“Education is never neutral, either it enslaves or it empowers”, says Paulo Freire a revolutionary social reformer of Latin America.
To ensure the meaningfulness of Pakistan’s education, Paulo’s above statement should be considered the standard of measurement. Definitely, we need the above statement to measure the meaningfulness of our education because the creation of Pakistan is an outcome of a challenge to the status quo of power structures that existed before 1947.
The entire struggle to create this new country had high quality intellectual, political and strategic vision of a nation that was to become and evolve on its own belief, commitment and vision.
Therefore, the core foundation of this new country should and must rest on education that produces an enlightened, rooted and honourable nation. The education should be of the level that empowers an individual from within and produces individuals who don’t compromise on basic fundamental and universal principles of humanity, integrity, hard work and commitment.
Pakistan is the second country of the world with more than 60 percent of its population between ages of 15 and 35 years, a great human resource that Almighty has bestowed us with. Unfortunately, Pakistan’s vision of an enlightened and empowered process of nation-building was highjacked by vested interest in its initial 20 years. Excluding the first few years of its creation, in major part of its initial phase, Pakistan did not have that much required, focused priority on education.
The new breed of rich and powerful shifted the meaning and purpose of education from nation building to individuals’ learning skills in order to get into position of power and become wealthy, thus defining the meaning of education in their own interest. This was the beginning of a kind of education that would enslave people of Pakistan rather to liberate and empower them to take on global and national challenges.
Education was maneuvered as a base of creating and enhancing class system. The worst victims of this newly-created country by its visionaries were masses in the rural, tribal, and poor communities. The few in urban centres and the rich and powerful in rural areas got the best out of the new emerging country. Education was seen in structures, systems, employment and social and economic status. But what goes on in these institutions and what comes out of these structures is surprisingly nothing to do with the empowerment of people or development of the country. In fact the more one claims to be educated the more that person is enslaved to the dominant forces controlling financial, economic and political spaces at local and global level. Critical thinking is the core of an educated mind, but why this extremely powerful tool is absent from our education system, institutions and structures, is a question mark. Pakistani nation was supposed to build its foundation on its vision that was transformed into a great human struggle that created this amazing but a very compromising country when it comes to intellect, political wisdom, ethics, and values.
The above discussion leads to one fundamental problem, and that is Pakistani education is meaningless when it comes to nation building. Education teaches that diversity is the richness of society, but our society is dangerously drifting towards social, religious, ethnic, economic linguistic biases and losing appreciation of the beautiful diversity Pakistan naturally has. It’s only through education that we can maintain the inherent beauty of its people and culture.
Most important is the understanding of history. It is the most powerful core of education that sets the path for future generations. But we have played havoc with this fundamental subject in education for empowerment.
Science and technology is seen as the right of few rich institutions, but there are some great public institutions that are dedicated to teaching science and technology to underprivileged students.
Working with hands in the fields, factories, construction etc is seen as the most degrading job for a graduate from any educational institution. We are not working on natural resources that grow food for us. How come our education system diverts our people from cattle raising, food growing, industrial and construction work? Why is it that an educated person can throw garbage, leave dirt for a sweeper to clean, why there must be a service boy to bring tea to the desk to the educated people? Who teaches these values, and why our education is not challenging these social injustices that are eating away our values and ethics on which a nation is built. Education is the fuel provider to address inequity in all forms, shapes, and systems.
Why can’t our town planners do a good job? Why our gutters keep overflowing in most educated areas in our cities?
Why are we ashamed of our mother languages, why announcements in domestic flights are only made in Urdu and English, even if the flight is taking off from Pashto, Balochi, Saraiki, Persian, Hindko, Punjabi, and Sindhi speaking areas? Why our education is not promoting the richness of Pakistani languages in its education system. Languages of the people of a country are a key to nation building.
Why we do not use idea-based teaching methods that create research culture. Why have we made it mandatory to meet the standards of teaching institutions, while these institutions are not working according to any kind of educational standard?
When one cannot answer all the above WHYs, it is then that education becomes meaningless to the majority population, and this meaninglessness makes education irrelevant. Unfortunately, it does not remain irrelevant; this irrelevance works very effectively to the enslavement of the people who get excluded due to irrelevance.
The dominant forces take over the empty space of education system, reshape it, repackage it, glamourise it and introduce it back in the failed and dying system and institutions. And these institutions once again get activated to go on a drive to increase enrollment in schools. But people know better, the children make decisions to walk out of these so-called educational institutions. The story goes on and on, mostly by World Bank, Asian Bank, USAID DFID and many such funding institutions. Majority funds go into constructing poor quality buildings, so that cry for school buildings keeps rotating, and the same funding agencies keep giving funds for the same purpose in the name of education. Construction is a highly lucrative business for some!
One classic example of how education for the rich class is treated as a priority over the ordinary public primary education in Balochistan.
In the end of ‘97 and beginning of 2000, the beautiful, well designed, and effectively functional building of Directorate for Primary Education was taken over to convert it into an IT university, on the directives coming from Islamabad.
The reason was clear. Most of the public primary schools are in rural and remote tribal areas where very poor and isolated communities live. On the contrary, most of the IT students hail from well-off and influential families of Quetta.
On another scale, more than 25000 children are left to madaressah education because the government system of education failed to mainstream these community-based educational institutions, and left it in the hands of vested interest groups. All the successive governments turned a blind eye towards this growing monster out of a beautiful concept of community-based learning institutions. Had it been mainstreamed from day one, there would not have been any need for WB or any foreign donor or loaning agency for building schools and establishing them. One can find functional madaressah in most communities across Pakistan, but there is hardly any single effectively functional government school in the same area. The government of Pakistan has miserably failed to provide meaningful and quality education to its people.
After the 18th Amendment, education became the provincial responsibility. Interestingly though, the provincial government is in the control of the same rich and powerful lot that has been the main obstructing factor causing the poverty of education. It is hoped that continuous democratic process will weed out the obstruction. Insha Allah.
Last but not the least, we must urgently re-examine the goal of Pakistan’s education, should our education create blind followers of dominant powers both at home and in the world! Or Pakistan needs to create its own reference points, and put an end to the global exploitation of our youth, our resources, and our intellect.
We as a nation are not there yet, and our vulnerability is very suitable to the global vested interest.
It is only high-quality meaningful education that can unleash the power of critical thinking that can empower our majority population - the youth of our country. More than 60% of the youth energy is waiting to be empowered and lead our nation in the 21st century.
Long Live Pakistan
–The author is an expert on education