The present system of education prevalent in Pakistan is the heritage of the pre-partitioned British India. A review of the education system of Pakistan suggests that there has been little change in Pakistan’s schools since 2010 when the 18th Amendment enshrined education as a fundamental human right in the constitution under Article 25A of the constitution of Pakistan 1973. Problems of access, quality, infrastructure and inequality of opportunity remain endemic. According to the Constitution of Pakistan (1973), the Federal Government was entrusted with the responsibility for policy, planning, and promotion of educational facilities in the federating units. This responsibility was in addition to the overall policymaking, coordinating, and advisory authority; otherwise, education was the concurrent subject. The Federal Ministry of Education also administers the educational institutions located in the federal capital territory.
Education is a child’s basic right. Even in times of conflict, war, or disaster, temporary learning opportunities are set up as part of emergency relief to provide continued learning support. In Pakistan, the public policies on education reflect the National ideology. It consists of the political option, tradition, values, culture, and socio-economic needs, emerging trends, and concepts, and even its implications in the future. Pakistan has an estimated 22.8 million children from five to 16 outside school. The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and consequent educational institution closures have resulted in millions more deprived of learning opportunities.
Our current education system can be depicted from a short scene, in which the protagonist takes up the stage, the audience gets settled, and becomes quiet. The protagonist assumes his position and starts delivering a monologue facing the audience. The audience believes what they watch, agree to what they hear, and learn from whatever perception the protagonist holds. The scene ends, the protagonist leaves the stage for the next to come and the audience imbibes all the preaching of the protagonist’s monologue without stirring their comprehension level and standards.” This is not an opening scene of Shakespeare’s play, but it is a scene from every classroom in most of our educational institutions where a teacher like a protagonist comes and inculcates his concepts and perspectives into the minds of the audience, his students, who absorb all the lecture without trying to comprehend or analyse it. Our curriculum is designed only as exam-oriented ignoring the fundamental aims of education. The disparity in education in Pakistan rears its ugly head again as millions of students face learning losses. Major barriers like the digital divide and the weakness of education systems threaten to increase further the vastly unequal learning opportunities available to the economically, geographically, or politically disadvantaged.
Currently, the decision of closing all educational institutions due to the second wave of COVID-19 has raised many questions regarding the future of the young generation. Maximising access through alternative learning options is essential during the crisis, the quality of content and diversity of mediums will be the deciding factor for learning outcomes or engagement. Another important factor is support at home. In economically disadvantaged segments, most parents lack basic skills, time, or interest to help their children learn at home. Our education systems often do not equip a child with skills like time management or independent learning. Mass parent awareness campaigns may improve the outcome of alternate learning options by providing support at home.
However, we have to admit that millions of children in this country will not have access to any learning in this period. To prevent these children from greater learning losses we must prepare for the challenges when schools resume. We must take help from those with the expertise to design accelerated learning programs to support students left behind and create strategies to reintegrate dropouts. We must design training programmes for teachers to give them the confidence to meet the needs of learners.
To come out of this pandemic stronger, we have to engage in discussions that go beyond the educational budget and school enrolment numbers. We must take into account the disparities that rob young children from marginalised communities of their right to education. It is time to open our eyes and understand that without quality education for all, we as a nation will always lag, regardless of the ‘potential’ we may have.