A belated post on Education Policy process

Posted in politics by jrahman on May 27, 2011

I’ve been thinking about the role of education in economic growth and development.  And that led me to realise that I have never actually posted on the way the Awami League government introduced the Education Policy last year.  I like the actual policy.  But more importantly, I think the way the policy was introduced shows that even in Bangladesh, even under this government, things can be done right. 

A belated congratulations to Mr Nurul Islam Nahid and his department.  Here is to wishing they follow through with implementing the policy.

Firstly, let’s acknowledge that in the Bangladeshi system, nothing happens without the Prime Minister’s approval.  The PM alone calls the ultimate shot.  If she hadn’t decided to support this policy, nothing would have happened. 

But there is a flipside to this.  It’s the minister’s job to convince the PM that a particular policy is worth pursuing.  And it’s the minister’s job to convince the PM that the adoption/implementation should be done in a way to maximise the benefits.  And that’s where Nahid stands apart from others. 

In fact, it’s not just over the Education Policy, but also on a number of other issues did Nahid try to stand apart from his more partisan colleagues.  And while he loses sometimes, he returns to fight another day. 

Secondly, the Policy was not something drafted by Nahid.  The Policy is modelled after the one drafted by Kudrat-e-Khuda in the early 1970s, and there is continuity with the policies of past governments of all parties.  And the Policy was drafted by a committee that included Kabir Chowdhurry, Zafar Iqbal and others. 

But as the minister-in-charge, it was Nahid who deserves the credit for the way the policy has been adopted, and its implementation thus far.

In Bangladeshi institutional culture, what happens typically is that a government decides on some policy, and does it without any consultation or thinking through the ramifications.  Even this government has done / is doing a large number of things this way — transit to India or rental power plants may be good or bad policies, but they’ve all been done / are being done by the government in a brute majoritarian way.  On other issues, government is more interested in political gimickry than policy substance — the so-called war crimes trial comes to mind.

Contrast this with the way Nahid handled the Education Policy. 

The draft Policy was widely available for public comments. Stakeholders from all sectors — private and public school teachers, ulema, text book suppliers, education bureaucracy — were consulted.  The Policy is an unequivocal nod to a secular Bangladesh.  When the ulema expressed concerns about this, the original draft was amended.  Former education ministers in BNP and army governments were invited to discuss the policy.  And they attended the discussions).  The education minister in the last BNP government publicly said that his party will not oppose this Policy if they return to power. 

Is there another example of a consensus-based policymaking in Bangladesh?

The result has been that this is one of the fewest policies on which there is across-the-board support — nothing ever has 100% support anywhere outside communist dictatorships.

As important as the Policy itself has been, the processes by which the Policy was adopted deserves to be noted.  This is how things should be.

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