Decentralization and Devolution:
Educational Implications of the
Decentralization and Devolution: Educational Implications of the
Pakistan has a diverse ethnic population of 142 million people, with 32.2 percent people
living below the poverty line (I-PRSP, 2001). It is a federation with four provinces and
four federally administered territories1. For three decades the country experienced a
process of increasing centralization in decision-making, resource management and
service delivery. During that period, governments were set up under Islamic Socialism,
martial law, experiments with democracy by eight governments, and another military
take over. Democratic institutions and service delivery eroded at each reconstruction of
the state. To offset poor governance, a process of devolution has been initiated through
establishment of local governments across Pakistan. The principle of inclusion through
political decentralization was meant to provide institutional entitlements for voice and
action. Direct elections were held at the union council level (encompassing a population
of 25,000, covering 5-7 villages or more settlements) in 2000 for 21 representatives. As
the result of a countywide mobilization drive thirty-three percent seats were reserved for
women, an unprecedented accomplishment in Pakistan‟s history. In addition, six seats
were set-aside for workers and peasants and one for a representative of a minority group.
The latest attempt at decentralized governance and local government has
ironically been implemented under the supervision of the military, which abruptly ended
civilian rule on October 12, 1999. In the enterprise of state survival, the military and
bureaucracy have taken turns as major and minor partners (Siddiqui 2001). Seeking
legitimation through local government has been a recurrent pattern adopted by the
military, as evidenced in Pakistan’s history. In 1959, Field Marshall Ayub Khan passed
the Basic Democracies Order for Local Government reforms, devolving representation to
the village level to serve as an electoral college. In 1979 the local Government
Ordinance was promulgated by General Zia ul Haq to activate local government. That
moves followed Bhutto’s experiment with Islamic Socialism in which nationalization led
Provinces: Sindh, Balochistan, Punjab and NWFP. Federal Areas: Federally Administered Tribal Areas
(FATA), Northern Areas (NA), Azad Jammu & Kashmir (AJK) and Islamabad Capital Territory (ICT).
to centralization and dilution of local councils. In 1999, the National Reconstruction
Bureau (NRB) was set up as a central authority to formulate and implement devolution
under the Local Government Plan (LGP). The NRB devised the Devolution Plan in 2000
and by August 2001 all district governments were in place, mediated by sub-district and
union council teams and headed by district, sub-district and union council nazims
(mayors). The LGP adhered to the principle of moving comprehensive authority to
autonomous units as conceived by NRB.
It is within the framework of political decentralization that education
decentralization is located. All modes of decentralization (deconcentration, delegation,
devolution and privatization) currently operate within the devolution design under
implementation. The praetorian initiative is not coincidental. The martial guardians have
intervened four times since 1947 for prolonged periods, taking over civil society‟s
management and restructuring of the Republic of Pakistan for protection of its best
interests. The praetorian imperative to bring civil order and reform logically flows from
the military‟s urgent need to seek legitimacy for intervention in dysfunctional democratic
processes, where accountability had been severely undermined and policies had become
anti-development and anti-people. The recent drive towards decentralization through a
comprehensive devolution design has implications for efficient and equitable service
The decentralization story in Pakistan in its recent carnation is a complex one. It
merits a narrative that locates the problem in a wider evolving political context. This
chapter has five major sections. Section I covers the context for decentralization in
Pakistan. Sections II highlight the key features of the Education Sector Reforms Action
Plan 2001-2005 and responses to devolution. Section IV, focuses on the emergent public
private partnerships and the new policy environment to address equity. Finally, emerging
mechanisms for financing decentralization are addressed in Section V.
I. Background: Contextualizing Decentralization in Pakistan
The need for decentralization in education was initially discussed as a strategy
for meeting Education For All goals after the government of Pakistan sought
recommendations from the UN Inter-Agency experts in 1995 (UN Mission 1995; PMSP,
1997; Department of Education, Punjab 2000). The UN Inter-Agency mission statement
articulated the need for education reforms in this area and suggested:
Moving the organization and management structure of basic education from one
of a highly centralized and government –managed operation to one that supports a
true partnership of the government, communities, non-governmental
organizations and private sector and brings more of the decision making to the
schools/villages and the districts.
(UN Inter-Agency Mission, 1995, p. 2)
However, an institutional approach to administrative decentralization, as suggested by the
UN Mission, was bypassed. Instead, the focus was on the creation of School
Management Committees/PTAs for local governance in education at the school level. In
some provinces, elaborate analyses of comprehensive decentralization were undertaken
(NWFP and Punjab 1997; 1998). In Punjab, active measures for creating “district
education authorities” were taken, but implementation was ad hoc (Department of
Education, Government of Punjab, 1997 and 1999). The piecemeal interpretation of
decentralization was clearly not sufficient to produce tangible results. Responsibility and
authority were not always aligned and decision rights remained centralized at the
Public sector shortfalls in education, in spite of 160,000 government institutions
(ESR, 2002), led to the emergence of a robust private sector. It is estimated that the
private sector provides 28 percent of all education in Pakistan, with this number rising to
more than 40 percent in urban areas (World Bank, 2001; FBS, 2001). From a completely
nationalized and closed system of 1970s, the government incrementally adopted a laissez
faire approach towards private sector, NGO, and community initiatives. This provided
multiple spaces to multiple partners. The stage has been set for various individuals and
groups in Pakistan with a vested interest in education to form partnerships that address
the delivery gap in education. The policy environment, emerging institutional
arrangements, financing, and partnerships in education present a unique and
comprehensive opportunity for education. Improving education service delivery is
therefore one of the core objectives of this comprehensive exercise.
