One of the biggest challenges faced by Pakistan today is the dropping literacy rate and lack of technologically educated workforce. Seventy years of both civil governments and martial regimes have failed to prioritise and enhance the education system.
Political leaders continue to mock each other and not a single representative comprehends the sensitivity of the situation. The dropping literacy rate in Pakistan will isolate it further from a competitive, growing economic world where talent/innovation is the new ‘oil’. Disappointment if not disillusion is inevitable, particularly in light of the current educational crisis. We must all urge the authorities to take notice and declare an educational emergency in Pakistan.
The high noon of the British Raj was a painful period for the people of the Subcontinent. One of the main reasons for that was the deprivation of education for the masses. Educational budgets were always the first to be gulped for numerous projects such as the construction of rail tracks. These would then be used to transport troops from one end to the other at times of revolt and war. Unfortunately, perceived self-interest trumps fundamental human rights. Havoc budget management made education remain a dream for everyone except a handful of the elite.
Imperialism exited the Subcontinent but the education situation remains somewhat the same. Two major educational systems still exist, the national educational system that includes Matriculation and Intermediate paths and the British education system that comprises O-Levels and A-Levels. It is very unfortunate that the education system has two classes based on an individual’s economic and financial strength.
In the Global Competitiveness Report 2016-17, Pakistan stood at 122 out of 138 countries. It ranks last amongst its South Asian neighbours, where India leads at 39 followed by Sri Lanka 71, Bhutan 97, Nepal 98 and Bangladesh at 106.
I am not a huge fan of the PPP’s educational policies, However, Shaheed Benazir Bhutto in her last book ‘Islam, Democracy and West’ rightly points out the educational crisis in Pakistan since the opening decade of the 21st century. She explains that defence spending is 1400 percent more than that of education. Pakistan has abundant tanks and weapons but lacks technological education workforce for the global world. More books have been translated in just Spanish from other languages than for Muslim countries as a whole. This clearly identifies a downward trend of reading not just in Pakistan but other Muslim nations also – clearly violating the first word of the Revelation: ‘Iqra” meaning ‘Read’.
Not being able to read and write gives birth to social, political and economic issues. Lack of quality curriculum in rural public schools and opportunities have resulted in economic and social deprivation for the people. Relevant curricula to compete in a flat world are accessible to the elite and upper middle class on self-finance only. There are negligible merit grants and scholarships for the under-privileged and poor. The country’s rural area is exposed to public schools that struggle with negligible budget, shabby administration, weak infrastructure and non-trained teachers.
The 21st-century hyper-connected world will be about research and development, inventing new procedures and suitable education. Educationists and national campaigners have been pressing the government to allocate a higher percentage of GDP to the education sector. There is a dire need for strict implementation of the national education policy and effective monitoring of the Vision 2030 education goals.
An analysis of our education policy suggests that at the policy level there are numerous admirable ideas. It may not be possible for the government at the moment to implement a uniform education system in the country, but a uniform curriculum can be introduced in the educational institutes of the country. This will provide equal opportunity to the students of rural areas to compete with the students of urban areas in the job market. It is imperative that Pakistan prepare a technological workforce that can compete not just within the country but at a global level as well.
The writer is an independent researcher.