By Zubeida Mustafa
With the advent of the decade of the nineties, it is time to prepare the nation for its entry into the 21st century. In terms of human development and economic progress what has greater relevance than education? But unfortunately this has been one of the most neglected areas of public life in Pakistan.
The progress and direction of the education sector in the nineties will, therefore, be most critical for the future progress of the country. Our economic planners must after identifying the shortcomings and failures of the education policy of the eighties spell out their goals for the nineties. That would help them draw up guidelines for a productive educational strategy in the coming decade.
The gravest weakness of education planning in Pakistan has been the failure of the government to raise the national literacy rate to a respectable level. Only 14 out of 162 countries in the world have a literacy rate lower than ours. In the last decade Pakistan barely managed to raise its literacy ratio from a lowly 26 to 30 per cent. The literacy growth rate could not even keep pace with the population growth rate. As a result, there are more illiterate men and women in the country at the start of 1990 than there were in the beginning of 1980. More perturbing is the dismally low rate of female literacy. It is approximately 16 per cent but is not even seven per cent in the rural areas.
The foremost goal of our education policy must be to boost our literacy level with special emphasis on women’s literacy. The Seventh Plan speaks of raising the literacy rate to 80 per cent by the turn of the century. This is an ambitious goal but given political commitment and scientific strategies it can be realised. The importance of literacy for socio-economic development cannot be over-emphasised. Its palpable impact on other areas of human life such as health, nutrition, population growth and economic production is now universally recognised.
School age enrolment
Literacy also forms the base of education. The formal education sector should of course be the main source of literacy for children. Pakistan should aim at hundred per cent enrolment of primary school age children in educational institutions, as a large number of African countries have succeeded in doing. This would call for a rapid expansion of the existing school system and the adoption of a flexible and decentralised approach in enrolment, timings, instruction and curriculum.
A high rate of primary school enrolment would, however, not solve the problem since the backlog of illiteracy — the legacy of the earlier years’ of neglect — continues to haunt the nation. A dynamic and well-considered adult literacy programme is, therefore, the need of the hour.
Another goal of the government for the nineties should be to raise the academic standard right from the school level to the universities. Though complaints have been voiced against the deterioration in the quality of education and there is much despair among the people on this count, no plausible measure has been taken to check the downward slide. The implications of this decline in academic standards for the administration, industry, health and technological development of the country have not been generally grasped. This problem has reached crisis proportions and needs to be addressed in earnest.
A beginning can be made by concentrating on a massive teachers’ training programme. Not only must the training courses be revamped and brought in tune with the modern methodologies. There is also need to infuse idealism and commitment in the teachers. In-service courses for teachers should also be devised to enable those who have already been entrusted with the destiny of our children to set better standards in teaching in the nineties.
These are some general observations about education which no planner should ignore. Apart from the need to broaden the base of education and improve its standard, there is also the question of determining the direction of educational planning.
The immediate need of the country is that education be related to the economy and the employment market. This is imperative if the present paradoxical situation is not to continue. We have on the one hand a high unemployment rate among the educated and on the other employers who fail to find suitably qualified candidates to fill existing vacancies. This is a frustrating situation which can prove to be socially explosive and economically disastrous.
This calls for, firstly, the monitoring of the job market and secondly, the creation and structuring of educational facilities accordingly. The curricula should also be tailored to the requirements of the employers. This has to be an on-going process to be effective.
Although the rudiments of such a system exist — the Directorate of Manpower and Training conducts periodic surveys of industries and non-manufacturing establishments to collect information — this is by no means sufficient. The surveys fail to provide authentic and comprehensive information. Moreover, this information is not available on a regular basis to the technical education authorities who grope in the dark while planning their sector. As for the technical universities and other authorities of higher education there is no institutional coordination between them and the job market.
As a result education has been expanding haphazardly, yielding to social pressures rather than economic needs. Although there is a paucity of skilled and semi-skilled- labour such as mechanics, electricians and paramedic staff on the one hand and a surfeit of engineers, doctors and graduates on the other, no concerted effort is being made to reverse this trend.
The case of Karachi
Take the case of Karachi. Of the 57,000 or so students who passed their matriculation in 1989, nearly 45,000 were admitted to the colleges. The institutions of technical education, of which there are 290 in the city including nine polytechnics, admit only 8000 students most of whom are the college rejects. In some technologies the capacity is grossly under-utilised while others have 15 applicants for one seat. Then there is the common complaint that the technical courses are not suited to the needs of the employers who cannot always absorb the products of the technical institutions. Moreover the standards are also low. The educational authorities point out that trade and industry are not very cooperative in offering practical training which is essential if the courses are not to be too theoretical. With very little active coordination between the two it is not surprising that the products of our universities, polytechnics and vocational schools are not absorbed readily in the market.
Industry on its part is expected to organise an apprenticeship programme for school leavers. On paper this is a perfect system for providing on-the-job vocational training for quite a few young people every year. But what is happening in actual fact? Of the numerous industries in Karachi listed by the Manpower Directorate under the apprenticeship programme, only a handful recruit trainee apprentices. Thus in 1988, only 1408 apprentices were being trained by industries for the Technical Board’s examination in Karachi. This is a highly inadequate number for a city which boasts of the largest concentration of industrial units in the country.
The nineties should be the decade of technical education in Pakistan. This sector should be expanded in a big way but careful planning should go into it. Not only should the budget for technical education be given a considerable boost — it is at present much less than the funds earmarked collectively for university and college education — this sector should also be very closely linked with the economy.
It is essential that the facilities for different areas of study are expanded in keeping with the jobs created by the growing economy. In order to ensure an equilibrium in the utilisation of the capacity in the different institutions of technical education, the authorities must introduce a scheme for vocational guidance and career counselling. The students must be informed, motivated and channelled into the disciplines for which they have an aptitude and which would, on the completion of their education, fetch them a job without delay.
Finally there is urgent need to look into the financial dimension of the education sector. In 1988-89, Pakistan spent 2.69 per cent of its GNP on education. This was the highest rate of education spending in more than a decade. But it still fell far short of UNESCO’s suggested target of four per cent of GNP. Pakistan should achieve this goal in the nineties. Meanwhile an effort must be mounted to make education cost-effective. This means that waste, leakage and corruption must be checked to ensure efficient utilisation of resources.
The nineties should also be the time for the redistribution of resources to bring the benefit of education to each and every child in the country by taxing the rich the government can raise revenues to educate the poor. An education cess on luxury items and on high incomes should generate funds for this sector in the nineties — provided of course the cess is used for education spending and is not squandered away on other less important projects as the Iqra was in the eighties.
Source: Dawn 20 Jan 1990