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June 6, 2008



June 6, 2008

The Pakistan Coalition for Education, a network of 135 civil society organisations advocating for access to quality education for all children held a series of dialogues to analyse the latest education policy proposed by the government. After holding provincial meetings in different cities, the process culminated in a national conference in Islamabad just recently. I am amazed that successive governments continue to release new policies which are seldom translated into effective plans with timelines and prior budgetary allocations. What a pity that half of the children of school-going age in Pakistan never see a classroom, or drop out, in a country that takes pride in testing sophisticated long-range missiles and winning international spectator sports.

Many of you may complain that the state of education in this country has been lamented over and over again. But I am reminded of Josh Malihabadi who once said, 'woh jhoot bar bar jo bola gaya haiy aaj / ek din usay haqeeqat-i-kubra kahein gay log' (The lie being repeatedly told today /Will one day become the biggest truth for people). Therefore, to counter the repeated assertions of falsehood by powers that be, I would reiterate what many of us think about the basic schooling in our country, the truth and nothing but the truth.

All children of Pakistan should be given access to good quality schooling to bring them at par with children anywhere and, particularly, make them able to take on the longstanding elite capture of the country's institutions, businesses, services and intellectual discourse. Children from Ghaziabad in Lahore and Orangi in Karachi are entitled to the same education the children of Gulberg and Clifton receive. Likewise, the quality of teaching should be high, conditions of teachers drastically changed for the better and reforms introduced in consultation with teacher unions.

The term 'reforms,' in case of the schooling system where it stands today, sounds compromising, weak

and wishy-washy. What we need in education is a revolution -- towards bridging the class divide on the basis of fair play and equal opportunities to produce equally equipped and competent students from all backgrounds. If we look at madressahs, how many new schools are opened by public education managers in the last eight years during which they unequivocally termed madressahs as academies of terrorism? What options has the state given to its poor but to send their children to these seminaries with free room and board? What investment have we made in developing infrastructure and raising teaching standards in existing schools? Besides, curriculum of madressahs is condemned and that of state schools is a subject of harsh criticism for long by the enlightened civil society and the educationists. I don't have anything to add to what the studies have shown about the narrow-mindedness, bigotry, irrational thinking and false sense of history the existing curriculum inculcates. One of the revolutionary steps to be taken is to introduce a modern, rational and absorbing curriculum. Nothing worthwhile is done in this respect.

While many of us see with scepticism the impartation of education to be used as a mere source of profit, the role and importance of private schools run by trusts and communities must be recognised. The problem statement is so huge that the state alone will take decades to provide for every child. Some of the private institutions fill the gap and can continue to support the nation. However, these should not be allowed to run parallel systems of language, curriculum and examination. No 'O' and 'A' levels for your child and ordinary, low quality matriculation for mine. Every child has a right to the highest possible quality and levels of education. Every teacher has a right to live with dignity and enjoy a decent livelihood.

The writer is an Islamabad-based poet and rights campaigner. Email: [email protected]

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