Education Policy is Needed By Zahid ur Rehman

Now that we are in Naya Pakistan, and like everybody else, I have some expectations from the new government. Apparently, the new government is aware of its responsibilities and it must have a clear vision of taking Pakistan forward. However, it is important to keep discussing specific issues, which are critical to Pakistan’s progress, so that they are not overlooked while prioritizing target areas. I believe that the vision of a better and prosperous Pakistan cannot be achieved without overhauling the education system on the emergency basis.
The constitution of Pakistan in article 25-A clearly states that “The state shall provide free and compulsory education to all children of the age of five to sixteen years in such manner as may be determined by law”. The honorable chief justice of Pakistan referred to this article while addressing a lawyers’ gathering in Multan sometime back, and mentioned that education is a fundamental right of every citizen of the state of Pakistan. Unfortunately, like so many other fundamental rights, this fundamental right of citizens of Pakistan has also been ignored by successive governments.
Since its inception, Pakistan has had nine national policies and reform agendas to improve national education. The latest initiative is National Education Policy 2017, which like previous policies aims to provide free and compulsory education to children. But still, a shocking number, around 23 million children are out of schools. Clearly, an inadequate implementation of these policies has led to the current sorry state of education. It’s time to realize that we don’t need new educational policies but a political will to implement already developed strategies. Earnest efforts need to be made to ensure that every child gets basic ‘compulsory’ education, no matter what.
The problems with the current education system are many, such as, content of textbooks is outdated and backward, the infrastructure of institutions is deteriorating, and teachers are neither well trained nor motivated enough. In short, the current education system cannot support and contribute to the vision of a new Pakistan.
Recent surveys show that literacy rate in Pakistan is roughly 58 percent and it is on the decline. One of the reasons for this decline has been highlighted in Global Education Monitoring Report (GEMR) released by UNESCO. This report aptly highlights the deficiencies in our education system: of the 93 percent children that enroll in primary schools, only 61 percent complete their primary education. Similarly, out of 45 percent of children that enroll in secondary school, only 20 percent complete it. This trend shows that our school system is failing miserably in retaining the children at school. Primary reasons of this are mistreatment of children at school, poor teaching methods and lack of infrastructure. Clearly, things need to be improved. For this to happen, teachers should be trained and basic infrastructure in schools should be improved on the priority basis.
Recent surveys show that literacy rate in Pakistan is roughly 58 percent and it is on the decline
In addition to illiteracy, the quality of education we are providing is also a serious issue. As mentioned in GEMR, educational institutions in Pakistan have not been able to impart basic skills in information and communication technology. For instance, Pakistani adults performed marginally better than their peer groups in Zimbabwe and Sudan in using basic tools such as copy and paste or to move information in a document. It is undoubtedly true as I recently met some MBBS graduates who did not know how to use Microsoft Word and Excel. This is unbelievable and unacceptable in an international context. Inability to use basic computer application is widespread in students, especially, from natural sciences. It is pertinent that teachers encourage their students to use computers in doing research and in preparation of assignments and presentations.
Pakistan allocates only 2.8 percent of its GDP for education, which is less than all of its neighboring countries. Musharraf’s government made a huge investment in higher education, but primary and secondary school were relatively ignored. Improvement should be made in primary, secondary and higher (tertiary) education in parallel so that high quality students/manpower is available to the universities and industry alike.
Investment in education does not result in a quick return. It’s a long-term process, and its benefits will be apparent only when a well-educated and trained generation enters the market . Many examples around the world show that the sustainable development of countries is achieved only by improving education at all levels.
The plans to improve education should be made in consultation with non-government organizations and other stakeholders. Studies by UNESCO show that “Governments that assign experts, consultants or donors to draft plans quickly risk undermining local ownership and commitment.” More importantly, new legislation is required to ensure the continuation of policies even with the change of governments.
We can also learn from countries such as Singapore, which consistently ranks top in International Student Assessment; a program that evaluates 15 years olds from various countries. Singapore invests heavily in educational research and all the suggested reforms are carefully tested before being applied. Singapore also provides extensive training to teachers and their performance is rigorously evaluated. Best performing teachers are properly rewarded. All this tells us that educational reforms are a continuous, coordinated and gradual process and it should be evidence based
It is time for the PTI government to fulfill its promise of imposing an education emergency. Pakistan is brimming with youthful energy. Only quality education can channel this energy in the right direction. Our youth is our huge asset or it is our greatest liability, only our policies and priorities will determine that.
The author has done a PhD. from Massey University, NZ, and is a researcher in the field of biological sciences
Published in Daily Times, November 15th 2018.

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