Muhammad Ershad was a lucky child that his father, a grocery shop owner, admitted him to a government school for education, though he had little resources being the head of a big family. However, it was his bad luck that he always evinced interest in everything except his studies.
As corporal punishment was not allowed in his school, he would spend most of his time standing on a bench in his classroom as a punishment. However, he was regularly promoted to the next class, either on the request of his father, or for the reason that his class in-charge would not want his “100% result” spoiled by failing him or any other student.
However, Ershad had to face his first humiliation when he failed to get passing marks in six out of total nine subjects in the matriculation board examination. His two more attempts as a regular candidate met the same fate, and he decided to enrol himself in the Allama Iqbal Open University (AIOU) on the advice of a “seasoned” student in his area. In the next two years, Muhammad Ershad had become a matriculate from the AIOU.
Meanwhile, he met Zubair Alvi Sahib, the teacher-cum-owner of an academy, situated in the Samanabad area of Lahore, near his residence. Mr. Alvi was expert, as claimed by him, in helping each and every student pass, from matric to master’s, through “selective studies”. Now Muhammad Ershad would spend most of his time at the academy, helping Alvi Sahib prepare special notes for students, and memorising answers of selected questions “to pass the exams in at least second division”, as his father wanted him to get a “maximum” education.
In just eight years after passing his matriculation examination, Muhammad Ershad had secured a master’s degree in political science, though he did not know the correct spelling of “political science” in English or Urdu. Sadly, his dream of opening his own academy was shattered due to the untimely death of Alvi Sahib.
Muhammad Ershad started looking for a job in public and private sectors. After two or three attempts, he realised that he would never be able to pass the Punjab Public Service Commission exam for any officer-grade job. He was disappointed and abandoned the idea of applying for a government job. After getting married on the insistence of his parents, he started teaching in a private school and its academy in the evening. From both his morning and evening jobs, he earns about Rs35,000 a month, and one can well imagine how difficult it would be to make ends meet.
Muhammad Ershad is a typical example of a “highly educated” person in Pakistan. As far as qualifications on paper are concerned, he is a master’s degree holder, but practically, his capability is no better than a primary or a middle standard student on the academic side. One shudders to imagine what would be the quality of education being given by him to his students. Interestingly, in the academy, he tells his students how all exams, from matriculation to master’s, could be passed through “selective studies”.
Prof. Dr. Obaidullah, a senior teacher at the Institute of Education and Research (IER), University of the Punjab, regrets that our education system is producing Muhammad Ershads with minimal differences of capabilities. The system is afflicted with basic problems and major reforms are needed to improve the quality of education being provided in the country, he says in a special talk with Cutting Edge.
Dr. Obaidullah believes that our educational institutions are producing not men of letters, but men of money. They are not learned people with independent thinking and a wide or constructive outlook on life. Their purpose for getting an education is not to prepare themselves for life, but only to secure a job, he adds.
Dr. Shafqat Parveen, associate professor at the IER, the University of Peshawar, agrees with Prof. Obaidullah. She says Pakistan has failed to develop a uniform education policy. The country faces huge challenges in enhancing literacy rates, providing education access to all sections of its population and improving the quality of education, she tells Cutting Edge after the seminar. The educationist agrees with Dr. Obaidullah’s assertion that the public education system has failed to provide quality education to students.
Dr. Shafqat Parveen says that teachers’ salaries in the public sector are five times higher compared to private schoolteachers. However, it is the local, independent and empowered management of the private sector which makes all the difference. The private sector has fewer financial resources available compared to the public sector, but its performance has been better, as shown in independent surveys.
Alam Ameen Khan, a representative of the Private Schools Association in Punjab, says that private school systems can be given the task of setting up their branches in targeted areas to admit unenrolled children. In a special talk with Cutting Edge, he says that provincial governments should pay the school fees of identified unenrolled children. The government can pay the children’s fee into the parent’s bank account. The cost to the government of providing private school fees will be much lower than building and managing schools in the short- to medium-term. Private school retention rates are much better than government schools and the enrolled children will improve the rate of secondary education, he believes.
Dr. Parveen suggests the government set up strong and independent provincial education regulators with representatives in all districts. The regulator should assess the quality of education of each private and public school against standardised national attainment levels. It should also assess school services such as clean drinking water, hygiene standards, children nutrition and sport facilities against agreed minimum standards.