Inequalities in education

by Zubeida Mustafa

LAST Thursday, massive demonstrations in Santiago, Chile, captured the world’s attention. It was not the Latin American version of the Arab Spring. It was something more, which would be unheard of in Pakistan.

Hundreds of thousands of people — high school and university students, teachers and NGOs — were out on the streets demanding education reforms from the government. For the past several months they had been calling for, among other things, quality education for all, ban on the commercialisation of education in the private sector and an increase in government spending on education.

Many in Pakistan will find this puzzling in view of the fact that Chile ranks 45 out of 169 on UNDP’s Human Development Index, has a literacy rate of 97 per cent and a gross educational enrolment rate of 82 per cent while the official spending on education is 3.1 per cent of GDP. But at the root of the evil is the unequal distribution of wealth that allows 10 per cent of the population to hold more than 40 per cent of the country’s wealth.

That should explain the vast discontent in the ranks of the youth in Chile most of whom fail to benefit from the country’s wealth in terms of education and, as a result, fail to get good jobs. But isn’t that also the case with the youth in Pakistan? Yet we have never seen anyone agitating for better and more equitable education in the country. The media, especially television, do not find the malaise that plagues education sensational enough to merit their attention.

When it comes to education, I feel that enough concern has not been expressed. If there is agitation it is by teachers for higher salaries and by parents complaining against the incessant and arbitrary rise in the fees of private schools. Both have my sympathy. But their lack of concern at the poor quality of education is shocking. They are not worried about the damage our faulty education system is causing to the country and its youth. After all, who would understand this better than the teachers?

True, there are advocacy groups pushing the cause of quality education in the public sector to exert pressure on policymakers. But they don’t seem to make an impact. Some honest and sincere organisations working to provide education to the poor do not have the manpower or funds to lobby policymakers for change at the macro level.

The disparity in the education sector in Pakistan is beyond belief. Equally unbelievable is the apathy of the educated classes.
They either fail to understand the implications of this inequity or they lack the conscience to play a role in the matter. At the heart of the problem is the unequal distribution of wealth that has split Pakistan into a country with a huge class of have-nots ruled by an oligarchy of haves.

The UNDP’s 2010 HDI which now focuses on the equality factor as well is quite revealing. It informs us that the values calculated for education would slip by 46.4 per cent for Pakistan when adjusted for inequality. There are only five other countries (four of them sub-Saharan states and Yemen) which show greater inequality in their education sector.

Should this surprise us? Many of our upscale schools charge fees that touch the sky. Yet there are parents who willingly pay this fee because they have that kind of money. The monthly fee in most cases is more than what an average worker earns in a month to feed his entire family of nine (if we accept the official demographic figures).

The key question is why is there no protest? The fact is that those who are adversely affected do not understand the importance of education that really educates as they have been denied this privilege themselves. Now they want their children to acquire that piece of paper which they believe will open the door for jobs and upward mobility for them.

There are others who are well endowed themselves and understand that an education that does not impart knowledge, skill and the ability to think critically will not make much of a difference to the lives of many. They act selfishly because they know that the badly educated will not be a threat to the privileges and lucrative jobs they hold. This becomes a vicious cycle as their children alone qualify for the elite schools and then for the good jobs. That is how the concentration of wealth is created.

With the country so badly split between the haves and the have-nots, it is becoming increasingly difficult to bridge the gap.
But given the conditions today it is unlikely that this phenomenon can go on forever. Besides, even the privileged and the rich need the underprivileged to do the blue-collar work for them. If the government does not address this issue circumstances will take care of them.

A teacher working in a government school operating in a defence forces’ residential colony told me that at one time only the children of the lower grade staff were enrolled in her school. The senior officers sent their children to elite private schools outside the colony. Then came a time when the militants’ attacks on military installations and transport escalated. With children becoming vulnerable it was decided to bring them back to the schools in their secure protected areas. Within no time the government school was spruced up. Here there is something to think about.

Source: Dawn

8 thoughts on “Inequalities in education”

  1. " ___With children becoming vulnerable it was decided to bring them back to the schools in their secure protected areas. Within no time the government school was spruced up. Here there is something to think about. "

    " Here is something to think about " s 100% correct______we have a hospital, it has a good *English -medium * high school . Right opposite , across the road, there is a Government Senior Secondary School.

    Once , long ago, they ( the Government School ) was paid a surprise visit by the District Education Officer.
    Next he *invited himself* to our school for an informal inspection .
    While talking, over the usual * cup of tea* , he said that he had just mentioned to the staff and teachers of the Government School that, Government School teachers should send their own children to the Government school for education, and *not to expensive, private schools*. Then they will have a stake in imparting *quality education* at their very own Government Schools.
    So i explained to him ( with names and years) the number of children of many Government School teachers who have obtained their education at our private school. They are ALL doing well.

    A national investment in *quality education* must be for every child , not just for the well-to-do of society.

