LAHORE - Senior educationists have lauded Prime Minister Imran Khan’s resolve to introduce a uniform system of education in the country but say the government would have to take a number of steps to materialize this objective.

The Nation talked to senior educationists who identified a number of hurdles that must be removed before introducing a uniform education system. They raised some basic questions to be addressed first at the initial stage.

Will the government force private educational institutions to adopt Urdu as the medium of instruction or the public sector schools will be using English as the medium.  Will there be a uniform curriculum in madaris and the private and public schools?  How the government will induct a whole a new lot of teachers to teach the same curricula at the educational institutions. How would the government address the issue of the inherent difference between the deprived class and the affluent segments? How will the poor students compete with the rich students whose parents hire tutors for home tutoring?

Former federal education secretary Dr Safdar Mahmood told The Nation that he had prepared a draft legislation for the purpose during the tenure of Mian Nawaz Sharif. However, necessary steps for the purpose could not be taken. 

He said it would be wise to get the said draft bill from the ministry of law and get it approved from the parliament.

Author of many books, Dr Safdar Mehmood said there were three major sectors in education i.e Cambridge, matric and religious education. Students of the former category are in minority and there is a need to bring the latter in the mainstream. The government should not ban the “A” level and “O level” as such a step would make it difficult for the Pakistani students to get admission in foreign varsities.

He said that he as a federal secretary had developed consensus among all the religious seminaries to introduce science and other compulsory subjects. The government would have to provide teachers and salaries. “But, the then PM Nawaz Sharif asked me to prepare a draft for legislation and present to Raja Zafar ul Haq, minister for religious affairs. Haq said that it was not the right time to bring reforms in the madaris”, Safdar said. Without reforming and supporting the religious institutions, he added, it would be hard to stop extremism.

Lauding 18th amendment in the constitution that ensures provincial autonomy, he criticized the transfer of curriculum to provinces. He believed it will have serious repercussion later on as it would promote provincialism.

Moreover, he said an increase in literacy rate was no solution to the problem. Higher education, research and technology should rather be promoted for development in the country.

He said the country’s Higher Educational Institutions (HEIs) had badly failed to nurture a research-friendly environment because the faculty prefers politics and private practice than focusing on education.

“On HEIs ranking in Asian countries, our universities fall on the bottom let alone their position in the international ranking”, he said, adding that the ‘research mafia’ in universities got cash prizes and promotion on the basis of ‘articles’ written jointly. Research journal managers manage some names in the research work of real researchers just articles count, he said. 

Mian Nawaz Sharif UET Multan former VC Dr Muhammad Zubair said that the slogan of uniform education across the country would be a difficult task unless the government takes tough decisions. He said that private schools would not surrender the English medium and the Cambridge system while the public sector could not afford them. “What the government could do at best was to revamp the public sector curriculum and syllabus, improve the examination system, promote conceptual studies rather rote learning”, he opined, and further added that the government should implement Urdu as a medium of instruction in all schools and the Education Boards should promote conceptual examinations instead of judging students on the number of marks.  

A GCU senior faculty member Dr Iftikhar Ahmad Suleri said that though the uniform system was ideal it would be very difficult to manage private educational institutions like Beaconhouse, City School and LGS etc. He said the government had reduced funding on education and research after the then HEC Chairman Dr Ata ur Rehman left the job. 

According to him, there are many parallel education systems in practice at the same time.  “It is not the question of only the difference between the public sector and private sector education systems. There are even parallel education systems within these systems”, he said. 

He questioned as to how students from rural or urban areas, from public or private schools and even from madaris could have access to the same curriculum. “But we may provide level playing field to all the students but cannot force them to study the same books and syllabus. “What needs to be done is to boost those who lacked opportunities for higher education”, he said. 

“Moreover, there are many media of instructions primarily English, Urdu Sindhi, Pashto, and Arabic etc. You can’t stop madaris to use the medium of Arabic and the private schools to stop using English. Any effort on this pattern will be a futile exercise”. 

Likewise, he said, the state can’t force the private institutions to teach the same syllabus and the same books to the children coming from the elite families and the lower strata. “The government can only recommend some compulsory books in primary classes only and the examination system to the extent of these subjects should be centralized to get the desired results”, he proposed.  

The Nation also talked to some Vice-chancellors of public sector universities but they only agreed to share their views on the subject on the condition of anonymity.  Some of them viewed that instead of indulging into a complex issue of implementing a uniform education system, the PM Imran Khan should focus on uplifting public sector education.

They held that child’s social, economic and religio-cultural background cannot be ignored while deciding uniform books in all the schools.  It can be recalled here that the Punjab government has already done the experiment of introducing English in public sector schools on the pattern of private schools, but it had to be reversed later on.   An education expert opined that instead of teaching English in government schools the government should teach them in their mother language as do the countries like China, Japan and Korea.

He opposed a uniform education system, saying that the students from lower strata of society should be imparted skilled education at the school level.

Some educationists said that the prime minister’s determination to implement a uniform education system in the country would remain a distant dream if the government failed to minimize the inequalities and status quo culture by ensuring equal opportunities to all segments.