In Pakistan, the devolution exercise is underway against such a complex
backdrop. The country has been engulfed in prolonged legitimacy and fiscal crises.
These are embedded in the history of the state, which has in turn triggered the crises of
democracy, participation and distribution (Ahmed, 1998). The current praetorian set up
aims to put in place “good governance” and in turn create legitimacy for its actions.
There have been four broad responses to the multiple crises of the state which
were initiated simultaneously soon after October 12, 1999. The four concurrent strands
1. Economic revival through debt rescheduling, macro-economic reform, and
2. Poverty alleviation as set out in the Interim Poverty Reduction Paper (I-
PRSP). The strategies for achieving this include governance reforms, revival
of the economy, asset creation, social safety nets, and improved human
3. Good governance through social sector reforms, including the Education
Sector Reforms (ESR) Action Plan 2001-2004.
4. Political reform through devolution, as outlined in the Local Government Plan
2000, which calls for the devolution of decision making powers to local
Handpicked task forces designed the above initiatives. These comprised of a cross-
section of experts drawn from civil society and government in the last quarter of 1999.
By 2001, these programs were fully integrated in the I-PRSP2, which has become the
macro policy, program performance and resource mobilization document for the
Government of Pakistan.
I-PRSP, although homegrown, is a pre-requisite to qualify for IMF‟s Poverty Reduction Growth Facility
(PRGF), the replacement to Structural Adjustment Program (SAP).
II. Education Sector Reforms – Action Plan 2001-2004
The state of the provision of education in Pakistan has frequently been critiqued
in studies, surveys, and site reports. Those assessments emphasize that a lack of demand
is not at issue; instead, problems relate to the sub-optimal quality and quantity of the
education supplied (Kardar, 1996; Gazdar, 1999; Khan, et.al, 1999;MSU 2001). In
December 1999, a National Education Advisory Board was created and given the
responsibility of outlining measures for improving education at all levels. In July 2000,
the Board presented a list of proposed education sector reforms to the President (then
Chief Executive) as an action plan.
The Education Sector Reforms Action Plan 2001-2005 was designed through an
inclusive strategy of mobilizing private sector and civil society partners, reinforcing the
idea that the government should not serve as the sole provider of education.
Contributions from these partners included innovative approaches and resources for
meeting demands for public goods, such as, education, health, sanitation, and security.
The ESR is an action plan rather than a new education policy3. It focuses on universal
primary education, literacy, technical education at the secondary and post secondary
levels, madrassahs (religious schools), higher education, and quality across all sectors.
The plan is anchored in sector-wide framework, public-private partnerships (PPP), and
poverty reduction through education entitlements. The Education Sector Reforms (ESR)
highlights the state‟s responsibility to reach out when private sector options are
inaccessible to the poor. There is also an implicit acceptance “quality education for all”
must be regarded as a fundamental human right.
All institutional and financial arrangements for implementation of the ESR must
be negotiated within the recently installed devolution plan. The district governments,
which have been in operation since August 14, 2001, are currently undergoing a
transition phase, adjusting to new rules of business within district-based realities. The
ESR programs pertaining to all sub-sectors up to the secondary and college levels must
now be implemented through district government mechanisms. This is a radical shift
from previous arrangements whereby all decision making was settled at provincial
The latest Education Policy in operation is that of 1998-2010.
headquarters. Devolution thus carries major implications for education with new
arrangements at national and sub-national levels.
Key institutional characteristics of devolution are outlined in the Local
Government Plan 2000, with the legal operational framework. The four provinces also
follow their own governance documents, called the Local Government Ordinances 2001,
approved by their respective cabinets, which detail roles and responsibilities at all tiers.
The devolution plan is a comprehensive attempt to restore legitimacy to the state through
a bottom up system of governance by mobilizing civil society through direct elections at
the union council level, the tier closest to the beneficiaries. It is conceived as a
counterpoint to the colonial structures where bureaucracy and local governments were
juxtaposed in an adversarial hierarchy.
The Local Government design is based on five fundamentals: Devolution of power,
decentralization of administrative authority, deconcentration of management functions,
diffusion of power-authority nexus, and distribution of resources to the district level. It
is designed to ensure that the genuine interests of the people are served and their rights
safeguarded. A coherent integration of these principles and application in various sectors
is a major challenge. (NRB, 2000: 1)
Elections for local governments were undertaken from December 2000 and the
process was completed in July 2001 in 97 districts. Councilors, nazims (mayors), and
naib nazims (deputy mayors) have all been elected. In all districts, governments are now
organized around political and administrative teams. According to the devolution
manual, the Local Government Ordinance, and the District Rules of Business, each
district is composed of eleven departments that function as separate entities. Each of
these departments (including education, literacy, and information technology) is managed
by an Executive District Officer (EDO). Like all EDOs, the EDO-Education’s line
managers are, the District Coordination Office (DCO) as the direct administrative head
and the district mayor or Nazim as the political head. The federally administered areas
are awaiting devolution transformations. The EDO must also respond to the demands of
his/her provincial line department manager, or the Secretary of Education.
