By Ali Changezi
Education is a prerequisite for the progress and development of any state. The progress of every country depends upon how literate its people are and the quality of education they are provided. The current structure of the education system in Pakistan, which is a heritage of the British colonial era, is extremely outdated, and fails, in many instances, to meet the needs of today’s scholarly demands. A decade after the 18th amendment, there still has been little change in the structure of Pakistan’s educational system. Pakistan currently ranks 113th among 120 countries in literacy, which paints a hopeless picture, to say the least. Our collective literacy rate stands at 58% which means more than 60 million people are out of the education system
According to the constitution of 1973, it is the responsibility of the federal government to plan, formulate policies, and promotion of educational facilities in the provinces. The federal governments have had taken initiatives to eliminate the shortcomings in the country’s educational structure, for this reason, it has convened several conferences to address the shortcomings in the educational sector. The first-ever conference on national education was convened in 1947 where the Founder of the Nation, Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah was present. The Quaid was famously quoted as saying, “The importance of education and the type of education cannot be over-emphasized. There is no doubt that the future of our state will and must greatly depend upon the type of education we give to our children and the way we bring them up as future citizens of Pakistan. We should not forget that we have to compete with the world which is moving very fast in this direction”. This was followed by multiple other conferences on the Education Policy.
Yet, after all these years and numerous conferences, plans, initiatives, and programs, Pakistan still looms in the darkness of low literacy among the general masses. We have great plans, but we for sure possess a poor sense of implementation and most of our initiatives die out after the initial stage of speeches and deliberations. Many of the problems we face in the field of education are compounded when it comes to rural areas such as single-teacher schools, and schools with a single room without furniture or basic teaching equipment both for the staff and the pupils. Prevalence of untrained teachers, lack of motivation in the students resulting in high drop-out cases, and absence of sports facilities. There are multiple obstacles in the way of achieving free and universal primary education such as low priority accorded to the primary sub-sector in the distribution of financial resources, unrealistic plans and their targets, unattractive environment of schools, and unstimulating teaching and learning atmosphere inside the classrooms.
Secondary education too, has suffered in the country as those imparted by the government institutions have been of little to no help in improving the standard of education in the country. Many of these government schools miss the component of imparting leadership qualities to the students so that they can become responsible stakeholders in the future. The absence of this has encouraged the establishment of private institutions which to an extent do focus on the social skills of the students. However, this comes at a higher cost in the shape of fees which is out of the reach of an ordinary man, making them exclusive to elites only. The balance between curricular and extra-curricular activities is virtually non-existent in government schools and thus the students suffer in character building, balanced personality development, confidence, and leadership qualities. Although ‘comprehensive schools’ were established to tackle this issue, yet they were discontinued later for unknown reasons.
The Higher Secondary School sector is faced with an even bigger problem i.e., the lack of diverse educational fields which are limited to a few disciplines such as Medical, Engineering, and ICS. These are extremely limited options for the millions of students who enter Higher Secondary with a thousand different interests which may not align with the current fields of study provided at the intermediate level throughout colleges in Pakistan. There is a dire need of diversifying college disciplines and increasing the number of disciplines to match the provided educational resources with the needs and wants of the students. A student who dislikes mathematics, biology, or physics should not be forcefully taught these subjects. If the students start losing interest in studying, which they often do if the subjects do not interest them, then this begins a destructive domino effect that will accompany them throughout their journey to higher education.
Higher education in Pakistan on the other hand is plagued with inadequate resources, the politicization of students (religious and ethnic), and their involvement in generally non-constructive political discourses. A prime example of this is the University of Balochistan in the provincial capital of Quetta which has been torn between student bodies, political unions, and parties that do not act as a source of cohesion among those present in the university. Instead, they strike lines of division and are a major source of infighting. Another case study is the death of a university student at the International Islamic University, Islamabad which was the result of the infighting amongst student bodies and political unions. The academic and administrative staffs of the universities draw a picture of hopelessness. They may most certainly possess the qualifications which make them eligible for the seat they occupy, but many lack the standard behavioral approach which makes a great administrator or teacher. Most of the staff are stuck in a deep sense of superiority complex and consider all questions, even those asked in good faith, as a challenge to their self-constructed authority. The students in universities must be able to focus as much on their character and personality development as they would on their academic and mental abilities, this the university management should provide the atmosphere for, since all the students passing out of the university will be applying at different employment opportunities which require certain skills apart from being academically bright. However, apart from a few, privately owned institutions, the rest of the universities both government and private fail to focus on this important factor. The myriad of bureaucratic and administrative hurdles with the university management bodies acts only as a discouraging factor for those who want to introduce positive programs.
All in all, there is a lack of a supportive and enabling environment in the universities and the students are treated more as subjects rather than equals who have brimming potential within. Another dilemma facing the education system is the students, from the very onset of education, are taught in a ‘reactive’ environment i.e., to say the student will not do anything until the teacher gives an instruction or asks for something to be read or written. We need to shift from the ‘reactive’ mode of educating to a ‘proactive’ mode of educating where the student exercises his own will to study, what he wants to study and how he wants it, but that is a long road and a lot more work needs to be done to nurture such an environment which will make such initiatives sustainable and manageable. We spend only 2.1% of our GDP on education. This cannot go on for long if Pakistan is to prosper.
Ali Changezi is a Research Assistant at Balochistan Think Tank Network