Education pitfalls

By Zubeida Mustafa

HEALTH or education? Which should be the government’s first priority? I would say education and health. Both have a symbiotic relationship. A government that recognises the importance of its social capital and the value of its human resources will address both sectors.

Good health facilitates good education, just as good education should promote health by teaching people the basics of preventive medicine and health care. But when a state is strapped for cash and focuses on other matters that it erroneously believes to be important for its national security, it tends to neglect ‘frivolous’ issues like education and health.

If expediency demands that the state should be seen as caring for the welfare of its citizens, the first choice should be education. Nothing poses a bigger threat to a society than the ignorance of its members. Educating a child and teaching him how to use his mind and intellect to differentiate between good and bad and put his knowledge to effective use is a more challenging and expensive exercise than curing his body of disease.

Today, the Pakistan government is putting up a show of focusing on education as a result of external pressure. Western powers have been led to believe that lack of education has pushed our people into extremism and turned them into militants. The ostentation so publicised by our electronic media has also created a public demand for education since it is widely believed that a slip of paper with a degree or certificate printed on it is enough to get its holder a lucrative job. Hence the paper chase with free resort to unfair practices.

All this has forced the government to put up a pretence of addressing the education needs of the children of Pakistan. Article 25-A has been introduced in the constitution, making it incumbent on the state to provide free and compulsory education to all children five to 16 years of age. The provincial governments have entered into agreements with donor agencies to expand and upgrade education. Countless reports have been produced by various organisations and experts investigating the education sector. Issues such as curricula, textbooks and the training of teachers have come under scrutiny. Never before in the history of Pakistan has so much ink been spilt on writing reports on the education problems we face and the strategies that must be adopted.

Regrettably, this is not creating any impact. True, there are private-sector institutions that provide high-quality education that makes students world-class professionals who can compete with the products of the best universities the world over. This has a grave dimension.

This education is not the right of all. Only a small elite minority has access to it. The majority has to make do with the mediocre education that leaves it incapable of reaching the academic level it is expected to.

An Annual Status of Education Report survey for 2011 conducted mainly in the rural districts of the country found that only 47 per cent of children tested in grade five could read a story in Urdu or Sindhi, while 40 per cent could read a sentence in English but a quarter of them had no comprehension of what they had read. Only 21 per cent of children had number recognition from 10 to 99 and 32 per cent could subtract two-digit numbers.

The major problem with education in Pakistan today is the inequitable distribution of resources between the privileged and the underprivileged. This is a serious matter for two reasons. First, the poor who are denied good education will remain trapped in poverty forever, no matter how hard they may try to improve their lot. Being inadequately qualified, they can never get high-paying jobs. Poverty will continue to be their and their children’s lot. Without money they will not be allowed to enter the high-class schools that have been set up as profit-making concerns.

Second, the gap between the haves and the have-nots will continue to widen and the number of those below the poverty line will increase.

It is now important that the authorities start the process of upgrading the public-sector school system. The changes needed are too obvious for me to list. While the 26 per cent out-of-school primary-age children must be enrolled, there is also a need for infrastructural and pedagogic improvements in these schools. A government school census in 2005 found 12,000 schools out of 227,791 were ghost schools, 23 per cent had no boundary walls, 20 per cent were deprived of drinking water, 35 per cent had no electricity and 25 per cent were without latrines.

Simultaneously, teachers have to be trained and mobilised to improve the quality of education. When standards are so low, even small improvements mean a lot and will be visible.

When it comes to addressing the quality of teaching, the high-quality private schools need to be reformed as well. They have failed to look at the minds of the students in their care. With so much research being undertaken on the brain and how experience actually changes it in the early years of life, it is surprising that our schools have no role to play in the development of the mind.

There is no understanding of cognition and how a child can be guided towards thinking critically after analysing information and knowledge and applying it to one’s practical life. There is a section of the youth that has broken out of this mould. Unfortunately, most have fallen for the paper chase that doesn’t encourage any thinking at all.

