The ongoing Covid-19 pandemic was an opportunity for the government to seriously work on bringing reforms in the education system and snatch it from the jaws of private education, but unfortunately no concrete efforts have been made in this regard.
To date, various governments have made efforts to bring reforms in Pakistan’s education system. Immediately after independence, the government formed a department of Islamic Reconstruction and Muhamed Asad was appointed as the head of this institute. He was given the task to develop the constitution of Pakistan and also suggest reforms in the country’s education system. Unfortunately, before completing his work, he was sent to the UN as Pakistan’s minister plenipotentiary in 1952 and the place where his work was stored caught fire a few years after his departure.
Former president Ayub Khan was also a fan of reforming the education system. Qudratullah Shaab wrote in his autobiography that Ayub Khan was not interested in improving the overall education system but in bringing changes at the primary level only.
Later on as well, the governments of Pakistan developed a series of educational policies: the National Education Policy in 1972, the National Education Policy in 1979, and the National Education Policy in 1992 – with the aim to achieve 100 percent literacy rate. Unfortunately due to persistent corruption, the country is among the bottom spectrum countries of the world as far as literacy is concerned.
Covid-19 has devastated the already deteriorating system of Pakistan. In its latest report, Save the Children has bracketed Pakistan with those 12 countries where nearly 10 million schoolgoing children are most at risk of falling behind or never returning to school, as a result of increasing poverty and budget cuts incurred by the pandemic.
Like its predecessors in the past, the current government is also making efforts to revamp the education system. This government came up with the novel idea that the country’s education system may be improved by bringing a single national curriculum which to begin with may not be Pakistan’s problem.
The problem of Pakistan’s education system is lack of infrastructure and scarcity of trained teaching staff. In the worst-case scenario, in some locations, the trained person hired to teach students opts for a job in urban centers and on his/her own appoints an incapable person to teach students s/he was supposed to be teaching.
In the Indian subcontinent, ‘madressahs’ were the only educational institutes present and the best thing of these madrassas was that they used to teach religion and worldly subjects simultaneously. In most cases, there were more courses on conventional education than on religion. An important element to note is that the students of these madressahs attained unmatchable success. The reason was their varied knowledge, comprising both worldly knowledge and the teachings of Islam; this combination complemented each other immensely. A British national named Warren Hastings disturbed this combination when in 1781 he established a one of its kind ‘madressah’ in Calcutta for religious studies only.
If someone is serious about improving the education system, we need to go back to our Pre-Hastings day education system. The education system on which Allam Asad was working and which never saw daylight also discussed combining madrassah education with conventional worldly education.
By combining madressahs with the conventional education system, mosques can also be used for teaching purposes. In this, the imam of a mosque becomes an important figure as far as teaching religious studies goes.
In Balochistan where the population is sparse, and in some cases students have to walk 25km or more to reach their schools, utilizing mosques can help increase school enrollment rate.
A few decades ago, people in urban localities also trusted the public education system and going to private schools was considered a privilege. Unfortunately in the last 25 years or so, public schools have collapsed completely and now everyone is at the mercy of private schools which are more interested in fleecing parents than imparting education. Even during this tough time when the lockdown was enforced in the country, private schools have continued to demand fee from parents while some even went to the extent of downsizing their staff despite saving a huge amount in terms of utility expenses for instance.
The sort of half-cooked and broken education system we have in Pakistan cannot be improved by a half-baked idea. Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the education system – especially at the school level – has been completely halted for the last five months.
The lessons we can learn from this closure is that no skies will fall down if the government shuts down all schools for some time and utilises this time to completely revive the education system and bring it at par with the developed world.
The writer is a publicist.
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