Education for all: Still a far cry

Education is vital for Pakistan’s progress but we have made it as an instrument for going up the social ladder.

At the time of independence, Pakistan had poor educated system and a few schools, colleges and only one university, the University of the Punjab, Lahore. Initially, our entire system of education was state-run. Now education is taken care of both by the public and private sectors. Although the education system has expanded greatly since 1947, yet standard and quality remained a serious concern of all till today. Education in the colonial era had been geared to staffing the civil service and producing educated elite that was loyal to the British. This continues even after independence which created two classes in the newly formed country. These two classes are: One who gets education from English medium schools and the other who studies at the Urdu medium schools. To overcome this difference in the two classes, some schools and colleges were nationalised in the late 1970s to facilitate equal access to all. However, students from lower class backgrounds did gain increased access to these private schools in the 1980s and 1990s; teachers and school principals lament the decline in the quality of education.
Education is divided into five levels: primary (grades one through five); middle (grades six through eight); high (grades nine and ten, culminating in matriculation); intermediate (grades 11 and 12, leading to an FA diploma in arts or FSc; and university programmes leading to undergraduate and advanced degrees.
 
Education structure
Education is divided into five levels: primary (grades one through five); middle (grades six through eight); high (grades nine and ten, culminating in matriculation); intermediate (grades 11 and 12, leading to an FA diploma in arts or FSc; and university programmes leading to undergraduate and advanced degrees. Preparatory classes (kachi, or nursery) were formally incorporated into the system in 1988 with the Seventh Five-Year Plan.
Poor education system has increasingly become a matter of concern. Lack of access to quality education, which in turn limits economic opportunity, makes our youth targets of extremist groups. The World Bank says nearly half the adult population of Pakistan can’t read, and net primary enrollment rates remain the lowest in South Asia. Experts say the system suffers from inadequate government investment, corruption, lack of institutional capacity, and a poor curriculum.According to the National Education Policy 2009, Pakistan’s weak education sector results from a lack of commitment to education and poor implementation of policies. It recognises pervasive corruption in the system and notes that the government’s current spending on education, 2.7 per cent of gross domestic product (GDP), is far from adequate. Relatively limited resources have been allocated to education, although there has been improvement in recent decades. In 1960 public expenditure on education was only 1.1 per cent of the Gross National Product (GNP); by 1990 the figure had risen to 3.4 per cent. This amount compared poorly with the 33.9 per cent being spent on defence in 1993. In 1990, Pakistan was tied for fourth place in the world in its ratio of military expenditures to health and education expenditures. Although the government enlisted the assistance of various international donors in the education efforts outlined in its Seventh Five-Year Plan (1988-93), the results did not measure up to expectations.There are also doubts about the government’s ability to spend the allocated money on education. The national education policy notes that 20 per cent to 30 per cent of all government funds allocated to any sector remains unspent. Pakistan has also weak base of engineering and medical education having world renowned engineering and medical colleges and universities. At present there are 347 professional institutions in the country.
There are now three parallel systems of education ‘public schools, private schools, and Islamic religious schools, or madrassas which have “created unequal opportunities for students.
 
Parallel systems
There are now three parallel systems of education ‘public schools, private schools, and Islamic religious schools, or madrassas which have “created unequal opportunities for students. Of the total number of students going to primary school (grades 1 to 5), 73 per cent go to public or government schools, 26 per cent to private schools, and less than one per cent to madrassas. Within the public and the private sector, there are elite schools catering to a small minority of students. The majority of students attend low quality private and public schools with poor curriculum, limited teaching materials, and inadequate number of properly trained teachers, or in many cases absent teachers. The government, in its new national policy, concedes that access at all levels to educational opportunities remains low. A few people educated in public schools are able to move up the ladder of social mobility. There also remains a gender gap in schools; the net enrollment ratio for girls at primary level is 59 per cent as compared to 72 per cent for boys. At secondary level, girls enroll at 21 per cent as compared to 27 per cent for boys.There have been some measures by previous governments to reform madrassas, but they have had little success so far. In 2001, former President Musharraf promulgated the Pakistan Madrassa Education Board Ordinance to establish three model madrassas that would include regular school subjects such as English, math, and computer science in their curriculum. In 2002, he followed up with a Voluntary Registration and Regulation Ordinance that promised funding to madrassas that formally registered with the government. The present government also vowed to review madrassa curriculum. Yet only 500 madrassas have reportedly accepted curriculum reform since 2002.In the 1990s, however, the army and the civil service were drawing a greater proportion of educated members from poor backgrounds than ever before. This has direct effect on the education. Pakistan’s poor public education system helps stoke militancy, while madrasas or religious schools often cited as a cause of extremism are not a major risk factor. The researchers said that the public school system is highly corrupt with positions handed out for political favours and teachers being paid even if they don’t turn up for classes.

