En route to literacy
And Pakistan's? A vibrant
nation consisting of more than 160 million souls and of course with much better
sets of social and economic resources than those possessed by Zimbabwe at least,
it's 49.9 (2005). Believe it or not, it's the ground reality. Statistical
figures can be misleading though but sometimes they do signal many facts, direct
March, 2008: One would get the shock of his life after finding out the literacy rate of
Zimbabwe. It's 90.7 per cent according to the CIA Fact Book, 2003 estimate. But
wait a minute ... this is Zimbabwe, a socially and economically deprived African
country with just over 12 million inhabitants, and not China or Japan, world's
economic giants that we are talking about here.|
Education is not just about the paper and the pen. It
concerns gaining and utilising correct, up-to-date knowledge besides developing
one's character, all for helping humanity reach new heights of intellect and
morality in different fields of human interest. Education distinguishes human
beings from the rest of the creatures in many ways. It's helpful in almost every
walk of life, individually as well as collectively. For a nation it's a matter
of life and death, to put it in a nutshell.
More than 60 years since
gaining independence, if our nation has less than 50 per cent literate heads,
then naturally the burning question is: what are the reasons, fundamental
Right from the preschool stage through to primary, secondary,
higher-secondary, graduation, masters level and beyond, there are
numerous-cum-compound problems of every kind. Heaps of pages can be
And therefore to cover all the areas related to the
difficulties faced by Pakistan's education system in a limited space, I will try
to address the imperative subject by dividing it into five key segments -
students, parents, teachers, private sector and government.
piece revolves around school and college-related setbacks which are generally
faced here in Pakistan, and which are regarded as the leading factors in
steering a learner to higher studies or impelling him to go off track, sometimes
Starting from students, the most affected ones. An amorphous
bifurcation of the education system (government, matric/private, O/A Levels)
coupled with language medium barrier, lack of proper facilities particularly at
government institutions/rural areas, scarcity of practical knowledge (which they
don't get from teachers), effects of media distractions, non-existence of
cohesion among fellow students due to the "class-conscious" stance fed into some
of them by society and what not. A majority of them don't even have set
Recently, a few incidents of reportedly intolerable
corporal penalties given to students, also resulting in a learner's death in a
school in Sindh, have cropped up as the latest hurdle for juvenile minds as to
what they should expect in the near future.
In fact, one feels our pupils
don't have any specific direction to follow and therefore what to talk of them
being aware of their education goals. And whose fault is this anyway? Needless
to say, not the students'.
According to the UN Common Database (2004)
Pakistan's youth literacy rate (15-24 age group) is 53.9 per cent - 72nd in the
world. If one believes in the number and that there were 12 million Internet
users in Pakistan in 2006 then why are we lagging behind in overall education
development? No matter how many young heads are operating Internet in Pakistan,
it can't reflect the true state of the country's education, which is based on
awareness in every nook and cranny and not by just using a technology
haphazardly with no proper aim.
Then the highly unstable political and
economic situations, with the aforementioned obstacles already in the students'
way turn out to be a nail in the coffin for many who tend to switch their
thoughts and actions very quickly, running wild before ultimately falling as
soft victims to anti-social activities like burglary, illegal immigration, drugs
addiction and gangsterism.
So if our youth are not inclined towards
gaining education then it needs collective, sincere and swift attention at every
level - from institutions, parents and undoubtedly the people at the helm of
Parents (or guardians), with whom students spend
around two-thirds of their time, apart from the duration at education spots,
naturally bear the brunt in the attempt to see their children well-trained both
academically and morally.
After speaking to some parents on this very
subject, three things emerged very prominently: education rapidly getting
expensive, moral values diminishing at learning centres and sub-standard quality
of education quite rampant.
An experienced school directress, recently
witnessed an educated but dejected lady in Karachi burst into tears because she
was compelled to put two of her five children into the Cambridge system while
the rest into the Matric (usually considered inferior to Cambridge) due to the
extreme costs. Forced divide between one's own children? A shocker
There is the stationery, tuition fees, transportation, uniform
besides the ever-present annual charges to tackle. What should the guardians do?
It's a mind-boggling situation. Think about a government-private school split
for a parent with six children.
"… If character is lost nothing remains
behind", very truly said.