Structures and Functions
Education decentralization in Pakistan is evolving as a negotiated and iterative
process, aligned with new national directions. Decentralization, as stated earlier, is not
merely confined to the education departments of the provinces and district governments
but is part of macro level efforts for civil service and fiscal reform. Both personnel and
resources have been devolved to the local level to improve decision-making. This
exercise may be seen as a gigantic “architectural effort” of decentralization, whereby
form must follow the function of people-centered development.
On January 24, 2002, the President of Pakistan, addressing the Pakistan Human
Development Forum, expressed his political will for good governance and the role of
education in national reconstruction. The President enunciated three gradations of
change: improvement, reform and restructuring. Pakistan, he stated, has opted for the
latter. He was categorical in his view that Pakistan’s future lies in its ability to
restructure for human development, stating, “Human development is the anchor of my
economic revival policy, which will focus on education, health, and poverty alleviation”
(President of Pakistan, January 19, 2002).
The colonial administrative pyramid guided by the paradigm of bureaucratic
control for managing dissent and mobilizing resources, consisted of well-structured
geographical tiers. The colonial arrangements persisted for fifty-four years in Pakistan.
Pre-Devolution –Administration Post –Devolution
Classical Pyramid Flattening
Province Provincial Government
District Union Council
Citizen Community Boards
As Figure I illustrates, the Local Government Plan 2000 for devolution eliminated
“Division” and “Markaz” from the administrative hierarchy, mediating the tiers within
the district by Village /Neighborhood Councils, Citizen Community Boards and
PTAs/SMCs. Whilst the latter two are emerging and ongoing, the Village/Neighborhood
councils have yet to be formed.
In 2000, the Ministry of Education (MOE) approached the National
Reconstruction Bureau (NRB) with a list of concerns to be addressed in the devolution
plan (MOE, 2000). That list included the following issues: protecting the budgets for
education in district government; establishing mechanisms for implementing the
Compulsory Primary Education Acts; integrating special needs within Education
Departments; rethinking the separation of the education and literacy departments, and
declaring the SMCs/PTAs as legal identities (MOE, 2000). Although not all of the
proposals advocated by the MOE were adopted, some significant changes were made.
For example, matters related to special needs were placed under the jurisdiction of the
Department of Education and the NRB agreed in principal to legally designate the
SMCs/PTAs as Citizen Community Boards (CCBs). Some of the key contrasts between
pre- and post-devolution structures are outlined below:
Fiscal, Planning, Administrative and Personnel Arrangements in
Pre & Post Devolution Periods
Pre-Devolution Post Devolution
Fiscal centralization, federal level Fiscal decentralization to provincial & district
levels in a phased manner over 3 years.
Planning centralized to federal level Planning decentralized at district level
Administrative centralization at provincial level Administrative powers devolved to district level
Administrative powers with Commissioners and Elected Representative, Nazim(Mayor) as head,
District Commissioners at Divisional and District assisted by a bureaucrat, DCO & 11 Departments.
Planning, posts & transfers with line departments & planning decisions/targets at district & Union
Secretaries at provincial headquarters. Council levels. Positings up to scale 15/18.
Provincial cadres – District level up to District based cadres emerging for local transfers
Scale 9 (Primary level Teachers) & postings up to Scale 20. Current responsibility
for postings & transfer up to Scale 15.
Training or Human Resource Development Training is still centrally managed by at provincial
level the provincial level, but efforts under ESR to
Revive district level training institutions to serve
HRD and capacity building needs.
The traditional offices of the education departments remained more or less intact at the
tiers that have survived devolution, such as district, sub-district and union council.
However, as a result of the formation of district governments many new officers have
been added to the district government level for the subjects that have been devolved. In
urban areas the departments of education under municipal authorities have been merged
as one under district governments. Administrative decentralization followed political
decentralization. New organizational structures have been designed. The functions and
responsibilities at different levels have been articulated. Assets and facilities were
reassigned and put in place. Staff assignments are also in process. New functions and
responsibilities for different levels have been developed.
In terms of implementation, there are provincial differences, administrative issues
and personnel matters that will need attention in due course. For example, there has been
a lack of uniformity among provinces with respect to the implementation of certain
provisions. Due to a lack of skilled personnel, many provinces are having difficulty
finding enough skilled staff members to carry out the functions and responsibilities
recently assigned to them. These problems need to be revisited by the provincial
governments soon after completion of the transition phase of devolution. In the
workshops held in 2001, field practitioners expressed numerous concerns about problems
they felt were inevitable. Those concerns are outlined in Table III below.
Issues Highlighted by Provinces:
There is need of proper orientation and capacity building of all stakeholders
about their particular roles and responsibilities towards the system as well as
towards each other
A number of managerial staff are former teachers. They should be provided with
necessary managerial training
Inter-district transfers to be made with the consent of the concerned EDOs
Public representatives should refrain from creating unnecessary interference with
Clear job descriptions be laid down to ensure better and focused performance
Administrative and financial powers are too limited
The Rules of Business aren’t clear enough, especially the financial aspects need
A solid physical infrastructure is not yet in place
The staff strength does not match the responsibilities assigned to the district
The communities have to be provided proper orientation as to how they can play
their role in enhancement of education levels and standards
Government authorities have acknowledged that skills need urgent attention if
decentralization is to prove worthwhile for education development in Pakistan. This
requires: (i) massive capacity building of all stakeholders; (ii) proper orientation of
communities; and (iii) a reorientation of elected representatives (MSU, 2001).
