Higher spending, lower standard
Come to think of it, an even bigger surprise would be that such an
impressive enrolment figure fails to translate into any kind of
transformation in society where unscientific attitude prevails almost
across the board. Besides, the spark of innovation and scientific
advancement are as missing from our mix today as they were decades ago.
July 2009: With the way things stand today in society, it might come as a surprise
to many that Pakistan leads the region with the highest number of
students getting themselves enrolled in fields related to science and
technology. As many as 24 per cent of our university-level students opt
for the Science faculty, which is three percentage points higher than
the South Asian average of 21, and on a par with the global average.|
There used to be a longstanding argument about the lack of
enough government spending on higher education that was said to be the
main cause behind Pakistan's low positioning in the world of scientific
innovation and advancement, but that argument does not hold water
anymore. Between 2001 and 2006, there has been a 340 per cent hike in
government spending on higher education. Seen in the backdrop of what
was going on previously, it is a truly astronomical spike. A parallel
rise in student enrolment resulted in a 40 per cent increase in terms
of public-sector spending per student at the university level.
are impressive figures indeed, but have not produced the results that
one would have expected. The country remains far behind in key
educational indicators among its counterparts in the region. The latest
Human Development in South Asia Report released recently by the
Islamabad-based Mahbubul Haq Development Centre points out that
Pakistan's university enrolment rate, though impressive when seen in
isolation, is quite dismal in the regional context.
It can be
argued that the money injected into the system over the last few years
will take time to turn things around and that one would be better off
being patient and optimistic instead of being jittery and critical, but
certain facts pointed out in the report suggest otherwise.
Pakistan, two-third of the higher education budget is spent on
salaries," it says while stressing the obvious: "Merely increasing the
financial Medical graduates at their convocation
is not enough unless the money is utilised efficiently. A huge part of
the budget is spent on salaries, in particular the salaries of
non-teaching staff, leaving little for capital expenditure that are
vital for quality improvement."
Though the report does not
take into account spending on infrastructure, it is common observation
that in the last decade or so, universities in Pakistan have tended to
spend lavishly on erecting wonderful structures and on refurnishing
administrative offices. By the time they are done with it, they are
left with precious little to spend on things that may turn things
around in terms of imparting quality education.
instance, the case of the Mass Communication department at one of the
leading public-sector universities of the country. A couple of years
ago, it spent millions on putting up a new building which is a far cry
from the primitive structure which was housing it for several decades.
It is pleasing to the eyes, no doubt, but the problem is that the
department had no funds left to buy equipment that is essential for
effective teaching of the course material to its students.
moving into the new building, the department had a dated camera that
was guided by its own whim and fancy rather than human command. It also
had one multimedia projector that was often loaned out to other
departments for their seminars and symposiums. It had no wire service
connection worth its name. And the internet connection, at best, was
occasionally functional. In the new setup, which has since been
upgraded to the level of an institute, there has been no change of
status in terms of equipment. Accordingly, there has been no change in
the quality of education either.
By spending less than
half-a-million, one could have taken care of all the issues on the
equipment side, but it was considered preferable by the decision-makers
to spend many, many times more on the physical structure. In official
files, these millions have been spent on education, but in effect, all
this has been spent on everything except education. And, lest it may be
mistaken, this is not a one-off case of botched priorities; there are
scores of similar examples spread in universities across the land. Some
of them, in fact, might be much more horrible.
With this kind
of mindset at work, official data regarding money spent on education is
hardly a relevant marker either for assessing improvement in the
educational sector or for a shift of priorities on the part of
policy-makers. And this explains at least one major reason why there
has been no practical change in the value of our universities' output.
other half is brought forth by the quality or its absence of
teaching methodology and practices. Before moving into the issue
itself, let us first have a look at what it means in practical terms.
As noted by the Human Development Report, a survey based on interviews
with Pakistani employers, parents, students and graduates looking for
employment showed that the "quality of graduates produced was less than
adequate and that graduates exhibited poor communication skills, poor
reading habits, narrow vision and a limited world view."
who has anything to do with the job market would readily agree with the
findings of the survey. Conducting interviews of public-sector
university graduates has the potential to cause bursts of laughter and
fits of anger because a sizeable majority of them happen to be not just
ignorant about their own fields of study, but also naοve in their
approach towards life at large. The ground reality is not merely bad;
it is pathetic.
There being two parties to the conflict
students and teachers there are two basic dimensions of the problem.
The first party, the students, coming to the university does not bring
enough momentum of its own because education imparted at primary,
secondary and higher secondary levels is a serious non-starter. Being
deficient in their core academic value, schools and colleges have no
way and no intention of working on aspects like character-building,
work ethics, the centrality of knowledge in human progress, the
significance of keeping pace with the world and so on. By the time this
lot lands in the hands of the second party, the university teachers,
the die is already cast in terms of temperament, mindset, attitude and
It is not of any help at all that the university
atmosphere has its own plethora of problems: curriculum, faculty,
research are all parts of the problem; not of the solution. This is so
because environment at public-sector universities in Pakistan and,
indeed, across South Asia has two major hallmarks: internal
and lack of accountability.
Away from the
administrative side which has political interference thrown in for good
measure, the low availability in society of qualified, competent and
trained teachers is a major hurdle in the whole process. Teaching has
never been a profession of choice in Pakistan. In the absence of much
option in this regard, universities are forced to hire inexperienced,
lower qualified staff to keep the system moving.
some of these teachers happen to be the very people who had simply gone
through the motion of studying in schools, colleges and universities
and were then found to be good for nothing by the job market which, as
cited above, questioned the quality of graduates and blamed them for
exhibiting poor communication skills, poor reading habits, narrow
vision and a limited world view. A teacher with such unenviable
attributes can hardly be expected to produce scientists of tomorrow.
And this is why even an increased enrolment on par with the global
average is nothing much to celebrate. -By Humair Ishtiaq (Dawn)
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