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The State of Education

The State of Education

On need to prioritise education reforms

Quality education is the most powerful weapon for change, but the successive governments in Pakistan have been largely indifferent to the need to equip people with the power of effective education. Sadly, despite great importance of education in today’s globalised world, there are still around 24 million out-of-school children in the country and the government does not have a feasible plan to immediately enrol them at schools.

Quality education, undoubtedly, provides the concrete foundation upon which a nation builds its strong socioeconomic and political future. So, how will Pakistan brighten its future with such a staggering number of out-of-school children? What is most alarming is that the incumbent government has miserably failed in evolving and implementing a pragmatic national education policy.

Pakistan’s current political structure is based on a feudal democracy. Most legislators belong to the country’s aristocratic, plutocratic and feudal classes who employ massive wealth and influence to win supposedly ‘democratic’ elections. In such a system, dynastic lawmakers deliberately avoid providing critical and qualitative education to the people. Their major apprehension is that if the poor acquire education, they will oust the crooked politicians and will permanently bar them from using their ill-gotten wealth to win elections.

According to Article 25A of the Constitution of Pakistan, the government has to provide free and compulsory education to all children between the ages of five and sixteen. But, since 1973, all the successive governments have systematically dragged their feet in terms of giving effect to this significant constitutional provision so as to keep the people in the dark and rule over them. Our unscrupulous leaders are acutely aware that uneducated people tend to become economically weak and intellectually ignorant. As a result, they choose these politicians to continue their loot and plunder of the country’s exchequer.

Almost all the political and military setups are responsible for shattering the Quaid’s dream of building a highly-educated and skilled nation. The incumbent government must stay cautioned that if it further delays the direly-needed educational reforms, it will be tantamount to making Pakistan a beggar state as the country will continue to indefinitely knock on the doors of the US and international financial institutions for timely economic bailout packages for its underperforming economy.

Pakistan is among those developing countries which spend less than three percent of national GDP on education. In South Asia, India and Sri Lanka spend more than three percent of GDP on education but, in Pakistan, the 2017-18 budgets of the federal and the provincial governments have meagre allocations for the education sector.

More perplexing is the reports that a large portion of even this meagre amount remains either underutilised or gets wasted on account of the massive corruption inherent in the country’s educational structure. So, it is vividly clear that with this paltry budgetary allocation to education, the government cannot reform and update the outdated syllabi of educational institutions, let alone increasing the faculty capacities and build more learning centres.

The country’s overall literacy ratio is also unsatisfactory. According to a recent report by the Institute of Social and Policy Sciences (I-SAPS), Pakistan has a literacy rate of only 58 percent. The report further states that there are 24 million out-of-school children in the country – the second largest number in the world, after Nigeria.

Under the UN Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), Pakistan was expected to achieve 88 percent literacy ratio by 2015. However, it missed the target due to its political indecisiveness and laxity. Now, the government’s lethargy shows that the country will once again fail to achieve its educational objectives under the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which Islamabad is supposed to meet by 2035.

It is also pertinent to mention here that the party at the helm of country’s affairs often exaggerates the country’s education ratio, as a gimmick for political point-scoring. How can the government determine the education ratio without conducting impartial surveys, a timely population census and effective research on the country’s education? Our politicians and bureaucrats are clever enough at overstating educational facts and figures in order to convince the people about their false commitment to the crisis-ridden education sector.

We have, so far, adopted flawed educational assessment measures. Those who are able to read and understand sentences in Urdu are also included among the country’s literate population. There are a large number of people who can read sentences in Urdu but have never attended schools and colleges to receive any formal education. Highly industrialised and developed countries employ standard tools of measuring people’s educational abilities that test their power of reading and critical thinking.

The country is also grappling with chronic inequality with respect to male and female education. The female education ratio is merely 45 percent, and 49 percent of the country’s girls of school-going age are out of school as compared to 40 percent of boys. The underlying reasons behind such low female education ratio include the prevalent patriarchal mindset, the conservative social structure, ill-conceived religious thoughts and the social insecurity of girls in society.

How can Pakistan economically compete with developing countries in Asia when a large number of its girls have been deprived of basic education? With a declining female literacy rate, the country will not be able to produce a responsible, committed and skilled generation in the future.

On account of socioeconomic disparity, the absence of the private sector in rural areas and a perpetuated political negligence, the country is also facing the issue of the rural-urban divide in terms of the literacy rate. The figure stands at 74 percent in urban areas and 49 percent in rural areas. Deprived of basic education, people from remote and rural areas are steadily migrating to the country’s unruly cities in the quest for basic economic, health and education facilities. The uncontrolled migration toward urban centres has continued to cause socioeconomic, security, health and educational problems in our disorderly cities.

A large number of MA and MPhil degree-holders of public sector universities either possess little or zero knowledge about basic theories and ideas of the fields they have earned their degrees in. Since they lack requisite knowledge – mainly due to the incompetence of their teachers – many of them resort to plagiarising research materials to prepare their final theses. This is shameful and the HEC has, so far, done little to prevent our research scholars from becoming ‘intellectual thieves’ by plagiarising research works of others.

According to the available data on the matter, there are some 10,000 PhDs in the country and the HEC wishes to produce 38,000 more of them under its ambitious Vision 2025. Out of these 10,000 PhD scholars, a majority have used unfair means to obtain degrees. More intellectual thieves are likely to be produced in the race to increase the quantitative level of higher education.

The race for producing more PhD scholars has effected a fall in the standards of higher education in the country. Owing to the lack of quality research, only seven Pakistan universities have been ranked in the top 300 universities in Asia by The Times Higher Education’s (THE) Asia University Rankings 2017.

Educational backwardness has pushed 29.5 percent of the country’s population below the poverty line. Other ramifications include two percent population growth, less than five percent economic growth, democratic instability and spiralling insecurity. The high illiteracy ratio has also played an important role in stopping resource-rich Pakistan from becoming an economic and military power in the world.

The government needs to prioritise education reforms. It should increase the education budget, update all outmoded syllabi, train teachers with critical thinking methods, establish more educational institutions and take all-out measures to inhibit corruption within the education sector.

All these measures can easily be implemented and would be fruitful if the country’s legislators and bureaucrats are bound by the Constitution to send their children to public-sector educational institutions of the country.

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About Ayaz Ahmed

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The writer is a former senior researcher at the Pakistan Institute of International Affairs (PIIA), and now an independent researcher and columnist based in Karachi.

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