Higher education
With the growing demand for quality graduates, many Pakistanis were prompted to seek university degrees abroad in places like the US, UK and Australia. However, the growing demand for higher education fast outpaced the establishment of new public universities. During that period, the system could accommodate only 25 per cent of graduates who applied to higher education institutions. In 1979 a government commission came out with the findings that there was an acute poor participation rates at all levels of education, the public sector could no longer be the country’s sole provider of education. By the mid-1980s, private educational institutions were allowed to operate on the condition that they comply with government-recognised standards.Until 1991, there were only two recognised private universities in Pakistan: Aga Khan University established in 1983; and Lahore University of Management Sciences established in 1985. By 1997, however, there were 10 private universities and by 2002, this number had doubled to 20. As per records taken in 2003-2004, Pakistan had 53 private degree granting institutions.The rapid expansion of private higher education is even more remarkable if we look at the number of institutions established on a year-by-year basis. In 1997, for instance, three private institutions were established in 2001, 11 new private institutions were opened and in 2002 29 private sector institutions emerged. At present the Higher Education Commission of Pakistan (HEC) controls the functioning of higher education the country. It recognises 132 institutions of which 73 are public universities and 59 are private universities. However, its working is also not satisfactory as compared to its performance during the previous government.
Compulsory education
The Seventh Five-Year Plan envisioned that every child aged five years and above would have access to either a primary school or a comparable, but less comprehensive, mosque school. However, because of financial constraints, this goal was not achieved.
In drafting the Eighth Five-Year Plan in 1992, the government, therefore, reiterated the need to mobilise a large share of national resources to finance education. To improve access to schools, especially at the primary level, the government sought to decentralise and democratise the design and implementation of its education strategy. To give parents a greater voice in running schools, it planned to transfer control of primary and secondary schools to NGOs. The government also intended to gradually make all high schools, colleges, and universities autonomous, although no schedule was specified for achieving this goal.
Students unions have played an important role in our political history. However, despite its plus points it has failed to achieve its goals of creating positive political awareness.
 
Students unions
Students unions have played an important role in our political history. However, despite its plus points it has failed to achieve its goals of creating positive political awareness. As the society became more politically polarised, so did the campuses. In response to the unjust interference of some of the past ruling parties to patronise their favourite individuals or organisations among students and facilitate their success in elections, other students and organisations started resisting such trends which soon started transforming into armed clashes in the campuses leading to the suspension, delay and disruption in academic activities.Meanwhile, Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani announced the restoration of students’ unions while assuming office on March 29, 2008. Till now no concrete effort or planning has been undertaken for the revival of the students’ unions. The most common characteristic these all students unions possess is the zero-tolerance level they normally have for other groups. That’s why, severe clashes among various groups in different universities and colleges is a very common phenomenon and despite inevitable presence of security forces within these institutions, students unions easily find their ways to open fire on their rivals.
Adult literacy
Adult literacy is low, but improving. In 1992 more than 36 per cent of adults over 15 were literate, compared to 21 per cent in 1970. The rate of improvement is highlighted by the 50 per cent literacy achieved among those aged 15 to 19 in 1990. School enrollment also increased, from 19 per cent of those aged six to 23 in 1980 to 24 per cent in 1990. However, by 1992 the population over 25 had a mean of only 1.9 years of schooling. This fact explains the minimal criteria for being considered literate: having the ability to both read and write (with understanding) a short, simple statement on everyday life.
Female education
Comparison of data for men and women reveals significant disparity in educational attainment. By 1992, among people older than 15 years of age, 22 per cent of women were literate, compared to 49 per cent of men. The comparatively slow rate of improvement for women is reflected in the fact that between 1980 and 1989, among women aged 15 to 24, 25 per cent were literate. According to the UN in 1990 for every 100 girls of primary school age there were only 30 in school; among girls of secondary school age, only 13 out of 100 were in school; and among girls of the third level, grades nine and ten, only 1.5 out of 100 were in school. Slightly higher estimates by the National Education Council for 1990 stated that 2.5 per cent of students ‘three per cent of men and two per cent of women’ between the ages of 17 and 21 were enrolled at the degree level. Among all people over 25 in 1992, women averaged a mere 0.7 year of schooling compared to an average of 2.9 years for men.The discrepancy between rural and urban areas is even more marked. In 1981 only seven per cent of women in rural areas were literate, compared to 35 per cent in urban areas. Among men, these rates were 27 and 57 per cent, respectively. Pakistan’s low female literacy rates are particularly confounding because these rates are similar to other poor countries.
Pakistan has never had a systematic, nationally coordinated effort to improve female primary education, despite its poor standing.
 
It was once assumed that the reasons behind low female school enrollments were cultural, but research conducted by the Ministry for Women’s Development and a number of international donor agencies in the 1980s revealed that danger to a woman’s honour was parents’ most crucial concern. Indeed, reluctance to accept schooling for women turned to enthusiasm when parents in rural Punjab and rural Balochistan could be guaranteed their daughters’ safety.
According to a survey carried out by Gallup Pakistan, majority of Pakistanis (79 per cent) claim they prefer all-girls schooling for their daughters whereas 16 per cent say that if the standard of education and cost were the same they would prefer to send their girls to co-educational institutions. The remaining five per cent were either unsure or gave no response.
 
