NationalVOLUME 17 ISSUE # 29

Education deserve priority, attention from the government

The entire educational system of the country is afflicted with faults and shortcomings. From setting up of our curricula to its implementation, from writing of syllabus books – approved by the textbook boards, which are full of errors, to the quality of our schoolteachers, and from the construction of buildings for our educational institutions to the availability of facilities, everything is in a shambles. The real issues are still to be resolved.

Educationist Zubeida Mustafa feels that enough concern has never been expressed about the state of education in Pakistan. In the past, if there was agitation, it was mostly by teachers for higher salaries and by parents complaining against the incessant and arbitrary rise in the fees of private schools. But their lack of concern at the poor quality of education has always been shocking. They have not been worried about the damage our faulty education system is causing to the country and its youths.

Some advocacy groups have been pushing the cause of quality education in the public sector to exert pressure on policymakers. But they don’t seem to be making an impact. Some honest and sincere organisations working to provide education to the poor do not have the manpower or funds to lobby policymakers for change at the macro-level. In fact, disparity in the education sector and the apathy of the educated classes are the major culprits for the current state of affairs in the sector. The educated classes either fail to understand the implications of this inequity or they lack the conscience to play a role in the matter. At the heart of the problem is the unequal distribution of wealth that has split Pakistan into a country with a huge class of the have-nots ruled by an oligarchy of the haves.

The UNDP’s Human Development Index (HDI), which now focuses on the equality factor as well, is quite revealing. It informs us that the values calculated for education would slip by 46.4 per cent for Pakistan, when adjusted for inequality. There are only five other countries (four of them sub-Saharan states and Yemen) which show greater inequality in their education sector. Many of our upscale schools charge fees that touch the sky. Yet there are parents, who willingly pay the fee, because they have that kind of money. The monthly fee in most cases is more than what an average worker earns in a month to feed his entire family of nine (if we accept the official demographic figures). The key question is: why is there no protest? The fact is that those who are adversely affected do not understand the importance of education that is of quality, as they have been denied this privilege themselves. Now they want their children to acquire merely a piece of paper which they believe will open the door of jobs and upward mobility to them.

And then there are others who are well endowed themselves and understand that an education that does not impart knowledge, skill and the ability to think critically cannot make much of a difference to the lives of many. They act selfishly, because they know that the badly educated will not be a threat to the privileges and lucrative jobs they hold. This becomes a vicious cycle as their children alone qualify for elite schools and then for good jobs. That is how the concentration of wealth is created. With the country so badly split between the haves and the have-nots, it is becoming increasingly difficult to bridge the gap. But given the conditions today, it is unlikely that this phenomenon can go on forever. Besides, even the privileged and the rich need the underprivileged to do the blue-collar work for them. If the government does not address this issue, the future is bleak.

There is also another aspect of the issue. Educationists believe our educational system creates hindrances to discovering the real talent of students, regardless of whether they belong to the haves or the have-nots. They believe talent is found everywhere, including in regions generally perceived to be backward and underdeveloped. But the prevailing educational systems in most underdeveloped countries are unable to discover real talent. The author of a book, Innovation in Education, Charles Leadbeater, while introducing those who pioneered education movements in countries like the USA, Pakistan and Canada at a conference, related stories from different parts of the world. He told his audience that “Save the Children”, an NGO working in Uganda has succeeded in enrolling more than 8 million children and youngsters for a number of educational initiatives that it launched in the last five years. It was the determination of its team leaders that helped them draw a large number of children to its initiatives, he added. “There may not be any guarantee that children would learn once they are enrolled. But it is the responsibility of the administrators to facilitate the atmosphere for helping children learn,” he said, citing another successful example in Colombia, initiated by social activist Ficky Colber in that South American country. The one-teacher per school system that she introduced in Colombia saw the birth of at least 60 such schools throughout the country for children aged between five and 14. Terming this growth as an “innovation”, Leadbeater said such novel methods could be successful in countries where there is less enrolment of children at schools at the lower levels.

The author also put forward the success achieved by innovator Martin Bert in some areas in Paraguay, through what he described as his “radical” innovations. Leadbeater said most of the time it came to his notice that it was the absence of new ideas and innovations that prevented their initiators from producing good results.

Speaking later, educational innovator from Pakistan, Mushtaq Chhapra, recounted his experiences of almost three decades since he set up The Citizens Foundation, a successful NGO in Pakistan. From a modest beginning with a couple of hundred students, mostly females, in 1995, his organisation now has a network of 1,833 school units, which are educating 280,000 students through over 13,000 teachers and principals, and over 17,400 employees. He said he had faced opposition from ultra-orthodox sections in the initial years, but the decision to employ only women as teachers has paid off and attendance improved significantly over the years.

Various colleges and universities in Pakistan have, lately, launched some innovative educational initiatives including virtual university, open university and distance education programmes. Ms. Mustafa believes that speedy help and interest from the government can turn the Pakistani students into the stars of tomorrow, because Pakistan has been able to produce individuals of high merit. So, the formula of making Pakistan’s future bright is to strengthen the youth. They deserve priority and attention from the government.