Finally, the school holidays are here, many children and youth would say. Some would feel like getting out of prison, or they would at least say so. Others would miss the order of the school days and the pleasure of learning in a systematic way. Let us remember, too, that most schools in Pakistan are not bad schools; they are actually good schools or, they have many positive qualities in many fields. Most teachers do their best, both in government schools, where most students are enrolled, and in the growing number of private schools. The latter are not only based on philanthropic ideals, but on business principles, or a combination of the two. And let us remember, too, that the majority of the future leaders, but not all, have gone to government schools. And if they haven’t, and have done higher education abroad, they may be a bit out of touch with ordinary Pakistanis, and are best at keeping status quo and the class society running. Well, all of us must work for a fairer and more just country and world.

And now then, when the school holidays are beginning in most cities, towns and villages, to last for two full summer months, it is a good time to reflect on important education issues. First, I will do that, and then, towards the end, I will suggest what children and youth should do to enjoy the vacation, be happy and learn even more from ‘life in freedom’ than ‘behind the walls’ of the school house.

In modern economies, indeed in Western welfare states, education is the largest public sector, along with the health sector, and in many countries, with the army and police ranking high on the government priority list. Often, we hear that the first priority of a country is to provide security for its citizens and others who live in the country. True, but I believe that the social and cultural sectors are as import, and without high priority given to those sectors in monetary and other terms, people’s values, skills and knowledge, will be founded on clay, not on solid rock. And you cannot build your new and better house on anything but the best foundation. It is only then we will give fairness and justice to all. And if we don’t, then there will be conflicts, wars and unrest, including insecurity with radical and extreme groups searching for ‘something else’, or just be opportunists.

I don’t understand why people don’t see this, a principle told me recently. He was worried about the low priority given to education and culture in a time when we must do the opposite to end violent extremism and terrorism. And then he added: “Well, I actually think people, also ordinary people in urban and rural areas understand what it is that is important; it is the governments that let us astray, somehow prioritizing wrongly.”

Some countries, including the current government of my home country Norway, have understood the importance of education, giving renewed attention to the importance of good teachers and good schools to help develop good communities with good people. A goal to be achieved over a decade in Norway is to restore the status and competence of teachers – and then it is not just their skills in math, languages and teaching methods, it is their broader understanding of values and what a good education is. Much of that is based on common sense, something that ordinary thinking women and men everywhere know – in Gilgit, Abbatabad, Gujrat, and Sukker, yes, maybe rural and small-town people understand it better than ‘modern’ city dwellers, even professors in social sciences and the humanities. After all, education isn’t rocket science; education and raring and socialization of the next generation is something very simple and practical, which illiterate parents in backward areas know much about too.

If we combine common sense with expert-knowledge, which we need to do in our time, we can easily have simple and advanced schools for all. I am tired of hearing that it cannot be done. It can be done! But then we must not be technocrats; we must be concerned citizens who have the interests of the children and youth at heart. If we really want it, we can have schools that are good and loved by the children, teachers and parents, if we want it, even with little money. And that is the type of community schools we need – where the children would not long for the school holidays either. But if they do, that is actually good, too; life should be many things.

We should celebrate it all – the good schools and the good holidays. And with the competitive and rigorous education systems we have today, especially in the private schools, we should be glad if the children are still all right even after yet another year ‘inside the walls’. Hopefully, their personality hasn’t been shattered; they remain curios, optimistic, confident, and so on; all those things that children have in them before the pedagogical experts start teaching them.

Whether the children score top in class, or just average or lower, doesn’t really matter much. We must realize that the grading, ranking, testing and evaluation ‘specialists’ have gone too far and that they are in territories that make schools into ‘correctional facilities’, not unlike prisons, rather than havens of learning and being, places where children live, grow and learn in happy environments.

Now during this year’s summer holidays, I hope that children and youth enjoy being with their parents, relatives and friends, and maybe that they can also be given opportunities to be useful and helpful in their communities. If there is a chance to have a summer-job for the youth for some of the summer, nothing is better. And if the younger children, too, can be with grandparents they would learn values and ethics they would remember the rest of their lives; or, perhaps they can be with someone they admire, or get to admire, who is just some years older; or, it could be an aunt who doesn’t have her own children.

If city children can visit their cousins in the village, and take part in all the daily chores there, they will learn to respect each other for who they are, not for how expensive mobile phones they have. Or, it could be that rural children come to the city and learn that in spite of all the neon lights and billboards, it isn’t gold all that glimmers there either. Those who travel far, maybe abroad, will learn to appreciate what they have at home, and also enjoy what people have elsewhere.

If we can begin to understand that to be a human being is in the end the same wherever we are. It is up to each of us, in our communities, to make the best out of it. If the summer holidays can teach us a bit of this, then the outcome will be valuable – and it will give us new perspectives to take back to the formal school learning in the autumn – where every child should be, too. But they should be schools which are less competitive and more inclusive than today. We could borrow from the ‘educational summer holidays’.