schools are untrained and 12 % of the public school teachers are not graduates need tangible framework to work around this element.
Element 3: Employ ICT to enhance student learning
NICTSEP suggests that ICT shall be integrated into schools to support students’ self-paced learning as the technology integrated learning offers students the chances to explore, investigate, reflect, learn social skills (such as collaboration, logical reasoning, and creative expression), and enhance self-esteem (Bhola; 2006). The actions recommended to attain the objective are to reform curriculum guidelines, seek and develop content resources, modify national examination systems and to make learner-centered instruction the focus of learning (Appendix 1: Pg. 7)
The actions recommended for this objective are the sub-objectives; which in their own capacity are a few humongous targets to achieve for a country like Pakistan. There is a vital contrast between the NICTSEP and the National Education Policy (Hereafter NEP). Both the documents do not complement each other. Modifying national examination system, as recommended by the NICTSEP demands a complete modification of NEP.
Element 4: Develop complementary approaches to using ICT in education
NICTSEP suggests to support students and teachers in developing key ICT competencies (like problem-solving and critical thinking skills) by treating ICT as a school subject for this purpose the action recommended by the document is to establish competency based curricula which is raises the opportunities towards self awareness and to develop life skills (Longwoth; 2003)
Most of the private schools of Pakistan follow a customized curriculum. The current curriculum followed by the public schools of Pakistan as planned by the ministry of education, is revised every five years; however there’s hardly a noticeable change. A competency based curriculum is more than only formulating a curriculum, NICTSEP doesn’t suggest who will revise the national curriculum, and how much will it be modified.
Element 5: Build on the current experiences of existing and successful ICT programmes
NICTSEP emphasizes on a continuous evaluation of the strategy by collecting data through feedback. The actions recommended by the documents are to establish an official clearinghouse system to gather and distribute information on effective ICT programmes and to ensure that information from the clearinghouse system reaches stakeholders.
Element 6: Develop capacity at the federal and provincial department of education levels
NICTSEP suggests that for successful implementation of the recommended policies and to flourish Lifelong learning in Pakistan, within the Ministry of Education (MoE), a Technical Implementation Unit should be formed to look after the cause of ICT in Education and advise the Moe. The document also suggests that the Technical Implementation Unit should carry out key functions to advance the mission of MoE.
4. Reasons for the Failure of NICTSEP & Lifelong Learning in Pakistan
Pakistan’s lifelong learning policy is written with emotive mottos and great aims however, it lacks accountability and practicality. It is evident that there is a lack of attention and priorities from government authorities to address the educational needs of the country from preschool children, to adult learners. Despite of NICTSEP, Pakistan still faces the challenge making its sizeable population literate, NICTSEP hardly brought about a positive change in the literacy trends of the country. It is merely a fancy policy with a major disconnect with the NEP 1998 – 2010. The key factors for the collapse of the strategy are discussed below.
4.1 Weak Planning:
NICTSEP lacks sound planning. The document does not identify the stakeholders responsible to make lifelong learning through technology integration possible in Pakistan. Therefore, no one can be held accountable but the Ministry of Education. The team members to implement an extensive project are not identified neither is any other department nominated to do so.
NICTSEP does not clarify where, when and how the adult learners will be trained. The document does not explain the process of registration, the role of teacher mentors and the administration in adult learning.
The document does not pay sufficient focus on questions like how will a population of exceeding 166,000, 000 will be divided into ability groups, how many ability groups will they be divided into?
There are no guidelines for developing the learning content. NICTSEP only gives an overview of the targets that the country may achieve through e-learning approach; it lacks all the fundamental underpinnings of a planned educational policy.
4.2 Feeble Resource Management:
Given the magnitude of the task involved, NICTSEP does not pay adequate attention to the resource management. Resources, in terms of hardware and human resources, are scarce in a Pakistan. The available resources; in terms of finances, hardware, accessibility and human resource are not taken in account. NICTSEP focuses on online collaborative learning for masses, however, there had been no budget sanctioned for the allocation of hardware in the public schools and no financial supplement is proposed by the NICTSEP or NEP 1998 – 2010.
NICTSEP disregards the vital issues like training of the involved tutors and provision of standardized number of suggested ICT tools for each school
For a country like Pakistan, where 615,000 families were displaced after the earthquake in 2008 and more than a million displaced after the devastating floods in 2010, people do not have access to the basic facilities of life and accessing an online lifelong learning program without any scheme is not a fascinating idea.