Co-education
According to a survey carried out by Gallup Pakistan, majority of Pakistanis (79 per cent) claim they prefer all-girls schooling for their daughters whereas 16 per cent say that if the standard of education and cost were the same they would prefer to send their girls to co-educational institutions. The remaining five per cent were either unsure or gave no response. A nationally representative sample of men and women from across the country were asked “Suppose the standard of education and the fee structure are the same, would you then prefer to educate your girls in a co-educational or an all girls institute?” The findings of the survey reveal that preference for co-education is higher amongst urbanites (24 per cent) as compared to their rural counterparts (12 per cent).
Dropout rates
Primary school dropout rates remained fairly consistent in the 1970s and 1980s, at just over 50 per cent for boys and 60 per cent for girls. The middle school dropout rates for boys and girls rose from 22 per cent in 1976 to about 33 per cent in 1983. However, a noticeable shift occurred in the beginning of the 1980s regarding the post-primary dropout rate: whereas boys and girls had relatively equal rates (14 per cent) in 1975, by 1979 ‘just as former president General Zia initiated Islamisation programme’ the dropout rate for boys was 25 per cent while for girls it was only 16 per cent. By 1993 this trend had dramatically reversed, and boys had a dropout rate of only seven per cent compared to the girls’ rate of 15 per cent.
Science and technology
The role of science and technology in the development of any country cannot be denied. In our country this needs more as compared to other countries as we are far behind in this field. Over the past 150 years, progress in science and technology has been a key driver of human and society’s development, vastly expanding the horizons of human potential and enabling radical transformations in the quality of life enjoyed by millions of people. The harnessing of modern sources of energy counts among the major accomplishments of past scientific and technological progress. And expanding access to modern forms of energy is itself essential to create the conditions for further progress.
Reforms
Three initiatives characterised reform efforts in education in the late 1980s and early 1990s: privatisation of schools that had been nationalised in the 1970s; a return to English as the medium of instruction in the more elite of these privatised schools, reversing the imposition of Urdu in the 1970s; and continuing emphasis on Pakistan studies and Islamic studies in the curriculum. Until the late 1970s, a disproportionate amount of educational spending went to the middle and higher levels.
One of the education reforms of the 1980s was an increase in the number of technical schools. Those schools that were designated for females included hostels nearby to provide secure housing for female students. Increasing the number of technical schools was a response to the high rate of underemployment that had been evident since the early 1970s. The Seventh Five-Year Plan aimed to increase the share of students going to technical and vocational institutions to over 33 per cent by increasing the number of polytechnics, commercial colleges, and vocational training centres. Although the numbers of such institutions did increase, a compelling need to expand vocational training further persisted in early 1994.
Character building
Our education system has been reduced as a means of earning one’s livelihood. It has become an instrument for going up the social ladder, an instrument that has been much abused than used. The focus has shifted radically from character building to making students more marketable in the job market. Are we teaching our children to be upright citizens who have the moral courage to uphold their values in the face of a crisis? The answer would be an emphatic no! So then, what should education be?
The Greek philosopher Socrates argued that education was about drawing out what was already within the student.
Education isn’t mere textbook knowledge. Real education goes beyond that. It should encompass the habits that one imbibes from one’s atmosphere and from his friends. Wisdom would be in maintaining a healthy atmosphere and a healthy friends circle. The more important aspect of education should be to impart humanity to the taught. This is where the teacher plays a prominent role of inculcating these values amongst his/her wards. Good education is that which helps one in using one’s senses positively and creatively. Any education that doesn’t achieve this end is no education. Good education would be one that helps the child know right from wrong, make the right choices, stand for truth, and reject the bad and the untrue. Education should impart self-discipline. Good education is one that leads to wholesome development of the body, mind and spirit. True education is one that is successful in opening the eye of reasoning and inquiry.
Conclusion
Education is important for any country’s progress and the same is also true for Pakistan. Despite recent achievements, the country still faces numerous challenges to raise its education standard to the level of its South Asian neighbours, and to meet its own social and economic development needs. For the improvement in the education system, following measures are necessary:
Increase spending on education to seven per cent of the GDP
Increase public-private partnerships in the spread of education
Introduce subjects taught in regular schools in madaris
Increase teachers’ training, introduce curriculum reforms, and improve teaching aid materials
Introduce food-based incentives to increase enrollment and improve retention, especially for girls.
Education should be made compulsory for all school going boy and girl. Without it the objective of education for all will remain a far cry.
There should be halt to political parties interference in campuses, stoppage of influence of money, accountability of student unions office-bearers, registrations of students organisations, code of conduct, provincial and national coordination, constructive political activities in campuses, sectarian and ethnic trends in students politics.

By: Waseem-ur-Rehman Khan

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *