The turnaround of Pakistan’s education is daunting but not insurmountable
Education is the only phenomenon that cuts across horizontally through all sections of social and economic classes. Unfortunately, Pakistan’s education not only fails to do that but on the contrary produces three vividly distinct cohorts within one generation and subsequently the nation is divided during the nation building process. Much has been said about the problems of the education sector in Pakistan. It is time to present a coherent plan to fix education in Pakistan.
Pakistan has the means and the ability to produce a well educated population, which may be allowed respect in the comity of nations. This can only be realised if the policy makers make massive quantitative and qualitative changes in the education sector of the country. Equally important is that the state must produce an intellectually sound and value neutral educational apparatus. This will serve the dual purpose of providing not only real education to the populace but also allow the production of a counter narrative that challenges the radical terror-producing and religiously biased discourse. Otherwise, as evident, the state will be unable to de-radicalise society and asymmetric violence, ‘Safoora Goth’, ‘Mashal Khan’ and ‘attack on minorities and their worship places’ will continue to happen. Another unfortunate example is of the book titled, ‘Islam: The misunderstood religion’ by M. Qutb which is a “suggested” reading by the FPSC for CSS Islamic studies. The Qutb brothers were responsible for radicalising the Middle East and propounded the version of Islam that the Saudi crown prince has recently denounced.
Education must be at the heart of a policy solution that aims to provide a panacea for the state’s problems, power a sustainable economic growth model, eradicate poverty and build lasting peace. Reversing the identified failures present an increasingly daunting challenge. Pakistan carries in its heart one of the largest youth populations in the world but the chief provocation comes from politicised Islamic clergy which has run its course and the largely unregulated private education sector which deforms the state’s education setup.
The Fins share a laudable cultural characteristic with the Koreans; a deep social respect for teachers, social value for academic accomplishments and economic response for academic accolades later in life
UNESCO enjoys the mandate to cover the varying aspects of global education and it has been allowed space to lead the struggle vis-à-vis UN’s SDGs. The Education 2030 Framework for Action (EFA 2030) takes on the intimidating task and provides a vividly structured roadmap that enables policy makers around the world to construct an education plan tailored to indigenous needs and rooted in inclusive and equitable education for the citizenry. Pakistan has already missed the MDGs but would do well to abide by the education SDGs and EFA 2030. Following the EFA 2030 would allow Pakistan to build an education apparatus that increases teaching quality, covers vocational and tertiary education, develops unbiased gender parity and ultimately aspires to reach the free education benchmark.
Pakistan needs to challenge its failing education apparatus by coming up with appropriate legislation backed up by equitable and rigorous bureaucratic implementation. Pakistan must be able to provide a level playing field and equal access to education for the entire citizenry regardless of religion, geographic location and socio-economic background. This can only be achieved if the education in Pakistan is nationalised. All future education policies must be cognizant of the explosive ramifications of neglecting underprivileged children.
The nationalisation process must not be swift. Public sector education must be uplifted and progress must be viewed with a qualitative lens. Only then will the public sector slowly absorb the private education setup and eradicate the private education cosa nostra.
Similarly, the process of revamping religious seminaries must be undertaken swiftly. Their faith based focus must be shifted to a moral and civic sense focus grounded in humanitarian studies and moderate nationalism. It is imperative for Pakistan’s survival that the religion-nationalism nexus is broken. This will give birth to graduates with a wider world view, respect for dissent, acceptance of difference of opinion and skills necessary for contemporary economies.
Financial outlays for the education sector must be enhanced magnanimously. Education must weigh heavier on the education vs infrastructure development scale. It is vital for Pakistan’s survival. Funds in this regarded can be collected by introducing a progressive tax regime that targets elite private schools such as Aitchison College, TNS and the Lahore American School (LAS). The regime must also be inclusive of public-private partnerships and full bright scholarships for the underprivileged.
Furthermore, the problem of quality teaching can be catered to by initiating a short-gap initiative. This would entail a varying cohort of teachers being imported from educational utopias such as Finland, Singapore, Sweden and Norway, to not only work on the quality of teaching and education but also to provide invaluable policy inputs. These teachers and professors must be systematically placed at different levels of the education setup including primary, secondary, graduate and post graduate education levels.
Pakistan has a burgeoning population of retired servicemen including military persons, judges and bureaucrats. These retired officials must be barred from working after retirement and instead must be encouraged to join the education sector as teachers. They must not be allowed administrative posts. This will not only normalise them after a lifetime of high service but also allow the younger generations to capitalise on an untapped wealth of wisdom and experience.
Similarly, a propaganda wave must be launched with the aim to enhance the teachers’ respect in society. Only then will the profession attract intellectuals from across the society. Their remuneration must be significantly increased, especially in the public sector, and their salary and perks must be updated so that they are at par with the Basic Pay Scale grade system. This is because a teacher who worries about making end meets will never be able to concentrate in class and focus more on running from one university to another and teach more classes that he or she can handle. This might sound revolutionary, but it is only logical, since the future of the country is in their hands. Capitalistic endeavours within the education system are treasonous and consequently evening academies and private tuitions must be rigorously contained. The future of Pakistan cannot be given into the hands of those that make profit out of those that represent the ultimate future of the country.
The examination system in Pakistan’s education sector is redundant, outdated and reeks of McCaulism. It is of the essence to re-engineer this system. The present focus on writing ability must be shifted towards critical thinking, establishing opinion backed by logical reasoning and the ability to learn. This will in future prove to be the breeding ground for minds that are able to conduct effective and pragmatic research.
To ensure that Pakistan’s education system is pulled out of the abyss it presently finds itself in, policy makers must familiarise themselves with state’s that portray outstanding education systems such as Finland. Once that is done, the men and women in the halls of power can come up with policy solutions that mirror the world’s education utopias tailored to local needs.
An example that warrants mention is of Finland. Half a century ago, Finland was on its way to become the economic stepchild of Europe but today academic intelligentsia term the Finnish education system as “utopian”. The said system is grounded in intrinsic motivation and extracurricular choice. Pakistan’s education sector lacks both of them. The Fins share a laudable cultural characteristic with the Koreans; a deep social respect for teachers, social value for academic accomplishments and economic response for academic accolades later in life. Pakistan has so far failed to mirror this and unless this is reversed Pakistan’s education sector will continue to present a dismal picture.
Today’s world is indifferent to tradition and unforgiving of frailty. The turnaround of Pakistan’s education is daunting but not insurmountable. If the task is not undertaken swiftly, the state will continue to be frail. Success will follow when the state is slow to complain and quick to adapt. Education is the only way to heal the ruptured, marginalised and polarised social fabric. What remains is that the state must ensure that successive regimes, institutions and the people must rise up to this challenge. It is time for Pakistan to take the Great Leap Forward.