EDUCATION has had a low priority in Pakistan since its inception. But while in the early years of our country, there were still teachers and schools available that had been founded and educated during British time by many Muslim philanthropists who were running schools and colleges under Muslim educational trusts. It would have been the task of the newly founded state to create a national education system based on primary education for everybody and access to schooling in every nook and corner of the country. It is well known that all successive governments have failed in that endeavour or have even not taken it seriously. The upper class which is ruling Pakistan, have the money to send their children to private schools and universities, even to foreign countries, if need be.
The education of the poor people of Pakistan was never on the agenda, lest they – after having availed of education – would start thinking independently and then try to serve their country by changing the system. Tribal elders would be afraid to lose their influence, Pirs and Sajjada Nasheens would be afraid to lose their followers when people start thinking about life and Islam themselves; and feudal landowners would fear that their haris would refuse to be exploited. That was why never in the history of Pakistan, any government aimed at providing good education for all. No full schooling system was introduced and no proper teacher training was established. The teachers, who in traditional South Asian society were respected members of society, became ill paid and deprived. The standards of education were fast deteriorating after 1947, till unrest and discontent among the teachers and students reached a crescendo in 1968 during the protests against Ayub Khan’s rule and a popular demand was the nationalization of education.
ZA Bhutto then nationalised education but instead of developing a full-fledged primary and secondary level education for all with well-trained teachers, all he did was to destroy those private institutions that had been left since the British time. Within hours of announcing nationalization scheme, Bhutto backtracked under foreign pressure when he excluded all the Christian missionary schools operating in Pakistan from the ambit of this order, then half-heartedly he allowed establishment of new private English medium schools; the story of these Cambridge system schools has been published in letters to editor column of ‘The Nation’ of 27th January 2016 by a concerned parent.
Two reflections and reference of mind set of our politicians will make the readers understand the reason behind planned neglect of education that would have helped empowering and educating the working peasants and labourers to grow as a respectable segment of society and not eclipsed by feudal lords. During the early days, the Punjab government was discussing allocation of more funds for education and it was the education Minister Abdul Hamid Dasti who is on record of having out rightly rejected extension of education by saying “We cannot afford the luxury of educating masses”. Then when barrages were made in Sindh, sizeable land was reclaimed for agricultural use and Ayub Khan wanted that to be given to landless peasants in Sindh. There were three Federal Ministers in his Cabinet from Sindh, they threatened to give en bloc resignation if this decision was not changed, asserting that you want our working labourers to become land owning landlords of Sindh? Hence Sindhi Harris were deprived. Again these days an issue has been created by Punjab and Sindh governments about threats to schools and colleges that led to forced closure, private ones also jumped to close schools to at least save daily utility bills at the cost of education to keep the masses deprived.
When we are upset about extremism and militancy in the heads of our young people then the blame should not be put on the madrassahs alone but on the national education system and electronic media for running sponsored programmes to create fear among public as well. And when the National Action Plan (NAP) that was adopted after the Peshawar school attack, it had one point saying that in order to check extremism and militancy, the curricula of madrassahs have to be checked and changed. Then this point should be extended to the curricula of government schools as well.
There is a lot wrong in our educational system and apart from the curricula, one of the central problems is teachers’ education. And by education I don’t mean in the first place the knowledge of Mathematics of a Mathematics teacher or the knowledge of History by a History teacher but his skills in methodology of teaching and pedagogies. It does not suffice nowadays to make students learn things by heart and reproduce it undigested. Knowledge becomes knowledge only after a student has acquired it by thinking about it, by doubting and questioning it. For that facts have to be discussed in class with the teacher. The teacher has to answer the questions of the students in a way that is equivalent to the student’s age groupand intellectual level. This is not something a teacher knows by himself, he has to learn it and that means teachers’ education.
Devolution of education to the Provincial level has not been helpful either. 18th Amendment has become controversial due to ill-effects of this law, as a student of history and politics, I still feel that like NRO draft this amendment was also thrust under foreign pressure to bring the desired results that we are reaping now. But it seems that some starting points for a reform could be made: There is a dire need for a complete overhaul of education departments with new people dedicated to the education reform and skilled enough to do it.
There need to be teacher training programmes at universities for primary, secondary and college level teaching. And finally there is a need for an overhaul of curricula at different levels. One major point is that there is a need to reform the pay scalesand service structure for teachers. Salaries are not only remuneration for your work, they are also an acknowledgement of the state for providing education to the young generation; so give respectable status to teachers that they deserve the most. Perhaps then you may see the dream of an egalitarian Pakistan coming true. God bless Pakistan.
—The writer is a senior columnist based in Karachi.