Syed Abidi, a renowned education consultant who has been serving the youth of Pakistan by sending them aboard on international scholarships without fee, believes the Pakistani youth has great potential but there is a need to streamline it and provide them with opportunities by guiding them about future higher studies.
In a question-answer session with Jang Group, Abidi explained his approach to provide guidelines to Pakistani youth and shared his experiences of student consultancy as he has sent thousands of Pakistani students abroad on scholarships.
Q: Do Pakistani political parties have any concrete programme of education development in the backdrop of forthcoming general election?
A: Pakistan lacks international standard education experts while political parties appoint education ministers who or his children have never studies in foreign schools. There is a need to select education sector experts who have international exposure and experience in the sector, who will evolve education policy keeping in view local education as well as international standards. Pakistan’s education system is run by CSS bureaucrats, a majority of them engineers and MBBS doctors, while education experts are never appointed in the education department. How can those who never researched on education development run the education system as education sector management is different than others?
Q: At which level Pakistan’s education structure needs changes ö does political change will amend it?
A: Our primary and secondary education level structure is poor while the performance of higher education was also affected during the last three years. Budgetary expenditures on education and health are less than two per cent of GDP while neighbouring countries of Pakistan are spending 4 per cent of their GDP on the two sectors. Pakistan should increase it budgetary spending on health and education to 6 per cent of GDP as economic growth is not possible without increasing spending on the two sectors. If Pakistan does not spend 6 per cent of GDP on the two sectors, it will not be able to ripen fruits of other development sectors spending. Pakistan, in its sixty years, has made only five different education systems. There is a need to regulate the education sector structure as without effective regulations education development is not possible. For the last many decades, we only focused on increasing the number of educational institutions and compromise education quality while Pakistan is one of countries in the world where there are no standards and regulations to open a new educational institution. Opening a new educational institution is very simple and easy in Pakistan ö anyone with money can open any level of educational institution and run his independent education system without any training or degree. There is no need of any specialised degree and become an educationist. Anyone on the power of money can run an impendent education system.
For example, in the English education system everyone has adopted its own choice system, someone is running his educational institution on the British education system, some on the American school system and others Montessori system, some have affiliated their institutions with foreign institutions, thus, too many investors with a number of education systems.
The Pakistan government does not see who is teaching which syllabus or their set of syllabus is the requirement of the country. Language is the major issue of Pakistani educational institutions as some are focused on the English language while others are teaching the language in Urdu accent. Pakistani students and educationists are unaware of global education demands while amendments in the required education system could be made by politicians. But it is also a fact those have knowledge of it are unable to contest and win elections. The next government should engage people who are aware of changing global educational requirements in education policymaking and make then ministers or advisers and also empower them to make decisions.
Q: Are Pakistani youths capable of bringing the country out of crisis?
A: Yes, Pakistani youths are competent and intelligent and aware of everything. Pakistani students, who went to the US, the UK and Australia, were hired there due to their capabilities and some are working at ministerial level and the Pakistani brain is playing a vital role in the growth of the western world. Why cannot we stop brain drain, bring Pakistanis back to the country who are working at top level abroad? Great importance is attached to education in the US and the UK and consultative committees of stakeholders are formed and governments give preferences to recommendations of the committees. The Higher Education Commission (HEC) of Pakistan was also established on the same pattern but its powers were limited as compared to US and UK educational institutions. Educational monitoring institutions of the US and the UK hold strict audit of their institutions and check students are satisfied with their education. The consultative committees interview students and if they are not satisfied with their university education, the committees stop universities from educating students. The committees also look into the available research material, libraries and reference sections of the universities, check research and theory materials and those lacking are closed. Students are also given representation in the committees while universities also provide opportunities to students to give their suggestions to review committees.
It is the responsibility of the Pakistani government to learn from the experiences of other countries and reform education in accordance with local requirements. In Pakistan, teachers or vice-principals are part of school committees but their responsibilities are limited to review daily expenses. School management committees are not empowered in Pakistan while the Directorate of Education Department has all powers. Whenever local level changes are required, everything moves to Lahore. There is a need to empower committees at local level but in Pakistan 90 per cent power is held by either politicians or education secretary. These are people who send their children abroad for education and never return due to poor standards as they cannot adjust with the Pakistani system. In other words, children of Pakistani politicians and bureaucrats have become part of the foreign education system and their elders are unaware of changes in the western education system.
Q: Can education sector expenditure solve problems?
A: Surely, advantages of the education sector equal other sectors as in the long run education sector expenditures will give more benefits than all other sectors. Education is a solution to all problems, ranging from law and order, energy crisis, health and other civic facilities, bad governance, corruption and others. Only that country will rule whose education system is better. In the past, the US and the UK provided better education systems and prioritised education to other sectors and became superpowers. Other evils of society will automatically eradicate with increase in education sector spending. Highly qualified persons can evolve better economic policies and bring the country out of poverty. Nobody knows how to end the energy crisis as irrelevant persons are appointed on technical positions. We can lay the foundation of revolutionary changes by appointing education sector experts as ministers, advisers or on other positions like heads of universities, syllabi authorities etc. The fate of Pakistan can be changed within two to six years by correcting the direction of the education sector.
