Education: A victim of expediency

By Zubeida Mustafa
From Dawn Archives Library 9 & 16 Oct 1987

Education in Pakistan is in a state of crisis. Not only has the government failed to fulfil this basic need of the citizens by establishing educational institutions in sufficient numbers, the quality of the education available is also deplorably poor. Given the weaknesses in the education system, it is not surprising that only 26 per cent of Pakistanis are literate (taking a technical definition of literacy), only 50 per cent of the primary school-age children are enrolled in schools and 50 per cent of them drop out before they complete five years of schooling.

The statistics for women are even more depressing. Only sixteen per cent of them are literate — seven per cent in the rural areas — 32 per cent girls in the 5-9 years age group are enrolled in school and eight per cent attend higher secondary school.

A major factor generally identified for this malaise is the paucity of resources committed for the education sector. In this context, the 21 per cent cut in the education budget announced recently by the Federal Education Minister is most unwelcome. It confirms officialdom’s traditional approach of giving the education sector the lowest priority . The conventional practice has been to economise in this sector. When resources are short, it is education on which the axe falls first.

But that is not all that is wrong with education in Pakistan, as Ms Anita Ghulam Ali, the President of the Pakistan College Teachers’ Association and Secretary of the Sind Provincial Education Council, points out.

Anita, who is also the head of the Microbiology Department in S.M. Science College, Karachi, feels that the importance of education has never been recognised by the powers that be. “The government regards education to be a nonproductive sector, hence it has never put enough in it.

And when she speaks of “not enough being put in education”, Anita means not only in terms of funds but also organisation, planning and management.

“Education in Pakistan has been a victim of expediency. No academic considerations go into its planning. Greater emphasis is placed on whose vested interest it will serve,” observes Anita.

One major problem she identifies in education management is the tight bureaucratic control exercised by the government on educational institutions. Whatever its motive, the fact is that the bureaucracy puts so many checks on. schools and colleges that they have little room to function freely.Their budgets are tightly control- led and the amount under each head is rigidly specified. The principals have no power to raise funds or do their own budgeting. As a result there cannot be efficient utilisation of whatever funds are allocated to the education sector.

To prove her point, Anita gives the example of an enterprising headmistress of a government school who landed herself in trouble for growing corn in the unutilized spacious school grounds to raise money to repair the school building.

Conversely, another school in Karachi, which has recently been taken over by the Federal Government, has demonstrated what wonders financial autonomy .can do. The principal, an ex-major of the Pakistan Army, is allocated a certain amount — not enough by his standard — and is then left free to spend the money as he deems it necessary. According to Anita, he has revolutionised the school within the span of a year. “After all, he does not have to go chasing the bureaucrats if he has to buy a water cooler for his school,” she remarks.

“Because of red tapism and wrong financial management nearly ten per cent of the education budget is not utilised at all,” Anita puts it emphatically.

It is not just financial management that is tightly controlled by the bureaucrats. The administrative checks also slow down the work and add to inefficiency.

Paradoxically this leads to a waste of public money. “Time is money and efficiency,” Anita points out, “But no one realises that the amount of paper work the Education Department is called upon to do results in gross waste of time.”

In a system in which the Education Secretary spends quite a lot of his working hours signing leave applications of college lecturers, there is not much scope for productive work, forward thinking and positive planning.

Anita strongly feels that no progress is possible as long as education continues to be treated like any other department of the Administration. It is the largest sector in terms of employment — in Sind there are over 100,000 people working in this field — and education has its own special needs. It is important that the educational system is streamlined so that the administration is not as top-heavy as it is today and the financial and administrative procedures are tailored to cut down paperwork and promote the concept of autonomy in the educational institutions. Another factor contributing to the ills in educational planning is the absence of follow-up. This might appear strange in a system where the emphasis is on the administration.

Money will be invested in a scheme but no one will bother to monitor it. “Not surprisingly, you have colleges supplied with computers but no staff to work them. Primary schools have been provided science kits which are not used because there is no space to store them. Those who plan never go back to see how their plans are working, if they are working at all,” Anita says.

What worries her is how our educational institutions are breeding violence and frustration among the youth. In this context, Anita talks of some basic needs of the students which our system has totally failed to meet. The schools are overcrowded and there is not even adequate space for children to sit and study. In this context, Anita talks of the basic needs of the students which our system has totally failed to meet. The schools are overcrowded and there is not even adequate space for children to sit and study.

“In a school in Lyari, there are craters in the floor, the walls are danaged .ind an open drain full of three feet deep sewage surrounds the school building. Nearly 132 children are crammed into one small classroom. Anita asks, “What can you expect from these children? What discipline can you teach them when they have to jostle and push each other just to find some space to sit. With most government schools running two four-hour shifts, there is not much time for teaching either. The students barely come in contact with their teachers. Then the unscheduled closures mean further loss of academic session.”

In such conditions, the teachers cannot really do much. Even otherwise their discipline, work ethics and initiative has been destroyed by the treatment meted out to them by the Education Department. Favouritism and nepotism are the determining factors in transfers, sanction of leave, and promotion. “No one’s case is judged on its merit,” Anita says.

“One’s progress depends on what influence he or she can bring to bear on the authorities. If you have the right connections you can have your way in every thing. A lady whose husband was posted abroad was granted ex-Pakistan leave for seven years and was promoted in absentia because she came from a well-placed family. But another was not granted leave to perform Haj.”

One wonders if matters will ever improve. One positive factor is the growing public demand for education which generates pressure on the government. People living in the remotest of rural areas are now asking for schools, even girl schools. How strongly the people have begun to feel about educating their children, was best illustrated in the case of a school in a slum area of Karachi whose building was to be demolished. No alternative arrangement had been made. The parents threatened violence if the school was allowed to close down. Hence a health centre was found to house the school temporarily. Had the parents not acted, the school would have closed down for a few years.

Obviously the education of the elite has had a demonstration effect, observes Anita. The common man believes that it is education which has given the elite its privileged status. Now he is also demanding education. But until the government responds to this demand, the situation will not change much.

But public pressure does produce some results. Anita concedes that the demands of her Association has voiced from time to time has compelled the government to take a closer look at the problems in the education sector. The research sponsored by the Sind government on this issue is unparalleled. Three task forces have prepared reports on examinations, medical education and education and its. evaluation. A study group has worked on the improvement of the standard of education while another has studied malpractices in private colleges. A four-volume inspection report on government and private schools has been produced and more volumes are under preparation.

Of course, most of the recommendations have not been implemented or, for that matter, considered. But . at least some groundwork has been accompIished which can form the basis of future measures, should the government decide to act.