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It’s Just Good Business Private Education Limited

Since the August edition happens to be the Youth and Interdependence special, this article highlights the miseries of the young who happen to be the students of the so-called educational institutes. The students of the private universities are at a greater loss, for they are exploited by the ‘owners’ of the varsities through their front men.

By setting up such institutes, the capitalist class serves only themselves, and not the country, or the youth. They produce robots, workers, and not thinkers, intellectuals and visionaries. The government should come forward and do something for establishing new universities in the public sector so that no individual may fall prey to the predators we call the private universities.

At the end of the article, there is a letter which was published in daily Dawn on July 12, 2012. It has been re-published on these pages just in order to reinforce the writer’s point of view.

He became a laughing-stock around the world and the butt of many jokes at home when Mr Raisani, chief minister of Balochistan, claimed, ‘Degree is degree’ whether  fake or genuine.’ It ranks right up there with the most unforgettable quotes known to Pakistanis, for sheer ludicrousness if nothing else. A preposterous statement whether given in gravity or jest. Or is it? Think again.

A degree, in the corporeal sense, is nothing more than a piece of paper bearing a few signatures and stamps. It’s the educational value we associate with a degree which gives it significance. Without that, the genuine is fake; and by reverse logic, the fake is genuine. Unwittingly the Baloch chief minister has given a highly ironic depiction of our prevailing education system.

Education is what it’s about then not colourful documents and so it’s the education which needs to be legitimate firstly. Education is a cause perhaps the most noble of causes known to humanity, the enlightenment of man, his progress and development. The moment you temper this notion of nobility with commercial objectives the cause is compromised. The sincerity of purpose is lost amidst the rustle of trained hands counting currency notes. Pakistan is a developing nation riddled with a multitude of problems and facing innumerable challenges, arguably the only long-term solution lies in the dispensation of education which is free of vested interests.

The private education sector in Pakistan reeks of money-grubbing at all tiers.

The mushroom growth of its schools, colleges and universities is an indicator of just how lucrative a proposition it has become. We have a burgeoning population exceeding 190 million and counting, according to the UNDP, 63% of which is under the age of 25. This opens up a huge ‘market’ for entrepreneurs wanting to target this particular demographic. The more unscrupulous of who do it in the name of education.  Given that government monitoring of the private education sector is minimal and quality/price control not exercised, the people in charge of these private establishments are free to go about their work with relative impunity. They formulate policies as they so please, and for all intents and purposes, are answerable only to themselves.

At best private institutes are just shops which provide mercenary education. While some shops might appear to provide quality learning but that has little to do with public service. It is in fact only to boost their reputation so that the students and money keeps pouring in. It’s just good business.

An objection here could be made by some who would argue that in fact not all private universities are cash counters and that some actually are doing good work. To all those who would like to use the ‘all fingers are not equal’ cliche let me remind them that those fingers still belong to the same hand, which in this case happens to be the private hand. A private hand in education cannot work for the public interest.

Public schools, colleges and universities certainly have their share of problems. But unlike the private ones, their raison d’etre, reason of being, is not in question. For all their problems just because their purpose of functioning is clear, i.e., it gives them propriety and legitimises them. Hence, this makes them the only avenue for valid education.

To give a layman perspective I would like to draw a parallel here, an analogy of sorts.

Take a husband and wife for instance. Now like most wives she is not perfect. She nags at him occasionally, complains about all the work she has to do, fights with him under stress, and cannot be the romantic damsel at all times. So should the husband in fact leave her for a prostitute, who doesn’t nag him, fight with him and complains; who gives to him what she is paid for, no excess baggage?

Obviously not! He should realise how difficult it is for her and that at least she is trying to cope.

More than anything else, the wife is legitimate whereas the prostitute is not. She does it only for money. The wife does it for a cause. Private education is for a significant part about money. Public education is for a cause.

The way forward therefore is clear; education in Pakistan needs to be state owned in totality. The existing private sector needs to be brought into the mainstream through a process of indiscriminate and beneficent nationalisation. This will in practice ensure that there are enough government institutes to provide education for all Pakistani students. Furthermore, the quality they offer should be at least world class. Such standards need to be evolved and maintained. Like most things it is easier said than done but the recourse has to be followed there is nothing to lose and everything to gain, our national survival and progress not least of them.

By: Syed Zamin Raza

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