Does anyone care to revamp education system?

Master degree holders could not answer simple questions
May: "Where is Malta?' a panelist at an interview board asked a candidate - a postgraduate in Geography - who had applied for a job to teach the same subject. "Malta?" a somewhat puzzled candidate retorted, with a cynical look. "You must be kidding me," he remarked, still bewildered. "It's a fruit of course and everyone knows where to find it?" pat came out the answer.

Now, for those of us, not well-versed in geography, "Malta" would certainly have meant orange, but you have to give it to a postgraduate in Geography for not knowing a fig about this Mediterranean archipelago.

But, even this gentleman can be forgiven for his ignorance, if one were to leaf through the last Annual Report of the erstwhile NWFP Public Service Commission.

It notes: "Master degree holders in specialised subjects like MCS, MSC, Physics, Chemistry, Botany and Biology etc. could not answer simple questions of Pakistan Studies, Islamiat and questions about government institutions which they should have leant at secondary school and college level.

The examples are already given that MCS (Master in Computer Science) could not answer the question 'where Minar-i-Pakistan is located and what is its historical significance. A master degree holder in Islamiat could not differentiate between Imaan and Islam." It said. A candidate had answered that Minar-i-Pakistan was located in Peshawar!

A law graduate was repeatedly referring to "coconut stories" while being interviewed for a post of additional prosecutor. It turned out - to the amusement of those sitting on the interview panel - that the gentleman actually meant to say "concocted stories. When asked what a coconut looked like. The candidate said: "It was just like an apple."

Such is the state of education in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. The tragedy is that the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Assembly that received the PCS Report on almost annual basis passes it without bothering to leaf through its pages and address the many causes that ail our education system.

The rot has set in and it will take a Herculean effort to turn around things and improve the quality of education. This requires vision, something that is deplorably missing in the ruling elite, whose sons and daughters know not how does it feel sitting on a mat in a classroom with no ceiling fan and a bathroom with no water.

Ignorance may be forgiven but indifference is criminal and that's what our education system has come to be treated as - with criminal indifference. A province that has little resources of its own spends Rs30 billion on education, Rs24 billion of which is spent on salaries of teachers and other allied staff.

With 174,000 employees (56 per cent), education department is the biggest service provider in the public sector in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. And this is what we get? "Coconut stories?"

A child, who is taught who the founder father of Pakistan is long before he learns the name of his father does not know where Minar-i-Pakistan is, definitely highlights where we stand.

The quality of education has deteriorated and this speaks volumes about the incompetence of those who have been overseeing the formulation of syllabi as well as those teaching it. Does it surprise anyone that the education department is still being governed under an outdated 1935 Education Code - the so-called Bible of the Education Department - which is only now being changed, thanks to some good and dedicated officers at the helm?

A study has found that put together; the amount spent on a student in public schools by the government was enough to get him enrolled in one of the best private schools of Pakistan.

This is not to say that the elite private schools are fairing any better, where school bags are getting heavier than the weight of the kids carrying them on their all-too-weak shoulders, and where, as one dear friend put it, knowledge is hammered through their brains without so much caring for them to understand it.

But still, there is a huge difference between public and private schools in terms of quality of education. And that is because of the training the teachers are put through in private sector schools on a regular basis and where promotions are done on the basis of performance and not because teachers reach a certain ceiling of their pay to become eligible for a move-over to next grade.

Please! When was the last time public sector teachers went though a refresher training course? If it is mandatory for officers of other government department to go through management courses to become eligible for promotion to the next higher grade, why can't it be made compulsory for the teachers to do the same?

But this may never happen. And you know why? With all due respect to the teachers, some of whom abound in politics than knowledge, there umpteen associations, some of which are associated with this or that political party, would be out on the streets, holding placards. Ever heard of teachers protesting to demand better training? Hell, No! Why should they?

This is what the many political governments have done over the last several decades; inundate schools with their own political loyalists, who owe their appointment not to the knowledge or the lack thereof, but to their political loyalties. Wonder why some of these associations suddenly come to life when their parties come into power.

And then to rub salt to your wounds, you hear ministers making statements ad-nauseum, of making education their top priority. That may be true. Because this would mean more schools; and more schools mean more recruitment and more opportunities to draft more loyalists.

But the tragedy is that nobody is concerned, not leas the people at large, who, beset by a raft of troubles, have their way, groping in the dark, not knowing which way to turn. The government, with the exception of a few good officers at the helm in the education department, is least pushed to give a policy direction and set a vision for revamping the rotten state of affairs in the education sector.

Reforms are necessary and it does not require a task force to re-invent the wheel. A glace through the PCS Annual Report lays it bare, even for those with a weak sight to diagnose the real causes behind the downfall of education in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. The issue is not money or spending more money for that matter to improve the quality of education. Cuba is spending less than many of the Latin American countries but is competing with some of the developed countries of the world in terms of quality education. In Western Europe, Finland is spending less than Norway but tops the list of countries in quality education. What is required is an effective and merit-based recruitment system for teachers and headmasters and putting in place an effective monitoring and supervision system.

All the countries which are now competing in terms of high quality education have come to learn this through trial and error. It is time to abandon the outdated CT, PT-mode of recruitment and revamp the whole system. And this does not require money. What it requires is the political will. Does anyone care? -By Ismail Khan (Dawn)

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