Promoting Education: The Panacea for All Our Ills (Editorial November 2016)

 “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” — Nelson Mandela

Pakistan is often referred to as a country that is rich in natural resources but poor in their management. The nature has blessed the country with abounding reserves of these resources, ranging from abundant natural gas to copious oil deposits, from precious minerals to fertile lands, and what not? But, what perplexes a sane mind the most is: why Pakistan is still ranked among poor countries? Have we ever chewed over the question why our country is always at the bottom of many of world’s importance indices? Why in spite of being an agricultural country, our position on the 2016 Global Hunger Index has been 108th out of 118 countries? Why we persistently occupy shameful rankings on Corruption Perception Index every year?

The answer is very obvious as the root cause of all our ills is our utter failure in prioritizing education. Due to an acute lack of a proper education system, we haven’t been able to impart to our people the expertise and skills needed to exploit the inexhaustible natural wealth for the greater benefit of the people.  

We achieved Pakistan in the name of a religion that lays greatest emphasis on education; so much so that the very first word of the first verses revealed to the Holy Prophet (PBUH) was “Iqra” (Read). But, how unfortunate is to know that in this ‘ideological’ state, successive governments — civilian and military alike — have failed the very obligation of disseminating education. Ironically, despite tall claims by all governments, our literacy rate still hovers around sixty percent. And, in that too, what totally lacks is the element of ‘quality’ because in Pakistan a person is said to be literate if he “can read and write a paragraph (3 lines) in national/regional language with comprehension.” If we take a realistic look at the state of affairs, then the actual literacy rate may not be more than 35-40 percent.

A glance at the talent Pakistan is blessed with reveals that there are numerous Pakistanis who have made us proud. Pakistan takes pride in producing the celebrated talent like Dr Abdus Salam who won Nobel Prize in Physics (1979), Dr Mehboobul Haq devised the Human Development Index, which has become one of the most influential and widely used indices to measure human development across countries, and more recently, Dr Naweed I. Syed (a globally acclaimed scientist), Dr Nergis Mavalvala (gravitational waves fame), Ali Moeen Nawazish (who set a record of acing 23 subjects in the O-Level), Naiza Khan (recipient of the 2013 Prince Claus award), Rajinish Aneel Bhatia (gold medallist in international math competition, Math Challenge V), Abu Hifs (secured first position in international Mathematics competition held by an Australian university) and the one we can never forget, Arfa Karim (Late), who, at the age of nine, became the youngest Microsoft Certified Professional (MCP). These are only some names from the long list of great Pakistani talent.

But, when it comes to educational facilities, it is startling to note that none of the Pakistani universities ranks among the world’s best. This is because of sheer negligence and ineptness on the part of those who occupy high offices. They failed their duty as they were supposed to draw up prudent policies keeping in view the global trends as well as the future in order to make Pakistan’s education better. But, ‘years of hard work’ they had put in was recently exposed by the United Nations Global Education Monitoring Report 2016 which said that Pakistan is 50+ years behind in its primary and 60+ years behind in its secondary education targets.

This poor standard of education takes a heavy toll on all sectors of the country, especially the governance system. This bitter reality came to the fore with the recently announced CSS-2016 result. This was perhaps the poorest result in CSS history as only 202 candidates could pass it out of 9643 appeared in the exam. And when it comes to the quality of the aspirants, FPSC’s annual reports offer some clue. In its 2014 report, the FPSC said, “The standard of performance reflected that the majority did not know the strategies of making précis and reproduced the original language of the passage.” Moreover, it reports that the overall competence of candidates in General Knowledge has been ‘low’ and majority of candidates lack basic writing skills while their writing suggests crammed knowledge. All CSS aspirants are, at least, graduates and most of them even have done their masters in different fields. And how painful is to know that even a master’s degree holder in Pakistan does not know the basic writing skills.

These falling standards call for amelioration of policies in order to tailor them according to the modern-day needs. And for this, the most pivotal role is that of the Higher Education Commission (HEC). Instead of concentrating on increasing the number of PhDs, the HEC should direct all its efforts to improving educational standards.

We have to equip our youth with best-quality education. Any sort of dillydallying would be to the detriment of the very existence of Pakistan.

Time to act is now!

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