  2. You have raised very pertinent questions. Why does not the youth protest? Why do not the parents protest? And why does not the people as a whole understand the importance of quality education? You have given the answers also.The army elite send their own children to the elite schools. In India they are facing the same kind of elite education vs common education problems. In UK according to their new policy they are offering better facilities like community schools and scholarships to poor or non-affording students as their standards have fallen down very badly and their elitist education has taken its toll over the whole nation.In Pakistan the poor man is so burdened by economic inequality that any education is acceptable to him. Madressah education is one such alternative .It has nothing to do with religious education. These kids also need quality education in maths, science, social studies and vocational education. Unless the ruling elite realises what heartless attitude and negative attitude they have and are destroying the whole future of the country due to short sightedness, they will not change. The poor man has no time for protest. It is we , the educated and relatively well off that have to make the powerful elite realise the needs of the Pakistani state for future existence. This elite is all, the army, the politicians, the feudals etc.It is the responsibility of the educated to exert pressure on the policy makers and ruling politicians.Pakistan must take advantage of its youth bulge to come out as a progressive and modern nation with egalitarian values. Indian policy makers are already realizing the importance of demographic change in Europe, UK and Americas. They are preparing their youth for future now. We need to pressurize our elite to realise this importance.

  3. I have read your article. Education has been the most neglected sector in our country and has been destroyed since education and health ministries were given to a religious party during Zia's time.Further students have been mostly used by political parties and as a result such activities are banned.I remember we in college protested and took out rallies,supported by DSF for not appointing the lecturer though she had come back from USA after completion of her degree. It put the pressure on the GOVT and the problem was solved.
    Students must have awareness to work/ protest in their own interest and not to be exploited.it is one of the FR of every citizen to have equal access to education.

  4. I just read your article on education in Dawn of Sept. 28th and highly appreciate your care for quality. I am also concerned about it and for this reason I wrote an article copy of which I am sending you as attachment. I tried to get it published in Pakistani newspapers but failed. Why? I dont know. Please read this article and let me know if the logic given in this article is relevant for improving quality in education or not. Dont you think that even the journalists ( not all of them ) in this country have their minds closed. I have come to the conclusion that the mindset of the journalists ( not all of them ) is no different than the mindset of Taliban!

  5. Your 4th paragraph saying thus quoted below says it all
    "That should explain the vast discontent in the ranks of the youth in Chile most of whom fail to benefit from the country’s wealth in terms of education and, as a result, fail to get good jobs. But isn’t that also the case with the youth in Pakistan? Yet we have never seen anyone agitating for better and more equitable education in the country. The media, especially television, do not find the malaise that plagues education sensational enough to merit their attention."

    This goes not only for education but for any other matters as well. A nation of Apathy.
    Enver Khorasanee

  6. Most countries go for Literacy first, to create an atmosphere ….for Learning. Here in Pakistan we cater only to children's education, leaving 22 % of our most vulnerable population…Adolescents completely in the lurch !Most developing countries have a 3 pronged strategy…Children' s education as the corner stone , 2nd Higher education & Technology ..but also Learning for the Adults esp Adolescents ! We conveniently forget the age groups 14-25, they are the ones to 'turn' attitudes around …be it in smaller family size, better productivity at work, improving health conditions etc Do we have the TIME to wait for children to become adults to make a change ? ASEAN region has surged ahead while we quibble with dialouges….

  7. inequalities in education is one of the serious problems confronting our country.The education system has been stratified by design to produce two classes, one is ruling and the other is ruled. A positive change has to be brought about in the educational regime holding the scale even.

  8. 30/10/2011

    TEACHERS' Handbook____does it say " don't smile" ? Does it say do not teach or learn any thing from outside the textbook & syllabus ???

    Missing in rural India: Smiling teachers, child-friendly schools
    Aditi Tandon
    Tribune News Service

    New Delhi, October 29
    A new study on learning and teaching outcomes in government schools of rural India has thrown up significant challenges for the Right to Education Act. It has found that in language and Maths, children are at least two grades behind where they should be and though the RTE Act stresses teacher qualifications immensely, neither higher educational qualifications nor teacher training are associated with better student learning. It is the teachers’ ability to teach that matters.

    Conducted by NGO Pratham which comes out with the Annual Status of Education Report (ASER) and supported by UNICEF and UNESCO, the study tracked 30,000 children in Std 2 and Std 4 in 900 schools spread over Andhra Pradesh, Assam, Himachal Pradesh, Jharkhand, and Rajasthan.

    These children were followed for 15 months (2009-2010) and it was found that the concept of age appropriate grade and teaching (which RTE Act emphasises) did not match ground realities. In language and Maths, there were substantial gaps between what textbooks expected of children and what they could do.

    “Children’s learning levels improve over a year but most children are at least two grades below the level of proficiency assumed by textbooks,” finds the study, suggesting urgent revision of textbooks so they start from what children can do.

    The study also assessed schools for child friendliness – a concept of the RTE Act. After 850 hours of classroom observation, it found most primary school classrooms were not child friendly at all. Students asked teachers questions in a quarter of all classrooms; students’ work was displayed in about a quarter; teachers smile or laugh with students in about one fifth of all classrooms and use local information to make content relevant in about one fifth classrooms.

    On the language front, the study found that out of more than 11,500 Standard 2 children tested, less than 30 pc could read simple words. A year later, 40 pc could read words they should have been able to read in Class I.

    It finds that children vary in age in one class. “Assuming that children started school in Std 1 at age five or six, one out of every three children in Std 2 is older than expected in the age-appropriate range. This number is higher in Jharkhand and Rajasthan. Among children sampled from Std 4, over 40 per cent are 10 or older.”

    Also, the children vary in ability, challenging the concept of age appropriate teaching, as mentioned in the Right To Education Act.

    “A large majority of children enter each grade unable to cope with what is expected of them in that grade,” state the findings released today.

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