EducationNationalVOLUME 19 ISSUE # 30-31

Rethinking education: A tale of traditional pathways and modern solutions

Nasir Hussain says his son Arman Nasir doesn’t need any education. He has a vegetable selling point in a congested katchi abadi of Shah Kamal, adjacent to the Samanabad area of Lahore. Since a young age, Arman has been helping his father run the vegetable shop. Earlier, his father used to go to the main sabzi mandi (vegetable market) to bring vegetables early in the morning. But last year, when he turned 16, the task of bringing vegetables was assigned to him.

Nasir Hussain believes education would not give his son a prosperous future, but his own business is the best. “I have seen dozens of BA, MA degree holders roaming around in search of jobs, but my son, still a child, is earning a lot more than those educated people,” the sabzi farosh tells Cutting Edge proudly.

Arman Nasir is also quite satisfied with his current status. “In few years, when I will build the second storey of our 5-marla house, father says he will bring a bride for me,” he shares his future plans smilingly. Arman is among an estimated 24 million children aged 5 to 16 years who have never been to school. The Asian Development Bank said that an estimated 22.9 million children aged between 5-16 years are out of school — a worrying statistic for a country whose current workforce is young, mostly unskilled, and poorly prepared for productive employment. The number, 22.9 million, was the world’s second-highest number of out-of-school children.

Arman never went to school, but what about those millions of children, who regularly go to school, but prove to be a failure at the end of the day. They learn nothing, or very less, and when they get their educational certificates and degrees one way or the other, they roam around for years to get a job. According to Alif Ailaan’s latest report, the country severely lags behind the rest of the world in terms of learning outcomes with nearly 40 per cent of students unable to perform well enough on standardised exams, held annually by the government.

People attached with education and economic affairs of the country believe the bulging young population – either out of school, or in school but learning nothing – are in fact currently ill-prepared to enter the workforce of the country. When they do enter the workforce, wages tend to be low and contribution to overall economic productivity of the country is found wanting.

Prof. Dr. Obaidullah, an educationist and senior faculty at the Institute of Education and Research of the Punjab University, believes there is a dire need to re-evaluate how we are preparing our future generation for a globalised, knowledge-based economy. “Education has to be re-imagined. It has to be made easier and more accessible,” he tells Cutting Edge. “Teaching and transferring a skill-set is one of the earliest traits in human history, and without it, we would not know how to do most of the things we do today, he added.

Prof. Obaidullah says, “We will have to focus on the education of our educators first. Without appointing professionally trained and competent teachers, the goals of quality education could not be achieved.

“Teachers could prove to be a major help in imparting education to students in such a way that when they pass out and enter the market, they are well prepared to become a part of the modern-age workforce of the country,” believes the educationist.

Mahrukh Mansoor, co-founder and Chief Education Officer at edtech platform Edkasa, says modern technology use is vital to provide an education to students belonging to all sections of society. “Learners need to be met where they are. Education has to reach them, whichever platform it takes,” she says in a report.

During the coronavirus pandemic, our students learnt the use of technology for continuing their studies even in the hardest circumstances. The online search trends for educational content are increasing, and in fact, students are overwhelmingly seeking exam preparation material from online sources, the education officer says.

Sharing her experience at the edtech platform, she says the online education is low on cost, and enables one qualified teacher to reach several students at the same time. It has very few barriers to entry for students — one needs a smartphone and a stable Internet connection, and both are still easier to achieve, and it also doesn’t discriminate among genders, Ms. Mansoor says.

However, she admits, the change could not be implemented overnight. It needed careful management, and required behavioural change from students, parents and stakeholders, as it was more self-directed compared to traditional learning methods.

The Asian Development Bank, in its report, had said: “Targeted investments and programmes could improve completion rates and learning levels. Properly focused, reforms could reduce inequalities in education outcomes across gender, socioeconomic strata, geography, and districts. Public–private partnerships (PPPs) can play a key role in strengthening and mainstreaming the government systems.”

The chief education officer at Edkasa says the public sector is swamped, and it is understandable. Its resources are limited, and the population has only that much capacity to contribute. It is time for quality education to be made more accessible by trying different ideas and tools. Though special initiatives would have to be launched for out-of-school children, those enrolled in educational institutions and yearning for quality education, however, could be helped out through the use of online learning programmes.