Change can be for the better, or for the worse.

The topic in question does not highlight the kind of change which modern day education in Pakistan will bring about – it leaves it open to the writer’s imagination. Are we to analyze how the education of today will improve Pakistan’s tomorrow? For improvement does not appear to be the most probable outcome.

As far as education and improvement are concerned, there exists a wealth of substantial literature on the subject. Countless minds the likes of Russell, Bacon, Arnold and Kant etc. have composed volumes on how to go about using education as a tool for social betterment. However, in my essay, I aim to scrutinize how Pakistan’s present education system casts an inauspicious shadow over the country’s uncertain future.

First of all, allow me to state the universal truth that education is the key to social engineering. One need only glance at a state’s education policies and the product of its school systems in order to predict its future prospects. In light of this, let us turn to the state of Pakistan:

Education in Pakistan is among the lowest priorities of the government, the media, and the political elite. This is best evidenced by an insidious misallocation of resources wherein representatives of the federal center grab the bulk of available resources and dole out a pittance to the remaining provinces.

An army of educational advisors and policy makers enjoys liberal state funded excursions to international sessions on training and policy design in the field of education. Yet, this plethora of advisors cannot boast of a single, original article of policy worth the name. Our Ministry of Education believes in a “copy-paste” regimen of copying policies implemented by other countries and pasting them onto the national canvas regardless of compatibility. Piles of paper are then wasted in issuing meaningless reports on ineffective, useless policies in order to justify the corruption and malaise of the upper echelons of the system.

A key feature in the bleak landscape that is our education is the forlorn figure of the teacher. Private education systems have reduced the teacher to a mere employee lacking control in the classroom while being denied adequate compensation for his or her services. At the opposite extreme, lucrative pay packages in the public sector have disfigured the profession into one which does not require personal skills so much as powerful connections. Jobs are doled out by corrupt politicians to their nearest and dearest relatives/voting banks while corruption permeates the system from the clerical to the upper administrative levels.

Thus, caught between an exploitative private sector and its inaccessible public counterpart, talented teachers tend to flee the country in search of greener pastures – a fast-paced process of brain drain which is actively being catalyzed by the state itself.

Let us now turn to the curriculum. In the social sciences, Pakistan’s textbook boards have failed to produce a single book worth mentioning in the last three decades, if not more. As far as natural sciences are concerned, published volumes are solely aimed at producing a breed of students that excels at rote memorization.

In fact, memorization and retention of redundant facts seem to be the key object of assessment, indeed the very object of education itself, as far as the public sector is concerned.

This state of affairs becomes far more dismal once we glance at the country’s institutes of higher education. Our universities have thus far failed to generate a culture based on research and critical thinking – best evidenced by a lack of quality annual publications in international journals. Most of the HEC’s well-advertised “standards of excellence” have little bearing on reality. They have more to do with the standards of living of corrupt administrators reeling in funds by the millions. The HEC itself is an organization that has long outlived any utility it might have laid claim to in the past.

Courtesy of its ill-thought-out policies, costs in public sector education are steadily rising, with university aspirants expected to pay anything in-between PKR 60 to 80,000 for admission. This effectively slams the door of higher education in the face of about 80 to 85 percent of the Pakistani youth, if not more. Meanwhile, funds are denied to universities in lieu of scholarship programs for talented lower-middle class youth.

The denizens at the HEC, FDE and FBISE have yet to initiate collaborative efforts involving feedback from senior teachers in curriculum design or effective policies targeted at quality teacher training. Instead, parallel programs of BA/B.Sc. have been initiated in both degree colleges and universities, effectively forcing the latter to admit FA/F.Sc. students in a duplication of labor. Thus, Universities are no longer cells of research; they are degree colleges by another name.

A key result of the deterioration of the public sector has been the commercialization of education in Pakistan. Private and public sector students represent the deep fragmentation prevalent within the heterogeneous body that is the youth of Pakistan. Education is now a commodity. Yet talent, as one must admit, is not limited to a certain class, but is widely diffused throughout the social strata.

This rough overview casts a pallor over the nature of the change one might expect to see in Pakistan’s future. There is an immediate need for drastic reforms, ones not limited to an overhaul of infrastructure and discussions at conferences attended by party demagogues.

Change can only be made concrete and sustainable if it is brought about through legislation. Effective legislation is thus the hand-maiden of education.

Unless we cry halt to the current deterioration, our future is a Pakistan where the progeny of corrupt elite is granted access to any and all opportunities on account of their access to a high-quality education. A Pakistan stripped of the talent of its sons and daughters as they are forced to flee their motherland in search of hope. A Pakistan known to the world as a marginalized nation of 300 million people traded as cheap labor by their corrupt leaders in exchange for dollars and pound.

A formidable future indeed.

Faruzan A. Butt
Islamabad, Pakistan

 

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