There is a prevailing belief amidst a large majority of the educated in the country that the answer to our multifaceted national problems lies in providing basic education for all. As if, when equipped with the ability to do simple reading and writing, the illiterate will transform into thinking people and will be able to select or have some control over the course of their lives.

A very few of those who are fortunate enough to have the resources to be educated and who have obtained degrees of varying levels from available universities dotting the landscape have actual writing, rationalising or even speaking skills. Most of the universities are like mills churning out unusable, unemployable goods, which do not have the quality that their degree stamps them with.

Any employer who has had to wade through a sea of resumes whenever s/he placed an ad in the paper for a vacant slot will vouch for the fact that the resume and the person presenting it have very little in common. It is easy to make a fancy resume with the help of a computer, but it is quite another story when the prospective employee is asked to write his thoughts on a subject in his own hand. The grammar, the spellings and the limited expressions reveal the true state of education in this country. If it wasn’t so sad, it would be quite comical actually. It has gotten progressively worse over the years. So education in this country has to be viewed on a bigger canvas than in just the bid to increase the number of those who can read and write.

The two separate systems have to change for starters. At present, those educated from institutions where English language is the medium of instruction go on to get prime jobs and positions of power, with very few exceptions. Those from institutions where most subjects are taught in Urdu, however bright they may be, do not have the same chances or opportunities to succeed in life. The two parallel systems are divisive and discriminatory. It is, indeed, high time that we changed the concept developed in the British Raj that there has to be an elite class groomed for leadership and in the mould of an alien culture, while the natives remain chained to their circumstances.

The curriculums for all schools have to be revisited. Apart from each Pakistani child taught the exact same books in all our schools at primary level, there have to be checks on what our children are being taught as they get a little older. History and hate essays have to be revised. Facts, which are either incorrect or greatly exaggerated, have to be expunged or rewritten. Our own philosophers, thinkers and poets made an essential part of the syllabus. Training for those who teach has to become compulsory with good pay scales. The first close encounters for children, with adults outside of home, are their teachers who mostly fall way short of the passion they should have for their profession. Teachers should only teach if they enjoy being around children and not because it is the easiest and/or the only job they can get. I remember Shoaib Hashmi once saying: “When I teach, I feel like a king because I’m moulding impressionable minds.”

There is also a lot of discrimination between the perks of a teacher and a principal. It is the entire education system that has to be redesigned from scratch if we are to get ahead the way we want. At a place where education was being discussed recently, the problem was illustrated with a story about a driver, who replied thus to his employer when told to put his son in school: “Sahib aap ki marzi hai kai aap ka driver itna parha likha ho kai road signs achi tarah sai parh lai - kyun kai mera beta bhi driver hi baney ga.” In his wisdom, he realised how the present system makes it impossible for the lines to cross.

Only when in Pakistan we can have many examples like those of Baroness Syeda Warsi, who was born to a Pakistani origin father in England without any silver spoons to speak of, and who has gone on to become the current Minister of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs in David Cameron’s Cabinet, will we believe that our educational system delivers equal opportunities. It is a tall order, but all other efforts at improving education will not work, unless viewed as a complex whole. To quote Dr Nadeemul Haq, Deputy Chairman Planning Commission: “An issue has to be viewed as a complex whole, just as the human body has to be viewed as whole because you cannot expect one organ to be in perfect health if the rest of the body is not.”

Postscript: PTI has been in the news of late with some people, including Vice President Dr Shireen Mazari, leaving the party. While there were rumours that Dr Mazari had her difference of opinion on issues with the post-October 31 entrants into the party, it is undeniable that the party had a strong spokesperson in her. It is, indeed, sad when people like her are made to throw in the towel when they could have made major contributions to rebuilding efforts whenever PTI comes into power. Her quitting is not the same as those of strollers who walk in and out of parties with ease, much as if they were garden parties, to be enjoyed only while the going was good.

The writer is a public relations and event management professional based in Islamabad.