The Pakistan Education Task Force (PETF) began a second phase last week (the first being from 2009-2010) of consulting with the business community, the media, parliamentarians, educationists and civil society across the nation to reignite the fire and initiate an informed debate on how to positively move forward in the current “education emergency”.

Mandated by the Prime Minister of Pakistan in October 2009, and supported by the United Kingdom, the PETF is a national initiative to support the implementation of the new National Education Policy. The PETF recognised Pakistan’s previous failures to implement policy and identified “widening access and raising quality” as overarching priorities. There were seven meetings held over it’s first year, which were co-chaired by Special Assistant to the Prime

Minister on Social Sectors Ms Shahnaz Wazir Ali and former head of the UK Delivery Unit Sir Michael Barber and attended by representatives of all provinces.

Since conception the PETF has endeavoured in facilitating provinces in creating models of school standards and working towards implementing school reform.

Now in 2011, the Prime Minister’s “Year of Education”, the intention is to change the model for an inclusive sustained national-level policy dialogue on strategic issues in the education sector such as education financing, governance, management, performance-based approaches, equity and quality issues in the education sector, etc.

For this purpose, the task force held a series of roundtable discussions over the week taking all stakeholders onboard to create a consensus on education and make it a priority for everyone. These consultations may lead to the formation of a charter on education for Pakistan.

Ms Shahnaz Wazir Ali, said, “The PETF, in its second phase will focus on education advocacy and debate on the national commitment for change.”

Beginning in Islamabad, continuing in Lahore and Karachi, representatives from the business community, parliamentarians, education experts and members from organisations working on education development gave their views on the way forward for education in Pakistan. Attendees included CEO Engro Asad Omer, President HBL Zakir Mahmood, Director British Council, Sindh and Balochistan Syed Mashhood Rizvi and Head, Pakistan Business Council Kamran Mirza, key parliamentarians and government representatives, eminent educationists, civil society representatives and media personnel.

Shahnaz Wazir Ali chaired the meetings and regarded this as the perfect time for such a focused debate on education, amidst the post 18th Amendment scenario and the current economic and societal crises, which are intrinsically linked to the state of education.

The result has been an insightful collection of opinion of where and how to take education forward in Pakistan:

Economist and adviser to the Sindh Chief Minister on Planning and Development Dr Kaiser Bengali emphasised the need to create a system, adding that the primary responsibility of running the state should lie with the elite. “The elite should pressurise the government into taking action.”

Zindagi Trust president Shehzad Roy highlighted the need to upgrade the education already available in schools. This point was echoed by The Citizen’s Foundation (TCF) Trust board member Mian Ahsan Saleem. “Enrolment depends on the quality of the school,” he said, explaining that more people will be attracted towards an improved system.

These viewpoints among others will help shape the future steps for the PETF.

The last consultative meeting engaging stakeholders will take place next week in Islamabad primarily with National Assembly Members. Syed Talat Hussain summed up the new mandate of Task Force-II as “thinking holistically but planning realistically so that the focus remains confined.”

The PETF is also keen to engage with the public on their views. Members of the public can suggest what the priorities for the Pakistan Education Taskforce should be by going to www. pakistaneducationtaskforce.com and sending an email through the “contact us” tab.

The writer works for the British Council