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October 6, 2017

The answer to our education woes


October 6, 2017

Though quality education is the most powerful weapon for change, successive governments in Pakistan have displayed a reluctance to equip the people with the power of effective education. Sadly, despite the importance of education in today’s globalised world, there are around 24 million out-of-school children in the country and the government does not have a feasible plan to immediately enrol them at schools.

Quality education undoubtedly provides the concrete foundation upon which a nation builds its socioeconomic and political future. So, how will Pakistan brighten its future with such a staggering number of out-of-school children? What is most alarming to note is that the incumbent government has dismally failed to evolve and execute a realistic national education policy.

Pakistan’s current political structure is based on a feudal democracy. Most legislators belong to the country’s aristocratic, plutocratic and feudal classes who employ massive wealth and influence to win highly flawed democratic elections. In such a feudal democratic system, dynastic lawmakers deliberately avoid providing critical and qualitative education to the people. Their major apprehension is that if the poor acquire a sound education, they will oust crooked politicians and permanently bar them from employing wealth to win elections.

According to the Article 25A of the constitution, the government is responsible for providing free and compulsory education to all children who are between the ages of five and 16. But since 1973, successive governments have systematically dragged their feet in terms of giving effect to this significant constitutional provision in order to keep the people in the dark and rule over them. Our unscrupulous leaders are acutely aware that uneducated people tend to become economically weak and intellectually ignorant. As a result, they help these politicians to continue embezzling the country’s depleting economic resources.

Successive governments have shattered the Quaid’s dream of developing a highly educated and skilled nation. The incumbent government should keep in mind that if it further delays the required educational reforms, Pakistan will continue to indefinitely knock on the doors of the US and international financial institutions for timely economic bailout packages for its underperforming economy.

In South Asia, Pakistan is among those developing countries that spend less than three percent of their GDP on education while India and Sri Lanka allocate more than three percent of their GDPs towards their educational sectors. In the 2017-18 budgets of the federal and provincial governments, only Rs902.7 billion was allocated to the educational sector.

According to various reports, a large portion of this amount either remains underutilised or goes to waste on account of the massive corruption that is inherent in the country’s educational structure. So, it is patently clear that the government cannot reform and update outdated syllabi of educational institutions, increase faculty capacities and build more learning centres with this insufficient budgetary allocation to education.

The country’s overall education ratio is also unsatisfactory. According to a recent report issued by the Institute of Social and Policy Sciences (I-SAPS), Pakistan has a literacy rate of only 58 percent. The report further states that there are 24 million out-of-school children in the country – the second largest number after Nigeria.

Under the UN Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), Pakistan was expected to attain the target of an 88 percent education ratio by 2015. However, it missed the target due to its political indecisiveness and laxity. Now, the government’s lingering inaction shows that the country will once again fail to achieve its educational objectives under the Sustainable Development Goals, which Islamabad is expected to meet by 2035.

What is pertinent to mention is that the party at the helm often exaggerates the country’s education ratio as a gimmick for political point-scoring. How can the government determine the education ratio without conducting impartial surveys, a timely population census and effective research on the country’s education? Our politicians and bureaucrats are clever enough at overstating educational facts and figures in order to convince the people about their false commitment to the crisis-ridden education sector.

We have so far adopted and tested flawed educational assessment measures. Those who are able to read and understand sentences in Urdu are also included among the country’s literate population. There are a large number of people who can read sentences in Urdu but have never attended schools and colleges to receive formal education. Highly industrialised and developed countries employ standard tools of measuring people’s educational abilities that test their power of reading and critical thinking.

The country is also grappling with chronic inequality with respect to male and female education. The female education ratio is merely 45 percent and 49 percent of the country’s girls of school-going age are out of schools as compared to 40 percent of the boys. The underlying reasons behind such low female education ratio include the prevalent patriarchal mindset, the conservative social structure, ill-conceived religious thoughts and the social insecurity of girls in society.

How can Pakistan economically compete with developing countries in Asia when a large number of its girls have been deprived of basic education? With a declining female literacy rate, the country will not be able to produce a responsible, committed and skilled generation in the future.

On account of a socio-economic disparity, the absence of the private sector in rural areas and a protracted political negligence, the country is also facing the issue of the rural-urban divide in terms of the literacy rate. The figure stands at 74 percent in urban areas and 49 percent in rural areas. Deprived of basic education, people from neglected rural areas are steadily migrating towards the country’s unruly cities in the quest for basic economic, health and education facilities. The uncontrolled migration toward urban centres has continued to cause socioeconomic, security, health and educational problems in our disorderly cities.

A large number of MA and MPhil degree-holders of public sector universities either possess little or no knowledge about basic theories and ideas of their fields. Since they lack requisite knowledge of their fields – mainly due to the incompetence of their teachers – many of these students resort to plagiarising research materials to prepare their final theses. This is a shameful act and the HEC has, so far, done little to prevent our research scholars from becoming ‘intellectual thieves’ by plagiarising research works of others.

According to data that is available on the matter, there are some 10,000 PhD degree holders in the country and the HEC wishes to produce 38,000 more scholars under its ambitious Vision 2025. Out of these 10,000 PhD scholars, a large number of them have cleverly used unfair means to obtain their degrees. More intellectual thieves are likely to be produced in the race to increase the quantitative level of higher education.

The practice of producing more PhD scholars has resulted in a low standard of higher education in the country. Owing to the lack of quality research, only seven Pakistan universities have been ranked in the top 300 universities in Asia by The Times Higher Education’s (THE) Asia University Rankings 2017.

The country’s entrenched educational backwardness is primarily responsible for 29.5 percent people who are currently living below the poverty line, the two percent population growth, the less than five percent economic growth, democratic instability and spiralling insecurity. The high level of illiteracy has presumably played an obstructive role in stopping resource-rich Pakistan from becoming an economic and military power in the world.

The government should awaken from its slumber and prioritise educational reforms. It should increase the education budget, update all outmoded syllabuses, train teachers with critical thinking methods, build more educational institutions and inhibit corruption within the education sector.

All these measures can easily be implemented if the country’s legislators and bureaucrats are bound by the constitution to send their children to public sector educational institutions in the country.

The writer is an independent researcher.

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @ayazahmed66665

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