Pakistan is not following a single standardized decentralization plan. There are
variations from province to province based on differences in history, education trends,
topography and local culture. For example, in Sindh and Punjab, the decision has been to
devolve colleges to the district level but in the other two provinces that devolution has
not progressed beyond the secondary level. In the North West Frontier Province
(NWFP), district-based cadres are adhering to their ancient tribal practices of more
egalitarian approaches to social organization. Whilst Punjab and Sindh have accepted the
division of education and literacy as separate departments, NWFP has actively resisted
that move. These variations are a healthy sign that structures and functions are being
organized to suit the needs of provinces.
The process towards devolution and comprehensive decentralization has been
uneven. That is primarily due a pervasive mood amongst the elite bureaucracy that this
phenomenon is “illegitimate,” “transitionary,” and “politically volatile” because 2002 is
an election year. The assertion of the new political bosses as district heads (in the form
of nazims/mayors) was resisted through organized protests at the federal level by senior
bureaucrats, who felt subordinated to elected representatives. Ironically, it was these
senior elite bureaucrat cadres who were given the responsibility of initiating
administrative re-organization to fit the devolution design. They were not willing leaders
in an exercise which they felt was bound to fail. However, civil servant recruits at the
district level have expressed other views. The Pakistani situation illustrates how messy
decentralization can be, especially when it involves pockets of resistance within
III. Responses to Decentralization
Responses to decentralization initiatives in Pakistan have varied in response to
time thresholds, attitudes, and practices. I organize the evolution of those responses into
three groups: resistance to devolution, compliance, and accommodation/adjustment. In
this section, I will review each of the three periods and describe the major events that
occurred during each phase.
Phase I: Resistance
From December 1999 to January 2001, all provinces resisted the onset of
devolution. Primarily the bureaucrats, who had the most to loose in terms of status and
authority, led the resistance. Since the bureaucrats had to lead the pre-devolution
transition process, they themselves became the primary blockers of the idea. The most
concrete example occurred in the province of Punjab, which on the one hand was
perceived to move faster than the emerging NRB blueprint on devolution, whilst on the
other ruffled the bureaucrats by making them identify the shortfall of their system and
remedies which would significantly undermine an edifice which had solid colonial
foundations. In December of 1999, the governor of the province, assisted by his
Minister for Information, formed a Task Force on Social Empowerment and Institutional
Reform. The group comprised of ministers, senior civil servants, and civil society
experts and activists. The scope of work on rethinking government was comprehensive,
engaging all departments. An energetic Minister galvanized reluctant bureaucrats to pre-
empt devolution and feed into the Local Government Plan at the center being prepared by
the NRB.4 The professional civil society groups worked voluntarily in the sprit of
national reconstruction and redesign, producing a thoroughly researched and well-
debated document entitled “Devolving the State: A Model for Empowering the People”
(2001)5. An intensive exercise was undertaken on “Functional Devolution – Education”
with implications for political and administrative decentralization. The Governor delayed
action on the recommendations of the report. For all practical purposes, the report was
shelved, both by the National Reconstruction Bureau (NRB) and the provincial
government, including the department of education. Disappointed and frustrated, the
resigned in protest. Whilst the effort mobilized a wide cross-section of bureaucrats and
civil society groups to become proactive on issues of governance and its remedies, the
fact that the recommendations were not carried through reinforced the bureaucrats‟
thinking that devolution was premature--just a whim of the current praetorian regime,
designed to justify the take over by the military watchdogs.
Many bureaucrats felt that the Devolution Plan 2000 undermined the traditional
authority of the bureaucracy. There was an implicit belief that devolution would not be
implemented and the local elections scheduled for December 2000 would not be held.
Release and utilization of budgets was slowed, a trend that continued for years. Little
proactive work was undertaken to rationally determine the key features of a decentralized
set up for education. In the provinces of NWFP and Punjab, a minister mobilized
bureaucrats and civil society members to create a base for implementing decentralization
reforms. In Punjab, valuable efforts for mapping out preparations for devolution were
abandoned, disappointing numerous civil society professionals. The government was
It is only pertinent to note that both the Governor and the focal person for the Devolution Plan(both
retired generals) at the National Reconstruction Bureau(NRB), marginalized the provincial efforts.
The exercise covered comprehensively, a Conceptual Framework, District Government, Elections, Local
Dispute Resolution, Police, Land Revenue Administration, Education, Health, Financing and Residuary
functions of the State (ibid.).
labeled as opportunistic, and criticized for undertaking a serious activity with lukewarm
efforts at implement ability of recommendations, only to pacify public opinion vis-a-vis
Although the report by the Punjab Government in March 2000, Devolving the
State (a precursor to the Devolution Plan 2000) was shelved, many of its
recommendations from the education chapter were incorporated into education sector
reforms and the new decentralized structure in an attempt to provide “Quality Education
For All.” Some of the representatives engaged in the Punjab exercise were co-opted as
members of the National Education Advisory Board, which had a strong influence on the
policy and structures of governance and social reforms. Whilst there is no evidence of
“dumping” governance on local organizations, the resistance phase certainly interfered
with detailed planning. The bureaucrats in charge of executing decisions, backed by
financial resources, squarely led the resistance.
