It is a general pedagogical principle that we in the learning process talk about going from what is known to what is unknown, from what is near to what is further away, from what is concrete to what is abstract, and so on. When we learn new things from far away, it is always essential that we can relate and compare them to something at home. It is indeed necessary that educational activities are part of the society and community we live. From there, we can wander out into the wider world, being knowledgeable and confident about what we have at home, wanting to share that with others, at the same time as we borrow from others.

In education in Pakistan, agriculture and the other primary sectors are essential as most people depend on them for livelihood in the rural areas. Therefore, it becomes vital that we both in school content and methods give room for this so that children both gain knowledge about that and develop respect and appreciation for their backgrounds. We must not be brainwashed to think that what is in the city is always better than what is in the village; what is foreign better than what is indigenous; what is new better than what is old; and so on. We must be much more reflective and realise that development is from the bottom up. In most countries (unless one strikes gold or abundance of other natural resources), progress is financed through the primary sectors, and it is often the rural areas that kick off the development of urban areas, so, they can industrialise and develop commercially.

As teachers, even as educational planners and curriculum developers, we often seem to have a cotter mentality, not realising that the primary sectors are indeed essential in Pakistan; in education must teach children and youth respect for their backgrounds. They must also learn how to change and improve conditions in rural areas, including modernising land ownership structures, vertical cultural traditions, old gender relationships, and so on. The future belongs to the children, we say, but then the teachers must realise their roles as midwives in getting their students on the right track as for positive attitudes to their rural backgrounds, which must dine in cooperation with the local leaders and other partners.

The above value issues are essential to take into consideration when Pakistan improves and expands its education sector in ‘Naya Pakistan’. To increase allocations to education is indeed important, and I will write something about that again in today’s article. I would emphasise, too, that when increasing education budgets, we must do it with understanding and respect for the local needs, in rural as well as urban areas.

Pakistan is spending very little money on education, some 2.2 per cent (some statistics say 2.8 per cent) of its GDP. Even if not all private school expenses are included, we would be much lower than the 4 per cent that UNESCO, the UN education organisation, has recommended as an absolute minimum. Scandinavian countries spend some 7-9 per cent of GDP on education. We should take into consideration their much higher GDP per capita, resulting in many times more money spent on each student there than in Pakistan and other developing countries, impacting quality. We should also note that Pakistan is surpassed by many African countries, such as Kenya and Tanzania, spending 6-7 per cent of GDP on education. They have realised that although investment in education is initially an expense, there is a very high social and individual rate of return, documented by the World Bank. If developing countries, and such with limited natural resources, shall be able to experience growth and development, education and brain power are factors to achieve the results.

When the World Bank in the 1980s and 1990s began advocating investment in education for girls and women, it was mainly done from an economic perspective, not from a gender equality perspective. We should remember that the World Bank is a capitalist, Western institution, not working for reducing class, rural-urban or other differences unless it serves its economic model. In recent years, though, it has been documented that greater equality in a society also impacts development; large disparities create dissatisfaction and unrest. Also, the World Bank and IMF have realised that well educated young men and women are more innovative and better farmers than those with less education and exposure. That should not be a great surprise, but sometimes many educated people seem to forget that farmers use as much brainpower as muscle power – and is our time and age, they use a mobile phone for smart purchases, marketing, and more.

A typical farmer is almost as often a woman as a man in the world today, indeed as regards farm labour, although not always as regards financial decisions and farm ownership. But that, too, is changing, but slowly. In my home country Norway, 14 per cent of farms are now owned by women, up from a minimum percentage in 1974 when the law was finally changed making the heritage gender neutral; earlier, farms were automatically transferred from the father to the eldest son. Interestingly, too, children often had to help with farm work after school a generation or two ago (and it was not termed child labour!); today, homework, organised sports and other activities take up school children’s spare time, making them less integrated into the rural culture than before. If the Norwegian education system and the farmers’ organisations had focused more on equality in ownership and other aspects of agriculture in Norway, women would have been able to play a more significant role than today – and it would most likely have been favourable to the sector and the rural communities at large.

I am drawing attention to education and the primary sectors, in particular, agriculture, in today’s article. In developing countries, including Pakistan, agriculture is the cornerstone of the economy. It becomes important to reflect that in education and all development efforts. In the West, it was the surplus from agriculture (and fishing, forestry and other primary sectors) that financed development of other sectors education, social services, better housing, hygiene, and even industrialisation, yes. Democratising and people’s greater participation went hand in hand with economic growth and social development. But people did not receive the fruits of development; the industrialised and rich would have kept most for themselves had people not fought for a fairer share. That is important to bear in mind, and therefore labour unions and other organisations play a crucial role. Education is an essential factor in this connection, but highly educated people may side with the rich rather than with the poor, thus in certain ways hindering development from below.

This leads me to stress furthermore that education and society are interlinked in numerous ways and forms, not only education and agriculture and other work fields, which I am focusing on today, and political, class and labour union issues, as I just touched upon, but also as regards many other issues related to values, religion, culture, and so on. It is essential that education planners and practitioners realise this. We must use education in ways that are in line with the overall values of the country and the time we live in. For example, if we want to reduce class differences, the schools must in content and work methods support such efforts. Or, say, if we wish for great gender equality, it is important that the education system supports that. In many cases, textbooks are not yet gender-neutral, or rather, they are not supportive enough of girls’ and women’s emancipation and progress. And they may also have an inadvertent bias toward minority groups, people from lower social and economic and lower classes, and so on.

I hope that the education planners and teachers in Pakistan – and that all of us trying to contribute to ‘Naya Pakistan’ – give attention to and understand the importance of education’s broader role in society. Today, I have drawn particular attention to education and the primary sectors. Education must never be outwardly and abstract; it must always be an integrated sector and force in society, promoting development, change and progress. Education must be a tool to analyse and understand the world around us; what we learn at school is a primary part of education and socialisation of children and youth.

 

The writer is a senior Norwegian social scientist with experience from university, diplomacy and development aid.

 atlehetland@yahoo.com