How can we help our millions of children grow into responsible adults and useful citizens?
We need to examine what we are doing as a nation to prepare our children to become responsible citizens of the state as they grow up to be adults.
Delicate beings as they are, children need to be taken care of for all their needs, physical as well as mental, failing which the future generations would be weak and diseased, mentally stunted and unable to function up to their potential.
Brain, the most advanced form of matter, is the most valuable asset that humans possess. Its needs are two-fold. One, it must be protected from injuries, and two, it must be carefully nurtured into a precious asset. Poverty, deprivation and abuse leave deep scars on the mind as it develops, both inhibiting the development of its innate potentials and germinating negative tendencies in the struggle for survival. To imagine that children growing up in such situations would prove to be useful and responsible citizens is a folly.
The brain a child carries needs to be nurtured into as excellent a mind as is possible.
Hidden among the nascent brains are millions waiting to be groomed into excellent minds. Brilliant minds are distributed among the brains completely randomly. A brilliant mind can be born in a very destitute household, and a brain born in an affluent environment may prove to be of an ordinary kind. This generally accepted fact leads to the conclusion that all the children must be treated as potential carriers of brilliant minds, and every carefully nurtured mind can prove to be a great asset for the nation. The nations that spend their resources in nurturing minds stand to gain from the assets that their investment produces. Conversely, the nations that fail to invest in nurturing minds remain deprived of this gift of nature.
The brilliant minds that a nation produces can prove productive in various ways. They can be great managers, they can be creative politicians that can think of innovative ways to develop and manage their societies, they can become legendary healers understanding illnesses and finding cures, great explorers, excellent investigators of the nature or great thinkers.
Let us evaluate Pakistan on how we handle brains and minds.
One third of our population lives below the poverty line, which means that one third of the children of our nation are quite likely to be injured mentally. For this section of the society, getting out of the poverty is nearly impossible, and hence one third of the intellectual asset that we could have had is lost to us forever.
Education is a process of nurturing minds. Our Constitution obligates the state to provide education to all the school age children compulsorily and free of cost. Yet nearly half of the school age children have no access to education. They have either never been to a school or have dropped out on account of poor schooling. There may be a large overlap between these children and those suffering poverty. They are all around us in the form of rag pickers, child labourers, the workshop apprentices, household workers, car washers, etc, or simply apprentice criminals. So many of them could have been useful intellectual assets for the society had they been nurtured. Thus one third of the nascent brains are lost to the nation on account of poverty, societal neglect, and, most importantly, due to the flagrant violation by the state of its constitutional obligation under Article 25A. Quite shamelessly, some powerful lobbies seem weary of this obligation and are intent on reversing the constitutional amendment that had introduced it.
A good education is guaranteed by the institutions that have adequate infrastructure and well-educated and trained teachers, who use high quality learning material and prepare students for a challenging examination system that probes intelligence rather than memorisation. The totality of these elements goes a long way in transforming raw brains into brilliant minds. Students going through such an education get well equipped for taking up challenges and prove assets to the society.
The public education system of Pakistan, which caters to nearly 60 percent of the entire school going children, faces a crippling neglect. Besides the dismal allocation of resources, ghost schools, ghost teachers, teacher absenteeism, political appointment of unqualified teachers, poorly authored textbooks, and above all, gross malpractices in summative assessment systems have all resulted in a terribly deficient output, which form the large mass of uncultivated minds unable to contribute positively to the society.
The better managed schools in the private sectors do make an effort at grooming the minds, but then they mostly cater to the affluent sections of the society, and their output is more likely to seek greener pastures abroad rather than serve this society.
Large populations are often considered a burden, but they can be an asset if the huge brain power is properly groomed. If we want to turn our millions of brains into assets, we will need to fulfil two conditions: one, to hugely increase our national investment in public education and two, to radically reform the defective education system.
The writer is a retired teacher of Quaid-i-Azam University, Islamabad