COMMENT: Reaping fruits of a folly —Mohammad Jamil - Saturday, March 12, 2011

Source :\03\12\story_12-3-2011_pg3_2

In the 18th century, France started developing an education system under which all children attended schools, financed and regulated by the state. No wonder, today it is one of the most developed countries of the world

No aspect of life merits more urgent attention and greater investment of resources today than the eradication of illiteracy and improvement in the quality of education, as quality of life is directly linked to the social profile of the country. The decade of the 1990s did witness some programmes aimed at improving the key social sectors, but mismanagement by a callous leadership brought a resourceful country like Pakistan to the level of one of the least developed countries of the world. Despite spending billions of rupees under the Social Action Programme, the improvement in the social indicators remained unimpressive. Historical evidence suggests that educated and healthy workforce plays an important role in the development of a country and the prosperity of its people.

The present state of education and less than 20 percent literacy rate in Pakistan is the most glaring reflection of our people and society’s backwardness. In fact, the nation is reaping the fruits of a folly. Had we not been so negligent of education, we would not have seen the country engulfed in extremism so badly.

It is true that even the most developed countries with top-class educational systems have fanatical fringes, but their mainstreams stay uninfluenced, robust, decisive and domineering largely because of the mass of their citizenry being educated with broad outlook and worldview. The main reason why our mainstream is under such a grave assailment of extremism is arguably the raw deal that education has got from the state throughout history. Educating the citizenry has not been the pursuit of any government since our independence. And the worst hit is schooling, which in any educational pyramid makes up the base and so gets all the primacy and import in the education systems of advanced polities. In the 1990s, the crumbling public sector education system deteriorated further, as an unregulated growth of private sector education led to a system of education apartheid. The quality of public sector education at all levels had degenerated to the extent that quality education became an exclusive preserve of the elite, thus forcing the majority to perpetual ignorance and poverty.

Despite unprecedented increase in population, the ratio of students attending government primary schools declined. Surveys showed that the drop in enrolment ratio in government schools was due to substandard education, inadequate and untrained teachers and lack of other facilities. Therefore, a cost-effective model was needed to raise the level of education across the massive schools’ network. It is an established fact that investment in human capital reduces poverty, and on the contrary illiteracy and ill health are obvious impediments to progress and prosperity in a competitive global economy. Today’s industrialised and developed countries had once invested in human capital to achieve the present status. In the west, it is the state that steps in proactively to lay out and run strong networks for children’s schooling. They too have elitist private schools for the privileged and the well-off. But it is the state-run schooling, catering primarily to the educational needs of the commoners’ children, that receives all the official focus, attention and patronage.

It has to be mentioned that about 80 percent of British children go to state-run schools. The state provides schooling at all stages of education; however if parents desire, they can send their children to private schools. In the US, the states are responsible for education but most of the states transfer management of educational institutions to local districts. In the 18th century, France started developing an education system under which all children attended schools, financed and regulated by the state. No wonder, today it is one of the most developed countries of the world. Germany and Japan, having been destroyed in the Second World War, were able to quickly rebuild their countries only because their earlier governments had laid solid foundations for the education system. In Pakistan, there are financial and other constraints, and the government is facing difficulties in hiring the services of qualified lecturers and professors due to the brain drain in the past. However, some efforts were made to bolster the education sector by previous governments.

The Higher Education Commission (HEC) had replaced the University Grants Commission with a view to improving the quality of education. Up to 2001, there were only 26 universities in the public sector and 11 in the private sector in a country of 150 million people. Former chairman HEC, Dr Attaur Rehman, was assigned with the task of promoting higher education in the country, and an overall improvement in the education sector was visible. The government, however, should ensure that education is purposeful and responsive to the needs of the market economy so that Pakistan could compete in the world market. In 2002, the HEC was created, which is today the regulator of 132 universities of the country. The number of universities during 2002 to 2008 had gone up by 35 percent and access to higher education opportunities doubled.

Unfortunately, the progress made and gains achieved by the then Chairman HEC Attaur Rehman are not being preserved, firstly by abandoning some development projects and reducing the expenditure on others because Pakistan’s economy is in dire straits due to the economic crisis the world over, and Pakistan is no exception. The question is, how any government could have achieved the basic objective of human development when less than 2 percent of the GDP was allocated for this sector in Pakistan. It is in fact due to mismanagement by a callous leadership that a resource-rich country like Pakistan is rated as one of the least developed countries of the world, and it lags behind in social indicators if compared with even other South Asian countries like Sri Lanka and Bangladesh. However, during the last decade, many organisations were formed and the structure of education was revised and revamped. But still a lot has to be done.

When the state is so cavalierly negligent about schooling, what more could you expect from it for keeping the polity as a predominantly moderate and tolerant entity? Schooling is the crucial formative stage where pupils imbibe attitudes, ideas and thoughts that develop their outlook and worldview as they grow up. It is true that advanced polities have religious schools and lots of them. But it is their widespread state-run schooling that produces far more educated students than do their faith-based schools. And it is the alumnae of the state-schooling that make up those polities’ bedrock. In Pakistan, urban government schools are by and large functioning in deplorable conditions; their plight in rural areas is just lamentable. If we are to contain extremism, the government must progressively increase allocation for the education sector from less than 2 percent to 5 percent within three years. There is also need to improve quality of teaching by raising standards of teacher-training institutions to turn them into centres of excellence. If these steps are not taken, Pakistan will continue to face the spectre of extremism.

The writer is a freelance columnist. He can be reached at

No comments:

Post a Comment