Wishes and fantasies

What should the educational system be like?

While it requires the power of the state to bring about change, armchair fantasists like me may be excused for wishing and daydreaming about better education for their future generations. So, unless you are totally averse to such people, please bear with me.

What should the educational system be like? The answer depends upon its objectives. In my view, the major objective should be nurturing citizens with liberal, humanitarian values who should desire peace, inclusiveness and fair treatment of all minority groups and demand respect for women’s rights and human rights; citizens who especially value the pluralism of Pakistani society. The first thing this requires is that for the first three years children should be taught in the language of their home - their mother tongue. This is a tall order since many parents oppose the idea on the assumption that it amounts to treating their children like experimental rats in a laboratory while the children of the rich and the powerful learn English. Thus, if this is done, it has to be done for all children and all schools; otherwise the effort will fail.

Let me now come to the language of schooling after the first three years. In my view, this should be the language of wider communication which is Urdu except in rural Sindh where it is Sindhi. This should be the medium of instruction but English should be taught in all classes. It should be taught creatively through play, song, drama, conversation, films and entertainment in addition to daily classes in it. It is a world language and cannot be ignored though the policy of giving the elite privileged access to it since they can buy it is to be discouraged. The language of higher education should, of course, be English for all in every subject. We will never be able to keep up with the expanding knowledge in all fields if we depend on translations. So, with all children having come from the vernacular medium schooling, the privileged position of some children in higher education will be less of an advantage though it will not be entirely eliminated.

If we are to make our future generations sensitive to the rights of fellow citizens and other people, the rights of those who are different from them, the rights of animals, plants and their environment; then the subjects we teach all of them should be very different from what they have been under the educational policies so far. I recommend that schools teach: personal hygiene, how to take care of oneself (good touch, bad touch etc), mental health, traffic rules, environment, sensitiveness towards the mentally and physically challenged people, respect for all religions, sects, languages, ethnic groups and identity markers; human rights and women’s rights. In addition to that, numeracy, literacy and world history should be taught at all levels. Pakistan studies, or rather South Asian studies, should be part of world history. What we currently teach in Pakistan studies is mostly propaganda that makes our children intolerant and ignorant and is conducive to war not peace. We do not teach anything like respect and tolerance for others which is why children are uncaring, ignorant and insensitive towards the ‘other’ — i.e. minorities, transgender people, people with a skin colour different from them and some foreigners.

What about higher education? Well, instead of opening something that is euphemistically called a ‘university’ in every nook and corner of the country, our aim should be to improve what we teach in such institutions. It is unrealistic to expect every academic to publish a lot. Forced to do that, people cheat and manage to produce worthless research. Instead of this, we should make research the main criterion for promotion and privileges in two universities. These may be known as research universities. These should be the main research engines in the country and, yes, professors in these universities should be paid more than those who work in others. Most of the others should be teaching universities with much lower research requirements for their academics. Promotions should mostly be based on adequate teaching – as assessed by colleagues, outsiders and students. There should be a larger number of university colleges - similar to the institutions that are now called universities - in small towns and remote places. They should be degree-awarding institutions as people of these areas do deserve this. However, they should function under the supervision of the HEC or some such institution. The research and teaching universities should be autonomous institutions and the HEC should have no right to inspect them, regulate them or impose any rules upon them. In university colleges, the HEC should do all of these lest they degrade the standards of education and become degree-doling factories. The lecturers teaching at the university colleges should not be required to publish at all. They should be evaluated for their performance in teaching and promotion should be based upon passing examinations in their subjects or taking additional foreign degrees from prestigious universities.

There are, of course, other educational institutions which I have not mentioned. For instance, there are vocational institutions. Their number should be increased and they should be made attractive, modernised and advertised in the media. They can give useful training to young people who would otherwise be untrained in skills that can earn them a living. There are also religious seminaries. These, I believe, should be meant to train the clergy since the society needs their services. However, they also serve as schools for the very poor or rural children and this function should be taken over by the state which should open its schools in areas where only the seminaries serve the poor. This means that, besides free books and notebooks, the state should also give food (lunch at least), clothes and writing material to their students.

But, why am I day dreaming? I should end with Matthew Arnold’s lines:

Let the long contention cease!

Geese are swans, and swans are geese.

Let them have it how they will!

Thou are tired; best be still.

Or should I choose Faiz’s words:

Faiz hota rahay jo honay hai/ she’r likhtay raha karo baithay (Faiz let be what will be; be content with where you are sitting and keep writing your verse). While Faiz did a lot more in real life, I follow what he said. I am glad, however, that there are people like Zubeida Mustafa, Dr Anjum Altaf, Dr AH Nayyar and Ajay Panjwani who are doing something practical about education. The more practical reader may contact these dynamic people.

The author is a research scholar, an educationist and an occasional columnist

Wishes and fantasies: What should Pakistan's educational system be like?