Q: Our teachers too use unfair means in examination?
A: We have certain so-called education experts whose researches are found to be exact copies of others. Some experts cut and paste through computers and produce fake research papers. How can they develop the country when they steal others’ researches? Breaking laws are their second nature.
Q: What is the number of those who are getting genuine degrees?
A: According to a 2010-11 report, the enrolment for higher degrees was 868,000. The youths were getting education in different categories but their majority did not understand changes occurring in the world and their systems, nor they upgraded their personalities according to requirements of modern times.
Q: Can franchise education system bring any improvement to education standard?
A: A number of franchises and experts of various education systems are busy marketing themselves in our country on a daily basis, promoting their own brands of education systems. But they do not understand international trends of changes or international marketing. Europe has kept a more vigilant eye on the needs of Pakistan and other countries than us. When Islamic banking began spreading in our country and State Bank evolved the rules and regulations, western universities started new degrees in the field. A British university awarded degrees in Islamic banking over eight years back when we could not even think of it. Our banks adjusted their old workers in Islamic banking by giving them little training without proper expertise or experience. Due to these deficiencies, the sector could neither make significant progress according to requirements, nor generate enough job opportunities. The biggest hurdle to progress in the sector is the shortage of expert manpower. Several departments of Islamic banking are not taught in Pakistan altogether. Our degrees lack internationalisation. We look away from changes at world level. Then our students who study abroad chose to settle there. In this way, western countries are making full advantage of internationalization. We can take advantage of ‘cross-border education’, that is, students can study with universities outside their countries through the internet. In this way, students of most backward countries can take degrees of top world class universities. One such degree is to study for some time in one’s own country and then go to a foreign country. But the standard of education should not be compromised in any condition. We need experts of sectors which face crisis. After a severe power crisis, we should promote education in this sector. Take services of experts in energy conservation. Poverty is a big problem and degrees are available in this sector. We have spent hundreds of billions of rupees in the last few years to eliminate poverty but results are poor because funds were probably not spent in the right direction due to lack of planning. We need experts in poverty alleviation so we should have started new degrees in this sector. In the health sector, first dengue struck and now measles is a big danger. Billions of rupees were spent to prepare vaccine and acquire experts to control the epidemics. When a new disease is spread in the west, the officials sector and education institutions begin research on it immediately. Pakistan needs new degrees for dengue prevention and cure. We could have sent 15 to 20 experts to foreign countries to learn their expertise and serve the country after coming back. If our experts continue to settle abroad we will not be able to control the situation inside the country. Politicians need to make policies in this regard. Our literacy rate is estimated at 50 to 55 percent but actually it is below 30 per cent. We have been giving too many privileges to a certain class and need to change the policy to divert the privileges to the deserving.
Q: Your main focus remained degrees or standard?
A: For higher education, we focus on getting more degrees but the level of education should be given importance. Every university has its own method of entrance test, should not politicians think about it?
In our country, every university has established its own method of entrance test and examination system which is different than the other university. A uniform policy at national level is the need of the hour because some institutes have an inclination toward certain class of society. The inclination needs to be removed.
A well thought-out method of entrance test should be applied uniformly to all higher educational institutes. Due to poor policies, every school is holding an entrance test of its own. So the same entrance test should be conducted at O-level and A-levels. English school system and Madaris school system are producing different kinds of people in a same society. In some institutes, the trend of science learning does not exist which is alarming for students. The government should also send experts in schools for guidance of students. All institutes should have the same curriculum and English should be declared as a medium of learning at primary level which will surely leave an impact on the education sector at primary level. Trained teachers at primary level will enhance the learning of students who would do well at higher level. By adopting the same way of learning, unbalancing of our educational system would be decreased. That’s why we need good policymakers.
Q: We have Boards at our school and colleges levels?
A: In higher educational institutes, principals do not enjoy power as they cannot recruit or transfer any staffer. Devolution of power is needed at lower level and for this purpose, a devolution policy should be made to facilitate students. A college principal can better understand problems of a student. Nowadays, a music teacher is teaching sports, on Physics seat, an English teacher is teaching and similarly, at the post of English, English teachers are teaching. The process is affecting the whole educational system.
Q: Can we improve our education sector by sending experts to far-flung areas instead of opening new universities?
A: I have mentioned earlier the hard allowance which was related to it. Everywhere in the world, hard allowance is given to all those who work in tough circumstances. Army also gives that allowance to its personnel deployed at Siachen and other difficult points. Their deployment at those points is part of their training. We can also lay down the foundation of overcoming the backwardness of far-flung areas by sending our educational experts but to achieve that we have to award extra allowance to the teachers.
People of backward areas should benefit from those well-trained experts. Extra expenditures will have to be borne if hundreds of students would come to Lahore and Karachi for higher learning due to lack of required institutes. We can help such students in higher learning at their doorsteps by giving experts extra pay. By establishing such a network, we can improve mental strength of students of Gilgit-Baltistan, DI Khan, Azad Jammu and Kashmir and Fata.