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Pakistan educational system myriad problems

Apartheid of another kind
Pakistan Education Apartheid Aug, 22: The issue of inequality stands out among the myriad problems that plague Pakistan these days due to its long-term implications for society at large. There can't be two opinions about the fact that we are living in an unjust and exploitative system that is heavily biased towards the rich.
Our ruling class which is a mullah/military/bureaucracy/feudal nexus has a vested interest in keeping the majority of the population ignorant, unskilled, irrational, underfed and unproductive. In order to achieve this objective, they have taken a leaf out of their colonial predecessors' book and adopted their philosophy of dividing the subjects into two classes.

Dr Syed Jaffar Ahmed, Director, Pakistan Study Centre, University of Karachi, opines: "The educational system in all societies is organised along class lines and ours is not an exception. However, in many countries this division is not as profound and extensive as it is in Pakistan. We have virtually created two nations and consolidate this separation through our educational system.

"Its ultimate result is that there are two nations representing two totally different mindsets, ethos, skills and abilities. Unfortunately, no government has ever tried to bridge this gap, which nowadays is wider than it ever was," he adds.

Elaborating further, Dr Ahmed states: "In the midst of all these divisions, we have failed to evolve as a nation. Our politics, economy, civil services, judiciary and legislature, almost all important institutions of statecraft, are dominated by the privileged class, while the majority of the populace is condemned to live the life of subjects and not as equal citizens."

There are three streams of educational systems: firstly, the public sector education (read Urdu-medium schools); secondly, the private sector (English-medium schools) and finally, the madressah education. All these systems cater to a different stratum of the populace: for instance, the government schools cater to the middle and lower-middle classes, while the private schools take students from the privileged class who can afford their through-the-ceiling fees and other charges. Finally, the madressahs impart education free of charge and often also provide boarding and lodging facilities to the poorest of the poor. All these streams have their own sets of pros and cons which affect the students' whole lives, their professional competence and their earning capabilities. Consequently, the vertical divide of society is absolutely complete.

Contrary to the popular conviction, inequality is neither a natural phenomenon nor the fate of each individual or group - rather, it is the result of sustained state policies and an established societal order that is based on elitism and hierarchy. Development experts, international agencies and all governments firmly believe that while equality is one of the fundamental human rights and every constitution grants it a central place, inequality is, however, extremely entrenched in many countries, including Pakistan.

As a result of globalisation, all economies, on a national and international level, have become very integrated and all economic activities are becoming increasingly knowledge-based. Education has become a very important and crucial factor as it helps to improve living standards and enhance the quality of life and can, therefore, provide the same opportunities to men and women, irrespective of their nationalities, caste, race, religion or ethnicity.

Education, in a rapidly changing world, has become more important than ever. Owing to the emerging globalisation nowadays, the omnipresent democracy, scientific innovations, the emergence of new market economies and altering public/private role, all nations need a highly educated and skilled populace in order to compete and thrive in this age of cut-throat competition.

A very significant aspect that has been overlooked by our planners is that inequality and poverty are typically assessed in terms of income and wealth which in turn influence educational opportunities. There has been extensive research that suggests a definite correlation between income and education levels as well as between learning and income disparities.

Elaborating this phenomenon, Dr Muhammad Ali Siddiqui, the dean and professor, Faculty of Management and Social Sciences, Biztek Institute of Business and Technology, Karachi, says: "The privileged classes have very successfully developed an educational apartheid system in which only the selected few can get good education and skills and the rest of the populace is supposed to be subservient to them. On which side of the fence one would land depends on the accident of birth and inheritance and the fissure lies on the financial division."

Dr Tariq Rahman has successfully covered this divide in his book, Denizens of Alien World, A Study of Education, Iinequality and Polarisation in Pakistan. He writes that "this system perpetuates capitalism in its worst forms, the lower by providing cheap labour, the upper by creating inane and selfish consumers and both levels are not capable of ushering in an era of self-sufficiency, egalitarianism and dignity for the masses."

However, due to the collapse of the public sector educational system, our society represents the prevalent class structure of society. Students coming from government schools or madressahs cannot compete with students from the private sector who are given the best education money can buy. So they end up doing menial or semi-skilled jobs and are left behind in the neo market economy as it is very difficult for them to break the class ceiling or succeed on the same level.

Dr Asad Saeed, director of Participatory for Social Sciences, explains the implication of this apartheid system in the following words: "Our educational system is not geared towards the needs and requirements of growing and dynamic economy. Due to globalisation and technological revolution, there has been tremendous growth of hi-tech related industries. However, in order to capture them we need

good skills in English and maths, something which is sadly lacking in our students.

"Secondly, our education system is by and large declining in terms of quality. We still have not sorted out language issues, our curriculum and teaching methods are obsolete and are simply not up-to-the-mark to meet the requirements of the up-to-the-minute financial system," adds Dr Saeed.

Growing terrorism and fundamentalism has become a critical challenge for the government, civil society and the people at large. Dr Ahmed states: "This phenomenon is also the result of our class-driven educational system as the under-privileged who have been neglected by the state are catered by the extremist outfits who exploited them in the name of religion, regrettably, with the support of the establishment."

Summing up the debate, it can be concluded safely that the class-driven educational system is injurious for economic development and national cohesion. Nearly half of our national issues could be solved easily if we devise an educational system that provides one and the same opportunities to all its citizens. -By Moniza Inam (Dawn)

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