Last week, on 1 November, and earlier, on 4 November, I wrote about prosperity through education and the importance of good teachers. Today, I will cast the net wider; I will re-emphasise the importance of basic education and schooling, but also include literacy, youth and adult education, giving a second chance to those who never went to school.

First, something more about the basics of education and the role of teachers; teachers should not just be knowledgeable about the subjects they teach and transfer knowledge. More importantly, they should have a rounded overall approach to life and learning. A good teacher should be good at discussing morals and ethics and good habits. He or she should teach and show how good relations with all can be developed and maintained, even when one disagrees. It would be essential that students learn to feel empathy with and can help change the lives of the less fortunate. In our time, as in all times, it is paramount that teachers encourage development of hope and optimism in students, and make all realise that their contribution counts.

A teacher must certainly be able to work with parents, the local community, and all students, irrespective of giftedness, skills and attitudes. Yes, a teacher can help make the school, classroom and environment around it the happy place it should be in order to let the next generation become the best they can. God created each of us with potential to do good and right. We don’t have to be best in everything, well, not in anything. But we must try to do our best and be good at something – and all of us can be that.

The teachers are the most important persons in children’s life in addition to parents, siblings, and other close relatives and community members. In our time, education has become more important than ever, and a child’s feeling of success or failure at school becomes essential in his or her life. Other students are indeed essential, too, those at the same age and those younger and older in the ‘community of learning and being’ at school. The first requirement for a good school must always be that it is good place for the child to be, for each and every child, if not every minute, at least most of the time.

To develop better and more education for children – and youth and adults – is the most important the new government of Pakistan can do – true, after keeping peace, a stable economy and some other fundamental aspects. In Pakistan, 22 million school-age children are out-of-school, according to a recent report. The figure is almost unbelievable. It means that we are in an emergency situation. These children must somehow be enrolled in some form of education. If we want it to happen fast, say during the current government’s five-year term (or two terms), alternatives to the standard types of schooling, are required.

Furthermore, there are several times the mentioned number of 22 million out of school children, in other groups of people who have also been deprived of education, who are valuable youth and adults. They, too, need to be given a chance to get literate and some basic education. They may be in their mid and late teens, they may be in their twenties, thirties and forties, or even older. These men and women all need an opportunity to be fully integrated in society, to feel that they can be equal with the rest of the people, those who live good lives thanks to the hard work of the lowest in society. Without the ordinary people the wheels would not turn around.

There are others, too, notably those who are doing jobs, who should have access to further education and on-the-job training in adult age, so that the term ‘life-long learning’ can become true. Workers in the government and private sectors need to be given opportunities during their working life and careers, to their own benefit and that of their employers and their vocations and professions.

Secondary and higher education are essential for modern societies, including research and innovation. But it must not happen at the expense of basic education for all children and adults. I believe that the teachers and students at the higher levels can handle much of the improvements needed themselves; they should propose changes and be proactive in creating institutions that help develop their land. In the near future, I believe that both secondary and higher education should be more utilitarian and practical than in the past. It is an emergency situation for the land, and therefore, vocational secondary and practical university education must be given priority. Often, that needs collaboration between educational institutions and the outside world, both the government and the private sectors.

How can all this be implemented?

First, I believe that there is need for a massive overall education awareness campaign. Then, there is need for several separate, concrete campaigns over some years to provide emergency basic education to children, youth and adults. The content must be functional and have immediate relevance to the lives and livelihoods of people. ‘Life skills’ would be part of the functional content of learning. Individuals as well as society would quickly reap benefits and have a direct rate of return from their investment of resources and people’s time.

Often in my articles, I mentioned the importance of people’s participation, and I underline that this must be real and actual, more of the ‘labour union type’ than the ‘NGO type’. Labour unions are based on membership, hence a much more committed participation than would NGOs have, not underestimating their contributions either. In the longer run, NGOs – and the education campaigns I have suggested – would lead to increased participation in political parties and other existing organisation and institutions so that policy- and decision-making can have a much broader democratic basis than today. Educated people would demand that, and they would be better equipped to influence their communities at all levels.

It is not at all impossible to implement this large education thrust, so that Pakistan during this parliamentary term, plus most or all of next parliamentary term, could uplift its people through education. Last week, I entitled my column “Prosperity only through education”. This week I try to concretise that wish, tentatively sketching a framework for it – but not a concrete plan since that would be more demanding to do, and would only be possible to do if the government and people would at all be behind the dramatic, emergency-like education uplift.

At the beginning of today’s article, I underlined the importance of making schools good places for children to be, to learn subjects, skills and good attitudes and values, but schools must also just to be good places to be. I have in earlier articles stressed that we must do something drastic to change the education system, reduce the curricula and focus on some key content in addition to the fundamental aspects of values.

Since the next 5 to 10 years will be an emergency education situation, one would certainly expect ordinary schools, both government and private schools, to make changes in the ways they work so that they can be directly useful in implementing education for a higher number of school-age children than they are doing today – and they should also be involved in literacy and other education for youth and adults. Private schools for the rich and wealthy would be expected to take poor students for reduced fees, or no fees at all. They would have to cater for more students than today.

In my article next week, I shall try to be more detailed as regards implementation of the major thrust that I – and all of us – believe Pakistan must take in education. A broad education campaign, with several separate campaigns, are required, where the country’s leaders from the top down stands behind it all, not only at the launching but throughout the years of implementation.

Certainly, it can be done! Some fifty years ago, Tanzania (one of the world’s poorest countries, with one of the poorest education foundations and lowest number of educated people, at its independence in 1961) managed to place education top on its political agenda. In the 1970s, it implemented several major literacy and other adult education campaigns; universal primary education was introduced, albeit often of poor quality. Tanzania’s first president was ‘Mwalimu’ Julius Nyerere, and since he spoke so much about the importance of education as a tool for development, people not only wanted it; they demanded it even sooner that the government was ready for. Initially, major development aid helped in implementation.

If Tanzania, Ethiopia, Guinea-Bissau, China and other poor countries could achieve impressive education results decades ago, Pakistan can certainly do it now. What a land it would be if everyone was literate, had gone to school and had some skills training by 2030! And people would have social and political training; everyone would indeed be proud of their land, know how to run it democratically, and have hopes and ambitions for the future – not think of avoiding taxes and stashing away money abroad, but bringing money home; not look for jobs abroad but build their own land. Pakistan can be such a land, and we will have a true ‘Naya Pakistan’.

 

The writer is a senior Norwegian social scientist

with experience from university, diplomacy and

development aid.

 atlehetland@yahoo.com