Phase II: Compliance
This phase occurred between December 2000 and August 2001, triggered by
preparations for the first local government elections. The MOE acted as a catalyst for
expediting the process towards decentralization. In February 2001, the MOE initiated a
series of national and provincial workshops on “Devolution and Implications for
Decentralization in Education.” The department of education of NWFP, influenced by
the provincial health department‟s early measures in health sector reforms, was the first
province to begin the devolution process. In January of 2001, NWFP initiated an
exercise to bring the education department in alignment with the emergent principles of
devolution. Other provinces formally initiated the decentralization process in February
2001, using some principles from the Decentralization and School-Based Management
Guide Resource Kit, published by the World Bank, as a guide. In June 2001, the first
blueprints for administrative and functional decentralization were prepared (MSU, 2001).
On September 19th yet another Think Tank was formed for Education with four groups to address issues
of quality and relevance across four sub-sectors. The civil society participants at this national meeting,
openly shared their reservations about such initiatives which are not translated into actions but to address
some other objectives (September 19,2002).
However, some difficulties did surface. Some of the arrangements regarding the
role of the provincial headquarters and the federal ministry were unclear; new job
descriptions for the decentralized system were not well defined. Also, education facilities
that had previously existed under departments of education and local governments had to
be merged to form district governments. Many of the people involved did not find this
integrated approach acceptable. There was considerable resistance toward devolving
power to the districts.
Nevertheless, the blueprints were put into effect on August 14th, 2001, when new
district governments were established in all 97 districts of Pakistan. In all provincial
capitals, the large divisions and districts around urban metropolitan areas were
amalgamated as “city districts.” In the case of Karachi, five districts, including a rural
district, were merged into one decentralized mega-city district. Each provincial
education department articulated a vision statement about decentralization (reproduced
below), suggesting some internalization of the plans for change.
Provincial Vision Statements
Principal goal is to devolve decision-making for quality education through
decentralization of powers from Provincial Education Department to district and union
council levels closest to end users… where stakeholders can have a productive
collaborative partnership among themselves. To recreate the missing link between
teachers and students (Task Force on Social Empowerment: Punjab 2000 & Special
Secretary Schools, Government of Punjab, 2001).
Building on the opportunity provided by and in accord with the spirit of Devolution of
Power to the District Government, the Education Department is proposed to be
restructured by decentralizing its implementation functions and introduction of
procedures to ensure work efficiency, performance, accountability, and development of
professionalism in the Education service for improving the Literacy, Access/Enrolment,
Quality of Learning, and outcomes at the Schools, Colleges and technical & Vocational
Institutions levels by involving parents and Community in the service delivery
(Education Department, Government of NWFP, 2001) .
Our Mission is Quality, Retention and Access (Education Department, Government of
Devolution is aimed at shifting the decision making process from provincial headquarter
down to the district government for promotion of education, quantitatively and
qualitatively through an effective, efficient and accountable mode of governance
(Education Department, Government of Balochistan, 2001)
Phase III: Accommodation and Adjustment
The most vibrant phase is the current one, which began after August 14th of 2001.
At the time of this writing, many changes regarding roles, responsibilities and authority
regimes, at the district, provincial, and federal levels are underway. Whilst most
education managers at the district level believe that district-based planning and decision-
making is ideal, there is concern that the EDO-Education has very little autonomy. With
respect to new programs and decisions, the Mayor and the District Co-ordination Officer
(DCO) reign supreme as decision makers. The tension is apparent in all districts. One
EDO remarked, “ I am not of any use, simply engaged in posting and transfers rather than
real work on education planning and quality . . .. This is not decentralization, we are re-
centralizing . . .. I would like to go back to my college where I had done wonders as a
manager” (EDO – Sheikhupura, April 15, 2002). District education functionaries
believe that the “bureaucrats will not give devolution a chance,” as they have the
administrative skills for executing decisions, but do not have the will to do so.
In most of the districts there is evidence of adjustments in posts, roles and
responsibilities, indicating that the organization charts will undergo many changes. The
district mayors are filled with enthusiasm about education, wanting to change many
arrangements. Many would like to see authority over the elementary schools devolve to
the union council level, where they would be managed by the mayors and their teams
(District Mayor Lahore District April, 2002). When informed that such action could lead
to the politicization of education, one mayor admitted that this issue merits “due
consideration.” At a meeting on “Improving Education Through Civil Society
Participation,” it was decided that a District Education Board should be formed.
Although all admit that there is a need for administrative presence at the union council
level, there is inertia about taking measures to make it happen.
It is envisaged that the third phase will be completed by June 2003, once the
newly elected government and its representatives have settled in after the elections,
which are scheduled for October 10, 2002. By mid 2003, fiscal devolution should be in
place at the district level endorsed by the new, democratically elected government to be
installed in October 2002. The President, as the chief praetorian guard of Pakistan,
obtained the mandate through a controversial national referendum in May 2002 for
remaining in power for five additional years so as to implement the proposed national
reforms. The Constitution, which stands abrogated since 1999, will have to be changed.