Due to an obvious lack of moral guidance at our
current schools and colleges, the parents are faced with yet another
Mere imparting of worldly facts and figures, and negligible
or no ethical training has been producing money-making individuals and not
'humane humans' who would embrace and spread virtue sincerely besides earning
A common observation is that it's often the
abusive-cum-vulgar behaviour that triggers an altercation between students (or
even between the student and teacher) at school, college or even university, and
that leads to something very ominous in many cases. Therefore if institutions
start playing their role consistently to help develop well-bred academically
viable individuals, then we can surely dream of a better social setup for the
Now a word on quality, a rare commodity in our present-day
academic system at various stages. Though again one finds the space here to
write, or rather cover all its aspects, on this grave matter quite short, it can
be opined with full conviction that neither the guardians nor the learners
themselves are satisfied with the worth of education they get in most
educational organisations owing to some sound reasons.
A lack of
facilities (at times even basic), all theoretical stuff and scarce practical
knowledge, unqualified/unprofessional teachers (both private and public),
absence of a government-regulated body to assess institutions' performances on a
constant basis and inadequate educational trips have hindered us in developing a
genuinely competitive and subsequently productive learning
Guardians having their due rights also have some
responsibilities individually. Being the closest to their young ones, they need
to direct them as frank and true friends in their academic endeavours besides
directing them judiciously on the subject of character-building.
teacher, due to many reasons, is the most significant factor in determining the
value of education passed on to the pupils, and if an educator treats a
study-related point as a matter of ego, something which happened at one of
Pakistan's renowned universities, then one doesn't need rocket science to figure
out the general mindset of the instructors employed across the country. "The
best teachers are those who remain students forever", goes the
The question is: How many instructors are willing to learn
themselves? While acknowledging the fact that it's always a two-way process,
i.e., the positive reaction of students to the efforts of teachers and vice
versa, being more mature than their students, the teachers are duly expected to
play a major part by using their prudence, knowledge and experience to make the
younger heads realise the complete meaning of education.
On the other
hand, it is also a fact that teachers are not so well taken care of at many
private and public organisations. Basic issues such as insufficient pay,
non-existent social protection, random and politically-motivated appointments,
massive workload and dearth of progress opportunities are all asking for
solutions. Long-term success can only be an illusive dream without much
incentive for teachers.
In fact, investment in developing and fulfilling
the valid requirements of teachers can bring a huge difference, both
academically as well as socially.
As education has become just a
'profitable business' in our cities whereas rural areas remain deserted in this
connection, as an experienced teacher working at a private school in Karachi
cautioned that perhaps the nation is not yet fully aware of the actual merit of
education, a common Pakistani citizen with a spirit for honesty and nation
building has the right to ask: who is responsible for this yawning discrepancy?
Common sense points towards the government.
And why not? Actually, apart
from the fundamental anomalies such as snail-paced upgrade of syllabi
(specifically science-related), quota system, the various mafias' involvement in
numerous institutions, absence of a comprehensive implementation of education
policies, unequal opportunities due to the uneven distribution of wealth in
society, acute shortage of polytechnic institutions and the fragile link between
engineering universities and the manufacturing industry, the government also
faces a colossal challenge of convincing Pakistan's heartfelt citizens as to
whether the public sector is doing its utmost to advance education, both in
numbers and standard.
Education spending utilised during the fiscal
2006-07, according to a civil organisation named Centre for Peace and
Development Initiatives (CPDI), was 33 per cent of the total budgetary sum
allocated by the government. And during the first quarter of 2007-08
(July-Sept), it was only 7.6 per cent, signalling that a lot has to be done for
putting things back on track.
And above all, spending a scanty 2-2.5 per
cent of the GDP on education cannot be justified in any way.
(both government and public) that can forfeit a gigantic amount of Rs112
billion, as revealed in a latest press report, due to the improper and
insufficient sanitation procedures in the country, we, with an organised and
combined effort can also spend a bit more on education, the most profitable
Considering all of this, one can form an opinion that as a
nation we must prioritise our goals immediately, rising above all minor
differences that we may have, to secure the future generations. Students,
teachers, parents, government and the private sector will all have to work, and
work hard, keeping in mind a common goal: to gain and spread education, i.e.,
'knowledge and morals' throughout Pakistan to attain new heights of
understanding and goodness as an optimistic person rightly said: "No one can go
back and change a bad beginning, we can start now and create a successful
ending." For Pakistan, I replace "anyone" by "everyone".
We all need to
toil and talk less, as less as possible … maybe. And firmly anticipate a big
change that will surely come, one day.
By S.M. Ibrahim Farooqi (Dawn)