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Pakistan's Education woes

Oct 22: WHILE calling for a revamping of the public sector school system in the country, the Senate Standing Committee on Education has stressed the need for doing away with the class-based approach to education. Although education in Pakistan does not formally discriminate against anyone, in reality it operates in such a way that the socio-economic status of a child determines the kind of education s/he can aspire for. This is a pity but the fact is that those who are affluent find high quality modern education easily accessible and affordable for their children. Those of modest means have no option but to give their children a shoddy education that does not take them far in life. Not surprisingly, many of these children join the swelling ranks of dropouts as they find little to attract them to stay on in school. The most horrific aspect of this situation is that it perpetuates social and economic inequities from one generation to the next, with only a few brilliant children of the lesser gods managing to break the class barrier.

This phenomenon is to be attributed primarily to two factors. First is the stratification of our education system into high-fee, high-class private schools and the low-/no-fee substandard public sector schools. This neatly divides the student community into the high achievers and the poor performers. Inarguably, the former owe their good education to the expensive private institutions to which their parents can afford to send them. The not so privileged attend the government and low-fee private schools with dismal academic standards. The responsibility for this rests squarely on the government. Were it to have recognised its fundamental duty of imparting good education to every child born in this country and were it to have upgraded every public sector school into a model institution, this cleavage would never have existed. The implications of this social injustice are profound and far-reaching. In a country where the employment ratio is low, and competition for the scarce jobs is tough, it is inevitable that the lucrative jobs go to those who are products of the private school system.

The chances of the Senate standing committee's words of wisdom being heeded are pretty low. For the last two years, the federal ministry of education has been ostensibly working to reform the curricula and revise the textbooks. This exercise has become an unending one and no tangible changes appear to have been introduced so far. The only measure that has been taken - a step forward - is the enhancement of the education budget. It has gone up from 2.20 per cent of the GDP in 2003-04 to 2.43 per cent in 2006-07. But this alone offers no solution to the problem. By injecting massive amounts into the education system without enhancing its capacity to absorb the funds meaningfully the government has failed to make a visible difference in the education scene. If anything, it has given a boost to corruption in the education sector where there is immense scope for embezzlement given the lax monitoring and inspection mechanism. Moreover, the lack of capacity means that large sums remain unutilised. The need is for some foresight and vision so that the funds that are now available are put to good use in teachers' training, improving the examination system and upgrading the textbooks as recommended by the Senate standing committee. Dawn

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