EducationNationalVOLUME 18 ISSUE # 12

The disconnect between education and market

Awais Ahmad Changwani says a suggestion by his friend almost six years ago about his son’s education had surprised, rather upset, him. After his son’s passing his higher secondary school (F.Sc. Pre-Medical), examination, it became an uphill task for the family to secure an admission to some reputable public sector university or college. The student had failed to get over 70% marks in the Intermediate examination, which was almost a prerequisite to enter any university or reputable government college. Finally, he got a berth at a private university to accomplish his BS botany programme.

When Mr. Changwani, a schoolteacher, was running from pillar to post to fulfil his son’s higher education admission dreams, it was the time when his close friend suggested that the young man must go for some skill-based learning plan. The friend, a vendor at the Hall Road Lahore electronics market, wanted the boy to get admission to some one- or two-year diploma/ certificate course in electrical, electronic or refrigeration fields. However, the idea didn’t impress the schoolteacher at all, rather disappointed him, as he wanted his son to get higher education and achieve something big.

But now Changwani admits his friend’s suggestion was valuable, and he had failed to assess it in the correct perspective at that time. There are various reasons for this change of mind. After securing a BS degree, his son had to struggle a lot for almost a year to get a job. Even after one year, what he got was a teaching assignment at a private school system, for a nominal monthly salary. The young man and his parents are quite unsatisfied with his job, and looking for a better opportunity.

And more important, Changwani says, were the encounters he had with skilled workmen including electricians, refrigeration and air-conditioning technicians, and plumbers, etc., during the past two, three years. Every time he called them, and they charged him ‘heavily’ for only half-an-hour, or even a lesser time job, he regretted why he didn’t learn those skills instead of becoming a schoolteacher. And why didn’t he advise his son to learn any of these skills, instead of securing a BS degree in botany.

Professor Dr Muhammad Obaidullah, a senior teacher at the Institute of Education and Research, Punjab University Lahore, says the concept of higher education is not clear to students and their parents. In a talk with Cutting Edge at his office, he said students mostly get admission to universities and institutes of higher education to secure a good job. That’s why when they obtain a degree, they become desperate to get a job immediately, with a handsome salary. However, he adds, in developed countries, higher education means entering the field of research. Their research pays them ultimately, but it takes some time. Every individual is not supposed to get higher education, but every individual needs a job or some source of income to live a respectable life, he explains. The answer is guiding the students to learning some skill, and allowing only those with an aptitude for research to get admission to institutes of higher education, the educationist believes.

According to statistics revealed by the government of Pakistan in 2021, the total enrolment in schools stood at 4.2 million in FY2020. At the higher secondary/inter colleges (classes XI-XII) level, the enrollment stood at 2.33 million in FY2020. All those passing matriculation and intermediate examinations are not supposed to enter the higher education field to pursue their research goals. But it is sad to note that enrolment at the technical and vocational education centres during FY2020 was recorded only 0.46 million, according to official statistics. That means, there is a serious disconnect between education and market needs in the country.

With over 64% of the population under 30 years of age, and given the ever-changing environment and developments in technology, there is a need to facilitate skill-based education in Pakistan. Federal Minister for Planning, Development and Special Initiatives Ahsan Iqbal also admitted recently, “Mere degree-based education doesn’t mean anything but it’s the skill set and skill-based education that should be imparted to students”.

He was chairing a meeting of vice-chancellors of the country’s engineering universities, representatives of the engineering industry, the Higher Education Commission, the Pakistan Engineering Council and the Institution of Engineers Pakistan, on January 29. He explained that today’s world values skilled human resources more than mere armchair scientists or degree holders, hence, it’s imperative especially for the engineering universities to equip students with modern-day technology and technical knowledge and skills. He also urged engineering universities and other relevant departments to reform their curriculum keeping in view the challenges of the fourth industrial revolution and market demands of the country.

It’s good to note that the federal government is moving in the right direction, and it wants to patronise skill-based education initiatives. However, the federal minister must be aware of the fact that more technical and vocational institutes and more teachers/ trainers would be required in the country to equip young people with skills. Currently, according to the official statistics for the FY2020, there are only 3,800 technical and vocational institutes in Pakistan, with 18,600 teachers. The number of institutes as well as teachers is, definitely, insufficient to meet the future needs of the country to impart skill-based education to its upcoming generations.