Over the top - Masood Hasan - Sunday, March 13, 2011

Source : http://thenews.com.pk/TodaysPrintDetail.aspx?ID=35858&Cat=9

I think it would be fair to say that when the current dispensation came into being about three years ago, many Pakistanis felt they would have a very rough ride because Commando Musharraf and his Merry Makers had spent recklessly, foiled all attempts to honour their financial commitments and diverted funds to anything that would divert people’s attention from serious issues of our very survival.

There was even a trace of sympathy for AZ and party. People hoped that they would make some sincere efforts to start the formidable task of setting Pakistan’s chaotic house into order. But within days it was clear – as the brazen display of grabbing the lion’s share unfolded, that this lot were not interested in anything other than wielding power, amassing fortunes and exploiting their positions. The agenda was rob, rob, and rob.

Acting like deranged royalty they embarked on a reckless spending spree, promoted opulence, encouraged waste of resources and brought the country to its knees with their in-built spectacular inefficiency. A new age of corruption, deceit and hypocrisy unlike anything ever experienced, now defined the country. The sheer size of the federal cabinet made hippos blush, law and order quickly became lawless and disorder. Trivia dominated the thinking of the rulers and the lives of its citizens were laid on the line every day.

Propped by aid that was accepted shamelessly, no one was remotely interested in setting the house in order. Instead of really doing something for those who had put them in power, the new goon squad set about looting the country like a frenzied mob. Buffeted by serious issues – failing utilities, an insoluble Afghan problem, disenchanted provinces and dozens of issues crying for quick, resolute and determined action, the rulers decided instead to concentrate on making money, using their considerable clout and putting anything of consequence on the back burner with the burner happily out of gas.

Some robbed on an ad hoc basis but the cunning players, the professional vampires, did it institutionally as they had been doing since Pakistan’s birth. Under the guise of standing guard for our sake against diabolical enemies, they having elevated themselves on glorified pedestals, continued to suck the life out of the system. A land raped again and again was raped some more. And so one by one, the tottering pillars that supposedly hold the country together albeit shakily, began to crumble and fall. Each day yielded more and more details about corruption in every institution and spotlighted the insatiable greed of those who had everything yet wanted more.

Today the only things that engage the interest of many of us are milking the country, self preservation and advancement and making money, the faster the better. The Big C in Pakistan is not Cancer. It’s Corruption. And that’s not all that ails this land which once had so much potential. The top leaders have absolutely no heart and while noble sentiments come pouring out of their mouths, in reality they don’t give a damn.

Given such an inspiring background, it is no surprise to be slapped in the face by a recent document that has three chilling words as its title – ‘Education Emergency Pakistan.’ A quick read through it and you will hold your head in despair. This report paints a scenario that looks far more frightening than a nuclear holocaust. At least in that eventuality, oblivion would come swiftly but in what the report says, the death is slow and agonising.

Here are some startling facts. Education is the fundamental right of all children says the report. The state is obligated to provide free and compulsory education to all children ages five to 16. The Millennium Goal for Education – MDG (Pakistan is a signatory) commits that by 2015, children everywhere, boys and girls, will be able to complete a full course of primary schooling and will have equal access to all levels of education. This is not going to happen.

At least seven million children are not in primary school, three million will never see the inside of a classroom and Pakistan is now second in the global ranking of out-of-school children. In other words, our chances of meeting the 2015 goal are a big, fat zero. At our current rate, we can achieve this in the year 2041 for Punjab, 2049 for Sindh, 2064 for KP and 2100 for Baluchistan. Yet India, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh are on track already to meet this goal.

Today, 30 percent of Pakistanis are living in extreme educational poverty which means having received less than two years of education! Additionally, 31 percent men and 41 percent women aged 15-24 are unable to read or write. Only 35 percent of schoolchildren aged six to 16 can read a story, while 50 percent cannot read a single sentence. Less than a third can answer simple comprehension questions after reading an Urdu paragraph. Yet, all parents crave a decent education for their children, contrary to popular opinion that they don’t. Only four percent of those who don’t have children in school say they ‘don’t want education.’ The rest do. Badly. But the system is pernicious, the policies warped and the spending wayward. We have made 10 education policies in the last 64 years yet not one has improved education.

Globally, it is established that leadership is the most important ‘secret ingredient’ (as the report defines it) that can convert a policy into tangible results. Teachers, headmasters and others all the way to the president need to lead by example and show commitment. Do we have that kind of leadership? Education has to be the cornerstone – no, the whole building I say, of our existence if we are going to go anywhere. Rs 80-100 bn is required annually to reach the MDG. Can we stop buying weapons of mass destruction and fancy airplanes and cut down drastically on non-developmental expenditures?

Education of women is one of the most important investments a society can make, yet fewer than half have ever been to school – 35 percent of these living in rural areas. This failure to provide education is without doubt our most urgent self-inflicted disaster. There are 26 other countries, poorer than Pakistan, that send more children to primary school than us and we are utterly without shame on this and other matters.

We are committed to spending four percent of GDP on education but budgets have fallen to just two percent last year and worse, of this measly sum, provinces have spent only 60 percent. Despite this seemingly hopeless task, there is hope. Rapid changes can take place as has been established elsewhere in the world. If Pakistan were to follow the road taken by other countries, they would have solid results in just two years. The question of course is, will they?

You ask so what can I do? We are all ordinary people who believe that nothing we say or do makes any difference, but we underestimate our collective power that can bring about change. I urge all of you who care about this country to log on http://educationemergency.com.pk/ and vote for change. It may not move mountains but it may shake a few large boulders and wake up our policy makers.

If we don’t, we are signing the death warrant for millions of children, those born and those yet to be born, who will lead lives of utter despair and despondency. Is this the legacy you wish to leave behind? And since ironies never cease, would you believe it, 2011 is the Year of Education? The prime minister himself announced this! So don’t wait for miracles. Log on and make your voice heard. Pass the message on to as many friends as you can. There are millions of internet users here. Let’s hear from them.

The writer is a Lahore-based columnist. Email: masoodhasan66@gmail.com

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