21st century, where it is marked by tremendous growth in modern science and technology, simultaneously manifests unprecedented difference of advancement between developed and developing nations in almost every aspect. Some of the latter ones have been stuck in the quagmire of hitches to the extent of struggling with their very existence. Education sector of these less privileged nations stands to be the glaring example of the fact. Unfortunately, the quality of education provided in our country is far from satisfactory leave alone achieving excellence in this sector.
Education –a fundamental right enshrined in the constitution of Pakistan– hovers at the core of diverse challenges our country is facing presently. Regrettably, the dilemma of the said sector is not merely quantitative, but qualitative as well. Quantitative performance certainly elucidates upon the overall outlook of the sector, and with an inadequate literacy rate of 60 percent, we are confronting the lowest educational prospects in the region excluding Afghanistan. Hence from the contemporary trends in statistical terms, its misfortune in qualitative footings whose nature is somewhat more engrained and germane can also be well imagined.
The real rub lies in our misplaced interpretation of “quality education”. Here, it is perceived as a means of livelihood and not life. Subsequently, a degree in hand makes one seemingly eligible for suitable employment (predominantly public sector). However, this can be regarded as true only as a matter of perception. In reality, the essence of education is meant to enhance understanding of individuals, principally making them rational beings; and in turn apt for every facet of life. Consequently, the contemporary settings require it to be imparted in a manner, which is problem-solving oriented plus skill based. If it lacks in characteristics mentioned earlier, it is undoubtedly nothing more than wastage of resources.
In addition to its erroneous construal, Pakistan’s education system is unquestionably skilled deficient too, in its praxis. Primarily, the responsibility lies with the outdated mode of pedagogy and syllabi, which have outlived their utility long back. It is manifested by the results of the CSS examination and international standardized tests such as SAT, GRE, etc. Accomplishment in such testing mechanisms has almost moved beyond the bounds of possibility, specifically for the aspirants from institutions affordable to middle-income strata of society. The reports of Federal Public Service Commission (FPSC) regarding the performance of aspirants in CSS examination, have time and again highlighted the fact that majority of candidates disappoint to address the elementary requirements of it, with around 90 percent of candidates failing English essay paper alone every year.
Further misery is caused by the felonious silence of the curricula over socially and culturally sanctioned violence. Resultantly incidents as that of Mashal Khan occur in our educational institutions. The episode not only conveyed a highly disparaging image of the nation abroad but practically brought drastic implications for Pakistanis in visa regimes of different countries. A foreigner friend of mine was legit in asking me about the mindset of illiterate ones if our literates can’t appreciate the beauty of dissent. She was further interested in knowing if our curricula contain, by any chance, chapters on the importance of enlightenment values, for instance, the supremacy of the rule of law, freedom of expression, and democracy. The absence of such values has a consequence that even the so-called educated lot takes pride in taking the law into their hands.
In the backdrop of these insufficiencies, it becomes virtually impossible to achieve a decent living environment and quality livelihood after spending years in attaining education. The fact sequentially breeds a sense of alienation and also hatred towards the process of seeking it, whose implications are passed onto the future generations and henceforth a vicious cycle sets in motion. Furthermore, the alienation catalyzes nurturing of extremist tendencies; a bogy that has permeated into our society with no immediate and ultimate remedy visibly offered shortly.
Moreover, in the prevailing atmosphere of exiguous employment opportunities back at home, the number of Pakistani graduates moving to the Gulf States, as a labor force is alarming. Around 84 percent of the overseas Pakistanis are going to these countries for employment where they are treated not much different than slaves. They turn out to be a source of cheap labor for the employers.
Pakistan is a country with a youth bulge; presently 63 percent of its population comprises of youth. It is high time to reform the education system to convert it into a demographic dividend than destruction, as economist Justin Yifu Lin has timely advised. He has rightly pointed out that the youth bulge can prove to be a bomb if it is not engaged in productive activities. Education for that matter has remarkable potential for alleviating poverty, curing social mayhems and healing the society, if imparted duly and justly. It is the system that calls for urgent revamping.
Conclusively, overhauling the pedagogy techniques and curricula needs to be conducted on war footings. Teacher’s training programs on modern lines have become critical for enabling them to divulge specific skill sets to turn the youth into an asset. Similarly, revisiting of curricula is obligatory for embedding in minds the essentiality of social values and making them realize the fact that no profession and occupation is less worthy if pursued with devotion and commitment. This exercise would be vital in addressing the wrongly perceived construal of education that lies central to the trailing enigma.
The author holds a degree in Economics from Lums and is a civil servant.