Ali S. Usman A historian once described the Middle Age as a thousand years without a bath. Few would disagree that this is an apt summation of the state of affairs in this blighted country mere six decades old. The 'truncated and moth eaten' Pakistan had to face numerous difficulties from the outset. After the death of the founder M A Jinnah, the inept and morally malodorous leadership ran the country athwart from one misadventure to another. The country's elite began nurturing the religious right in the 1950s and continued to do so well into early 2000s. This ill-conceived exercise lit the extremist spark which has now become a conflagration. No explanation has ever been offered to the public about the least judicious decision taken by the ruling juntas. What Pakistan needed and sorely still needs are rule of law, land reforms, affordable health care, well-oiled state machinery and a vibrant educational system. A functional educational system is the engine that fuels a country's moral and economic growth. In the absence of one, a country is in danger of falling into a state of decrepitude. Our ruling elite opted for a quick fix (especially in the 1980s) by encouraging the madrassa education, which did not include the study of modern disciplines, to the great detriment of future generations. The fundamental right of a quality education was denied to many; and, it became a privilege to a select few. By neglecting the critical sector of education, development on the human capital got severely compromised. As a nation-state Pakistan is floundering, and the educational sector is in the midst of a calamity. With poor English, math and science skills, most Pakistanis simply cannot compete in a global economy. The surfeit of scholarship on Pakistan in recent years has identified the country's malfunctioning education sector as a profound failure of the state. Stephen Cohen writes in his book: "Pakistan's educational system is appropriate for a traditional hierarchical society that need not compete internationally with similar countries for markets, technology and investment. If Pakistan were blessed with significant raw materials, oil, or some other source of energy, this situation might be tolerable, but it is not, and in the long-term Pakistan's non-competitive educational system will be one of the prime causes of economic stagnation and perhaps political turmoil." This is a correct assessment. And, no excuses and justification on the current state of education should be allowed. So what should be done? It is not easy to reform the country's broken schools and institutions of higher learning. Changing curriculum's, increasing funds for education in federal and local budgets, or transferring the problem to NGO's and the private sector is hardly a panacea. In my opinion, only a fully motivated federal government fortified with massive public and international support can successfully undertake this task of oceanic complexity. First, the sector is gravely dysfunctional at all levels of formal education. The problem is most acute at the primary level in the smaller provinces. Many primary schools only exist on paper in the rural areas. And when they do exist, the quality of education is abysmal. One possible solution then is the training of teachers, infrastructure building and making education affordable. In incremental steps, one curriculum should be enforced at all primary schools across the country. It would level the playing field for every young student; and Pakistan would benefit enormously. Similar steps should be taken for secondary and high schools. The public colleges and universities are riven with armed student wings, booti and qabzaa mafias and reactionary groups affiliated with political and religious parties. The state must establish a suitable environment to promote learning and critical thinking on university campuses. In hiring the faculty, the model used by outstanding local universities should be followed. All higher education is seemingly geared towards technical education in information technology, engineering and medicine. This disparity should be discontinued and humanities, social sciences and liberal arts ought to be promoted. After being quiescent for years, the country's electronic media is independent, obstreperous and feared. The media can play a pivotal role in directing attention to the education sector. It can help debunk the musty and atrophied popular mindset that is full of contempt for education and sees no point in investing in it. As citizens of this country, we have our task laid out for us. We must begin before it's too late. The writer is a graduate student at the University of Chicago, USA.