It is now undergoing rapid changes with a semblance of consensus to accommodate the
centrality of local government and ascendancy of a praetorian-civilian President. This
political arrangement presents a challenge to continuity and sustainability of the reform
processes. It is possible that another cycle of change, resistance, compliance, and
accommodation could set in motion after the elections, undermining the much needed
decentralization process for improved service delivery. The Pakistan case study certainly
demonstrates that decentralization is a complex process, not just administratively, but
politically and legally as well.
Diverging from the blueprints for devolution, educational decentralization has
been led by provincial authorities, with some assistance from the federal government.
The implementation of educational decentralization hinges on public, private and NGO
delivery options. There have been uneven opportunities for civil society stakeholders to
participate in the process, both on account of old habits of selective consultation for
managing “dissent and noise” as well as poorly defined protocols for collaboration
between the public sector and civil society partners. The cabinet recently approved
(February 27, 2002) an incentive package for promoting public-private partnerships.
Each district government has to contend with these multiple players in education in
creating opportunities for education development. As described above, the
decentralization process is fully at play in Pakistan. Its variations may be seen in the
form of deconcentration, delegation, devolution and privatization including public private
IV. Public Private Partnerships: Government Shifts from Provider to Facilitator
Education in Pakistan, over the past thirty years has moved from the
domain of state provision to one of multiple delivery system. Increasingly,
public and private are not separate entities but are seen to lie on a
continuum to meet national targets of non-formal, elementary, technical
and higher education in terms of quality and access.
(Baela R. Jamil 1999: 6)
The terms privatization and decentralization7 are commonly conflated, used inter-
changeably within the “good governance” discourse. Privatization is often subsumed
under decentralization (Woodhall, 1997; Bray 1986; 1994). Woodhall argues that
conceptual slippages between decentralization and privatization occur with particular
frequence in the areas of finance, delivery and control (Woodhall, 1999: 4).
Decentralization has often been conceptually and practically deconstructed along a
continuum, spanning from deconcentration to privatization. The political economy of
education has been the main determinant of these new arrangements. It is therefore
essential to locate movements towards public private partnerships within a framework
that illustrates the evolving linkages as well as tensions.
There are three broad periods with respect to the mobilization of private sector
education in Pakistan. These trends coincide with shifts in political arrangements.
Decentralization has been explored vigorously since 1983 as a public policy option for education,
examining the role of the state and the locus of „control‟. The debate has been growing in face of poor
performance of the state to deliver basic services. See: Lauglo, J & M. McLean (1985), The Control of
Education: International Perspectives on the Centralization-decentralization Debate. Heineman, London.
During this decade, the military government reclaimed authority over the education
sector after the debacle of mass nationalization in 1972-73. Government officials
decided that it was in the best interest of state and society to release control over schools
and allow private sector to participate in education delivery. That strategy was designed
to provide legitimacy to the military rulers who were allowing not only options and
choice for schooling, but also helping the government in times of fiscal stress. In addition
to reinjecting the private sector into the process of educational outreach, the 1979
National Education Policy mobilized other partners in attempt to increase non-secular
education options. During this decade, the number of madrasahs also mushroomed, and
their diplomas were made equivalent to those from public institutions.
Influenced by the call for “Education for All” made at Jomtien in 1990, multiple
democratic governments in Pakistan attempted to broaden participation in education
through mobilization of NGOs and communities. The focus was on issues of access
(particularly for girls) and quality. Numerous pilot programs were initiated in hopes that
model programs would be created and implemented on a larger scale. Although
community support often depended on government and donor financing, the private
sector began to play a more active part at all levels of the education spectrum. Public
policy in education began to consider the possibility of utilizing decentralization,
privatization, and equity to “correct” the runaway state (sometimes also referred to as the
After the military take over in 1999, there were two broad responses to the
multiple crises of the state: 1) devolving power to local levels through the initiative of the
Local Government Plan 2000; 2) mobilizing private sector and civil society partners for
additional resources and improved management arrangements. The private sector
expanded rapidly from the early 1980s through the 1990s. There are now almost 30,000
primary and middle schools, 41% of which are located in rural areas (FBS, 2001). The
recent wave in soliciting partnerships for education seeks to legitimize and formalize
institutional arrangements that were successfully implemented between 1989-1999.8 The
state has assumed the role of the facilitator, negotiating partnerships with the private
(profit and non-profit) sector. Education Sector Reforms (ESR) has set targets of 3%
increases in private sector enrollments at the secondary level, and 5% at the higher
The “new” state as a facilitator is emerging with many options for public-
private partnerships. This has created the potential for increased resources, better
service delivery, and more choices in the kinds of goods and services available to
consumers from non-elite groups. The possibility of using vouchers to expand
schooling options available to poor families is also being explored (MOE 2002; &
World Bank 2002).
Private Sector Options and Equity
The ESR has thus put on the map a key role for the private sector and Civil
Society Organizations (CSOs). Many experiments for bringing in private sector into
public sites are currently underway to address equity and quality. Partnerships for
education have emerged along the multiple spaces in a loosely layered environment of
laissez faire management. If the government focuses on access without making
entitlements and quality its key objectives, public policy may suffer. The government
has taken its role as a facilitator and an arranger seriously, providing incentives to the
private sector and encouraging civil society organizations to promote education (see
Appendices I & II). It is actively seeking capacity building opportunities for itself and its
partners in private and civil society sectors through donor and local government support.