4.3 Lack of Strategic Timeline:
NICTSEP gives no timeline to any target. Planning of an online training content, allocation of essential resources, pre-project training of the involved teachers, registration and establishment of the lifelong learning units in the country; have been given no time frame marginalizing the significance and accountability of the strategy.
4.4 Contrasting Policies:
The fundamental objective of the NEP 1998 – 2010 is to enable the citizens of Pakistan to lead their lives according to the teachings of Islam as laid down in the Qur’an and Sunnah and to educate and train them as a true practicing Muslim. NEP 1998 – 2010 suggests that computers shall be introduced in secondary schools in a phased manner and secondary school curricula shall be revised in a way that it includes recent developments in information technology for learning purposes (MoE; 1998)
NICTSEP, is a sharp contrast to the targets of NEP 1998 – 2010 which maintains no focus and no budget allocation for adult learning opportunities.
4.5 Accessibility & Connectivity Issues
Pakistan is facing acute power shortage crises. On account of which the citizens had faced more than 18 hours of electricity failure in the initial months of year 2010. The ratio of the availability of a domestic computer in Pakistan is 2:35. In a country where 24% of the population is below poverty line, access to the Internet is not easy. Therefore, either the Government of Pakistan takes the responsibility of establishing learning centers fully equipped with the essential resources required for an easy access to the online learning programs.
Education is an ongoing process to survive through continuous change. It is the most direct means of intervening positively in the human element in development, providing the individuals with the means of personal development, and the nation with the opportunity of integrating individuals into society…reviewing, revising and redesigning current practices to present better is the key to live through the impulsive future.
Successful lifelong learning through employing NICTSEP requires a change in the syllabi, teaching approach, teaching content; precisely, a complete paradigm shift is necessary to bring about this change.
A few recommendations in this regard are discussed below.
5.1 Characterizing Users:
NICTSEP is a standardized policy for the whole nation therefore before developing the content; it is of pivotal importance to characterize the users. Since NICTSEP emphasizes on an e-learning approach, skill-based or access-based differentiation of the users can help develop a promising content.
5.2 Defining Clear Objectives:
NICTSEP is a humongous project; being a standardized policy for the whole country its successful implementation requires distributive leadership; a team of representatives working in collaboration with each other and responsible for their own domains. Therefore defining clear learning objectives is very important.
5.3 Continuous Content Planning:
For successful lifelong learning the content should be planned, evaluated and re-planned continuously.Planning an online lifelong learning content is a continuous cycle which is explained well by the Product Development Cycle, adapted from the Australian Flexible Learning Framework (Australian National Training Authority; 2001)
5.4 Resource Management:
For the success of an extensive project like NICTSEP, a policy to manage resources in terms of finances, inventory, human skills, production and information technology is essential. For effective resource management it is essential that NEP and NICTSEP depict collaborative trends.
NICTSEP should propose suitable venues for continuous adult learning and also explain the system of resource deployment to avoid any future ambiguities.
For a proposal like NICTSEP; meticulous and incessant, assistance from national and international NGOs can also be taken. Volunteer parties can be taken on board to enhance the human resource and the financial support.
5.5 Continuous Evaluation:
The establishment of a council to supervise the effectiveness of NICTSEP will spur the success of the proposed recommendations. A regular and continuous evaluation of the national strategy will enable the stakeholders to timely bring the desired. Instead of long term evaluation, evaluation of benchmarks can determine the success of the policy.
Whilst valuing and recognizing the proven advantages associated with lifelong learning, as a nation with large population, destruction caused by frequent natural disasters, weak economy and prevailing law and order situation in the country Pakistan is faced with the great challenges on giving lifelong learning opportunities to the people across the country.
As a realistic solution, the policy must focus and address indigenous issues in the form of localization rather than promoting globalization. The lifelong learning policy should be redesigned with a democratic and participatory approach in collaboration with the NEP by the Ministry of Education and Ministry of Information & Communication Technology. It is essential that the policy focuses on manageable target audience and can be further elaborated for an extensive number of users. Lifelong learning through ICT in Pakistan requires time, extensive human resource and training to be introduced successfully on a massive scale. Initially, such an effort should aim to strengthen the links between the educational framework and the labor market prevailing in the country to prevent the rapidly increasing ratio of unemployment in the country.
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