A window on education: Keeping tabs on parliamentarians

Source:  Tribune Published in Education on Friday, February 06, 2015

KARACHI: If you are unhappy with the performance of your elected political representatives, and want to see them accountable to their voters, the team behind the Annual Status of Education Report (ASER) in Pakistan suggests you do something about it.

ASER is the largest citizen-led initiative to foster conversation regarding the deplorable state of education. Through a new project titled ‘ASER Innovation’, the team aims at providing the voters with a clear picture on improvement or further deterioration in the education sector in their respective constituencies.

“We are empowering voters to raise questions and press demands to their elected political representatives, and evaluate their performance,” Baela Raza Jamil, ASER Pakistan’s country coordinator and programmes director at the Idara-e-Taleem-o-Aagahi, told The Express Tribune. “ASER Innovation will offer citizens the opportunity to cast votes based on informed choices.”

Starting as a survey of a few rural districts in 2008, ASER has now transformed into the biggest national data set for education and children’s learning levels across the country. Jamil, however, feels that the government policies do not seem to be moving in the right direction.

“Though each national and provincial ASER report issued a strident call for action to both politicians and civil society, very little or no improvement has been observed in six years,” she said. “There is a need to transform the country’s traditional political culture, in which citizens voting preferences get swayed by the so-called, synthetic ‘popular sentiment’.”

The innovation is a call for action to the citizens, especially with the launch of the latest edition of the ASER report in January this year. “By way of the constituency-based statistics, the citizens are expected to engage the MNAs and MPAs in campaigning for their issues the way these politicians campaign for citizen’s votes prior to the election,” said Jamil.

The initiative, in its pilot phase, had focused on four National Assembly constituencies, one in each province, along with their associated provincial assembly seats. ASER teams had conducted representative household-based surveys in the constituencies to evaluate access to education for children between the ages three and 16 years as well as learning outcomes of the ones who are enrolled at schools.

The research findings have been shared with the elected MNAs and MPAs from the surveyed constituencies. In the next stage, ASER intends to disseminate these findings to the citizens residing in these constituencies.