Efforts are currently being made to mobilize for capacity building initiatives in
governance, planning, democracy and participation as well as civil society mobilization.
However, there are concerns that the public sector may continue to operate sub-optimally,
Adopt A School programme, Using under-utilized public sector sites for Fellowship and Community
Supported Schools (community managed), opening low cost private sector options in rural areas on
government sites and with support from Education Foundations.
drifting towards privatization without challenging its own personnel and systems to
extend quality education to disadvantaged groups.
Although the ESR expanded the resources available to improve public sector
facilities, several institutional and administrative decisions have not yet been taken. For
example, many of the rules that teachers and administrators are required to follow are in
need of revision; the roles and responsibilities assigned to district level managers (at
EDO-Education) are not clearly defined. Lack of attention to these matters continues to
pull down performance by public sector facilities. The vision for reform and
decentralization needs to be accompanied by both systemic and attitudinal changes,
which have to be acknowledged and acted upon. Both take time, as is the evidence with
decentralization processes in any other part of the developed or the developing world.
District-based governments must contend with private sector and public-private
partnerships as they attempt to meet the goals and targets established in the ESR and the
EFA. The challenge for the district governments is to increase their level of
understanding and skill in implementing the policy reforms. They are attempting to
create opportunities for engaging with communities, public-private partnerships, and the
private sector, so as to meet the goals of equity and the ultimate national objective of
What type of progress has been made? At this early stage, the evidence is just
beginning to emerge. There are several concrete examples of progress:
Creation of District Education Plans through stakeholder exercises and facilitation
by NGOs in the districts of Kasur, Sheikhupura and Chakwal in Punjab
Designation of PTAs/SMCs as Citizen Community Boards (CCB);
A formalized “Memorandum of Understanding” (MoA) calling for civil society
organizations to adopt local schools for improvement and work with District
Calls for the private sector to run afternoon classes in public school buildings.
It appears that the center is making up for deficits in the skill level and “belief-attitudes”
among district-level authorities by expanding the scope of “clients” and “service
providers,” with whom they may legitimately work. Almost 4000 public secondary
schools have been equipped with IT facilities and more than 6000 primary, middle and
secondary schools have been upgraded to middle, secondary and higher secondary levels
in the provinces of Punjab and NWFP, thereby creating substantial savings for the
government in brick and mortar expenses.
The central government is cognizant that expanding delivery options under
decentralization must be supported by increased financial support through decentralized
financing instruments, which are accessible to public sector, civil society and private
V. Financing Decentralization: Fiscal Space and Fiscal Opportunities
A major challenge for effective decentralization is that of fiscal devolution to the
district level. Over the past three decades, financing became completely centralized in
Pakistan. However, plans are currently under way to create a partnership between the
Ministries of Finance, Planning, and Education for rethinking how resources for
education can be generated and disbursed. The goal was to create new fiscal
opportunities at the district level. Financing was reconceptualized in the ESR from a
conventional deficit oriented approach to a more robust, multi-dimensional one. Four
dimensions were involved in the modified approach: multiple level resourcing, poverty
reduction strategies, institutional mechanisms of additionality and disbursement, and new
budgetary mechanisms for financing education.
Convinced that devolution required alternative options, an innovative instrument
called the Letter of Agreement was designed by the Ministry of Education (MOE 2001).
The Letter of Agreement is a performance-based funding mechanism that provides all
providences with generous subsidies9 determined using a performance-based formula set
by the National Economic Council (NEC). According to the stipulations of the
Agreement, civil service organizations must be involved in those projects and 50% of all
funds must be allocated to girls/women and disadvantaged groups. The Letters of
Agreement were signed in January and February of 2002. That was almost seven months
into the financial year. Many districts had trouble switching to a performance-based
expenditure system so quickly. Some district level arrangements remain in a state of
A total of 3.4 billion rupees (approximately 55 million dollars) was allocated to the provinces to fund
Education Sector Reform development projects at the district level.
flux. The districts are attempting to take on new responsibilities but must rely on
personnel who may lack necessary skills. In addition, the EDO-Education does not have
direct access to these funds, which are currently under the control of the District
Coordination Officers (DCOs). In many cases, the DCOs perceive of the EDOs as
officers with little capability or imagination. Many district governments are apprehensive
about sharing their resources with the CSOs. They are worried about being held liable
for ineligible expenditures. Although the Letters of Agreement were enacted in the spirit
of financial devolution, they clearly provoked anxiety and confusion at all levels of the
government in the initial phase, but have been since acknowledged as the lever for direct
resource injection to the district level without being subjected to complex controls and
approvals at higher provincial and federal levels.
The NRB has facilitated “bottom up” financial planning through Citizen
Communities Boards (CCBs), which operate at the village and union council levels. The
CCBs are composed of non-elected citizen volunteers who come together as an organized
body (See Appendix III). Access to funds is through a matching grant scheme, whereby
the CCBs must provide 20% of total funds in cash to receive 80% of approved budget.
