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Research Spotlight: Addressing the Gaps in the Devolution Process

25 March 2013
Research Spotlight: Addressing the Gaps in the Devolution Process
With the devolution of education following the 18th Amendment, the education sector has experienced a significant set-back as predicted. One of the key challenges that the provincial governments have been facing is the lack of necessary administrative and institutional capacities in their education departments. This gap has resulted in the already uncertain timeline for ending Pakistan’s education emergency to be pushed even further. The outcomes are not altogether unexpected and things were bound to get worse before they got better in wake of such changes. What is required is continuous in-depth analysis of the devolution process so far and measures taken to improve any gaps to ensure future progress. This week’s research spotlight has been chosen having kept in mind this exact need.

The research published by University of Punjab and titled “Implementation of Decentralization in Education in Pakistan: Framework, Status and the Way forward” has the following three objectives:
a) Asses the implementation of decentralization across levels i.e. districts, schools and local community.
b) Look at implementation of devolution in education across departments i.e. academic, administrative and financial.
c) Provide recommendations for better implementation of the devolution plan in the future.

In 2000 a Devolution Plan was brought forward, which sought to devolve the power/responsibilities from the provincial to elected district level authorities and local councils including those related to social services. Under this devolution, political power, decision-making authority and administrative responsibilities were all moved as close to the village, union council, tehsil and district levels as possible. The major policy-making, coordination and special service functions, however were left with the provincial governments. The shift of responsibility, power and authority wasn’t from the federal to the provincial level, but from the provincial to the district level. However, with the approval of the 18th Amendment, the local governments have been at the “disposal of the provincial governments”.

Since the announcement of the Devolution Plan 2000, numerous consultations and technical group meetings were organized by the federal ministry with the target of developing proper educational structure at provincial and district levels. The resulting organizational set-up in education sector of Pakistan is at three levels: Federal Ministry of Education; Provincial Department of Education and District level. Under the changes made possible by the 18th Amendment, the districts are now responsible for planning, monitoring and evaluating education systems at the district level. Other responsibilities at this level include salary and staff management and districts can generate their own funding in addition to the funding provided by the federal and provincial government. However, the districts do not have the power to create or abolish posts. Initially they had been given the functional responsibility to deliver college education in addition to elementary and primary education, but this move has since been reversed. “Under the devolution plan the district management and community has been empowered at the grassroots level in planning, management, resource mobilization, utilization, implementation, monitoring and evaluation of the education system.”

From the administrative powers stand point, the districts hold the responsibility for planning, management and monitoring/evaluation of elementary and secondary education under the leadership of the Executive District Officer (EDO). The EDO has control over planning and establishing new institutions when needed. Other EDO level duties include: implementing the provincial education policy through the district education policy and plan; preparing plans for development of education in the district covering the levels that fall within the responsibility of the district; and preparing the annual educational budget of the district. Training school teachers and head teachers is still managed by the provincial governments.

Fiscal decentralization has required provinces to establish transparent systems of transferring funds to local governments, such as the “formula-driven block grants”. This means that while matters pertaining to policy, general guidelines and monitoring still fall under provincial and federal governments; the local governments hold autonomy in matters related to budget and expenditure allocation for service delivery.

Whereas, the intention behind devolution was to decentralize administrative and financial powers to the grassroots level in reality the devolution in education “never reached to the school level in the form of school based management.” The only reformative action in this regard has been the formation of school councils, however these have existed in some capacity even before. To be able to access district funding, civil society organizations and school councils re-register as Citizens’ Community Boards (CCBs).These CCBs work at the village and union council levels and through “bottom-up financial planning”. According to the Local Government Ordinance 2001, the local governments are obligated to use around 25% of total development budget for projects identified by the CCBs. The CCB’s are required to give 20% of the total funds in cash to release the remaining 80% of the already approved budget to ensure proper matching of grants. With particular regard to schools, the CCBs actively facilitate the formation of school councils to ensure greater service user responsiveness in schools.

The implementation of the devolution plan has resulted in no decentralization in functions such as planning, management and monitoring/evaluation from the federal and provincials governments to the district level. However, service delivery functions were devolved to the three local levels of governance: the district, tehsil/town and union councils. The new system has also allowed for more public and local involvement in decision-making and the local governments have been made more accountable to citizens for all decisions. The official heading district administration including that of the education departments, the District Coordination Officer (DCO) is responsible for postings and transfers of the education department employees. Other duties of the DCO include: implementing the provincial education policy through the district education policy and plan; preparing plans for development of education in the district covering the levels that fall within the responsibility of the district; and preparing the annual educational budget of the district. 

Whereas, the plans dictated that these powers be decentralized to the grassroots level however in reality these powers have remained in the hands of the top-tier local governments heads such as the DCO and EDO. However, the monopolization of power hasn’t been the only obstacle in the path of devolution. In reality there was/is a serious dearth of personnel with the necessary skills and capacity to handle such administrative duties at the grassroots levels. Since the plan’s implementation, no efforts were made to build capacity and provide necessary trainings. Past trends show that districts have not been able to provide these services, hence to ensure greater success in the future the provincial and federal authorities need to step-in for such trainings. Furthermore, the mere formation of school councils will not ensure effective participation of communities in issues pertaining to governance and there need to be proper trainings to build capacities of communities to engage in public decision-making. 

The paper concludes on the note that the devolution process has greatly increased the pressure on provincial governments in terms of curriculum and syllabus development among other things. It needs to be kept in mind that devolution is not a program but a process and hence it will take time to re-allocate powers and resources from central authorities to periphery ones. It would also do us well to remember that processes such as devolution cannot merely work by imposing laws but considerable “goodwill, commitment and promptitude” needs to be built within all personnel involved; which takes time. The success or failure of any form of decentralization in education will ultimately depend on proper implementation, therefore, resources and efforts need to be diverted towards such efforts.

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