Source: Dawn

11 thoughts on “Education pitfalls

  1. Zubeida – Leaving a copy of comment on your today's article on education in Dawn.
    Thanks for a concise summary of the state of our education. There are some hopeful developments. PTI has recently put out a comprehensive economic proposal where PTI plans to increase current education budget 5 times if it comes to power. PTI is also planning to release its detailed education policy in few weeks. Hopefully, other political parties will follow the suit as well.

    1. health is the first priority as a child who is not provided mental health, how can development be helpful in any school? for that mothers should be healthy especially mental health.

  2. On a slightly different note I wish to highlight the inappropriateness of medical education in Pakistan. Conventional medical colleges take 5 years plus to get a doctor qualified. For most ailments paramedics with much less orthodox education would be far better as they would be able to tackle most of the ailments that befall the
    people. Same applied for general education – a BA takes 14 years. What we need is a crash
    literacy program – Latin American could make their population 100% literate in less than 5 years! This education needs to be coupled with general health education for adults.

  3. Dear Zubeida, In todays Pak neither health nor education has a priority over wasteful living and distorted values. The rich send their children to private schools and have their byepass opertions done in UK or USA. I am sorry the exploited masses have to rise and fight for their rights. This is taken care of by making them believe that a good muslim must accept whatever is ordained and mullah knows the best. I am sorry in the long run this nation cant hold because the basic premise of two nation theory is wrong. VZ

  4. Ms Zubeida Ji! Your repeated concern about Health and Education is here before us. Your this nature has taken me very close to wording of a popular Hindi (more accurately Urdu) song: "phir wohi sham phir wohi tanhayee hai".

    May your repeated attempts through pen improve education system and all have a sound health.

  5. The medium of instruction in all schools should be Urdu and only Urdu. Language is not just a language. It defines one's culture, identity and consciousness. It defines how we think, communicate and express ourselves. The fact is the most South Asian Muslims have come to know Islam by way of Urdu, the children's alienation from the language that connects them the heritage of their parents and grand parents is disturbing. As a matter of fact, one has to get to know his mother tongue well if one is to master any other language. English and Arabic should be taugt as foreign languages right from nursery level. English should be taught as an economic language while Arabic should be taught as a religious lanuage. He/she must learn and be well versed in English as an international language. He/she must learn and be well versed in Arabic to recite and understand the Holly Quran. A Pakistani is supposed to be a citizen of this tiny global village because he could speak, read and write three languages. For higher studies and research, the medium of instruction should be English and Urdu.

  6. you've hit the nail on the head,Zubeida, where you hold the inequitable distribution of resources between the priveleged & the unpriveleged as one of the major problems in education in Pakistan. This leads to poor educational/employment opportunites , which further widens this gap. This vicious cycle goes on & on. One entry point to stop & reverse this cycle could be drastic educational reforms…..using education as an equalizer!

  7. we have done a lot of work on paper and have identified the problems.A starting point in improving the state education system is TO STOP ALL FORMS OF INTERFERENCE IN THE EDUCATION DEPTS,MAINLY POLITICAL.All sane voices in our education dept in KPK hold this as a single most important step in improving the quality in govt schools.How do we create this consensus??This is not easy,but there is no short-cut to this.Political interference in hiring,postings and transfers of teachers has created a terrible mess

  8. Education needs to be de-centralized to the Distt level.Legislation needs to be passed to empower distt managers in education deptt to hire local teachers in in-accessible areas where teachers are posted but dont go and the school remains closed.Communities need to be mobilized to support education by providing space and accomodation to teachers who are willing to stay in hard areas.The idea of community schools need to be strengthened by providing legislative support to education deptt whereby Circle incharge are empowered to extend educational services to far-flung communities,especially in mountainous regions.Madrassahs are a ready platform for children's education.They need to be integrated with the state education system.A reasonable allowance offered to the madrassah teachers can provide the motivation to link up with the deptt.I am speaking from personal experience in the mountainous Malakand is surprised at the readiness of backward regions to integrate and shocked at the neglect by state authorities and NGOs claiming to work for the under-privileged

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