The praetorian managers require all registered civil society organizations, including
PTAs/SMCs, to re-register as CCBS if they want access to district funds (NRB, 2002). In
addition, CCB projects must go through a complicated nine-step process to receive
grants.10 The NRB has resisted providing alternate funds to the CSOs (such as
conditional grants from provincial and federal sources) for fear that doing so will
undermine the new praetorian diktats for mainstream democracy.
The Ministry of Education initiated work on guidelines for CSO participation and
private sector access to ESR funds. It also successfully oversaw the completion of a
complex agreement between the Ministries of Finance, Planning, Comptroller General of
Accounts and the NRB. This financing instrument will support decentralization through
local civil society organizations by providing sufficient fiscal space, not only to mobilize
resources but also flexibility to utilize this as per priorities of local needs and opportunity,
thereby aligning policy with implement able systems and procedures.
The nine steps of that process are: need identification, project preparation, submission, clearance by the
council of proposals, approval, deposit of share, release of first installment, implementation, monitoring
and project progress reports.
This case study of decentralization is situated within the larger framework of
national reconstruction and the political economy of education in Pakistan. Recently, the
government has been led by a praetorian regime, undertaking broad-based political,
social and economic reforms. In implementing decentralization reforms, the military
government adopted an eclectic mix of persuasion, consultation, and coercion. The
public is not yet sure if the reforms have been undertaken for the public good, or to add
legitimacy to the military government so that it may remain in power. During the
resistance phase of the devolution, the bureaucrats, who were rivals to the praetorian
guards, allowed only minimal release of funds. However, just six months prior to the
formation of the district governments, the NRB flexed its muscles and ensured the
implementation of the Local Government Ordinances, which specified the powers that
would be transferred to local administrative levels. It is important to note that drafts of
the Local Government Ordinances were not made public by the praetorian pragmatists,
who feared that the process would become complicated with too many opinions. When
this scribe requested a copy of the Ordinance in December 2000 from a senior local
government officer in Punjab, the response was: “This is a document with restricted
circulation.. .Under instruction from NRB … .We have deadlines to meet!” (Local
Government & Rural Development Department, Punjab 2000).
Although one general blueprint guides the devolution of the education system
that is being overseen by the NRB, there are variations on how each province is
organizing its decentralized education structures and functions. These depend upon the
availability of human resources, the educational infrastructure, and, to a critical extent,
the “vision” of the champion(s) of reform. Federal authorities recognize that such
variations should be addressed in a flexible manner. Only if such an approach is taken
can underdeveloped provinces, such as Balochistan and rural Sindh, address equity
issues. Funding formulas must factor in need, population, and poverty levels. This issue
is currently under debate.
In Pakistan, several challenges must be met if educational decentralization is to
produce positive outcomes. The most critical of those challenges are:
Linking district realities with national restructuring efforts
Continuing to advance the decentralization agenda after the election of
Devolving powers and authority to district managers and local governance
partners in the communities
Providing the union councils with administrative and financial powers so that
recentralization trends will be resisted and decision can be made in a timely
Designing an efficient indigenous capacity model that will promote good
Ensuring the participation of private and civil society sectors in meeting
district targets for education
It will take time before decentralization structures that are suited to the emerging
and shifting political and administrative landscape of Pakistan can be put in place. The
public and private sectors are now working together to support good governance of
education, with the government playing the role of facilitator. This is necessary for
equity reasons. However, the cultures of the two sectors remain distinct. The public
sector mindset offers the toughest challenge to continued decentralization. Bureaucrats
often resist the move from the traditional adversarial relationship to one of collaboration
and trust with civil society organizations. On the other hand, there are asymmetries in the
schooling options offered in the private sector, especially in terms of equity.
Objectives related to equity require fundamental shifts in ownership, distribution,
and capacities of various groups in society. There is an underlying tension, however,
between the goal of pursuing equity and those associated with privatization. Privatization
requires the state to display advanced technical capacities, and to show continuous
vigilance as it manages a demanding reform agenda. Initially, the role of the state will be
increased rather than reduced. Governance for quality in education depends upon the
capabilities of stakeholders and managers. Currently, that quality is uneven at all levels
and across provinces. Community participation may appear as a proxy for ensuring
equity through collective action, but groups such as CBOs and NGOs currently have
minimal negotiating power with the government and little control over their destinies.
The convergence of administrative and financial devolution through the ESR
Action Plan created a vibrant setting for reform in Pakistan. Only if institutional and
fiscal issues are addressed simultaneously, however, can recently adopted reforms meet
their goals. If decentralization reforms are successful, they will lead to the improved
delivery of public services--the only options available to the average citizens of Pakistan,
33% of whom who live below the poverty level. Thus, the cornerstone of educational
democracy remains the primary challenge for the Pakistan government. The private
sector, local communities, and school management committees on their own can only be
seen as proxies to effective decentralization in education. There is a thin, but powerful
dividing line between governance and participation. The deciding factor must surely be
if current decentralization reform efforts are for the people or for the state. The martial,
administrative, and political groups who have traditionally wielded the state in Pakistan
need to clarify their role vis-a-vis civil society, and modify governance
practices/structures accordingly. In the education sector, such a transformation needs to
create opportunities for everyday citizens to become involved in school governance and
decision making. If those plans are translated into action, we should see evidence of
reform at the level of learning sites (the schools, NFE centers, colleges, universities etc.).