Ten per cent of the world’s children who do not go to primary school live in Pakistan. Twenty-six countries are poorer than Pakistan but send more of their children to school. A meager 1.5 per cent of Pakistan’s GDP is spent on schooling which is less than the subsidies given to PIA, Pepco and Pakistan Steel. The average teacher is absent once a week. Our constitution gives every child the right to an education until the age of sixteen, and yet, 25 million Pakistani children do not have this right. These facts are courtesy of the Education Emergency Pakistan movement and they illustrate the dire situation our education system is facing.
Currently, education in Pakistan is rooted in rote learning and absent-minded memorisation. Creativity and problem-solving are disregarded. Knowledge is thrust at students, who have devised ways to retain the knowledge temporarily, regurgitate it and move on. But this is not the essence of education. An acceptable modern education is one that gives a student the best preparation for life after school. In our working lives, we have to make decisions and solve problems that require creative solutions. And yet Pakistani students do not learn these essential skills in school.
To make things worse, in most secondary and post-secondary examinations, a large part of the material is left to choice. In order to pass an examination, 33 per cent of the attempted material needs to be correct. This means that a student will pass an examination by knowing less than 33 per cent of a given subject’s material. Nowhere else in the world is the education standard this low.
The massive inequality present in our education system needs to be eradicated through various forms of regulation. We must devise a Pakistani system of education that is recognised internationally since our current system has lost international credibility. Then there is the difference between the Urdu-medium and English-medium systems. Hence, there is an urgent need for a coherent education policy that is able to form a unified framework for all Pakistani students.
As Heather Wolpert-Gawron an award-winning school teacher in the US, suggests in a recent book, an education system should value certain skills. Collaboration and communication should be encouraged. Problem-solving should be practiced, decision-making learned and questioning valued. Students should be comfortable with synthesising information and listening to others. Most importantly, they should develop leadership skills which are of particular importance to Pakistan. At the tertiary level, the idea of a liberal arts education is gaining traction worldwide. Its core philosophy is promoting choice and creativity, something we need to adopt.
Apprenticeship is prevalent in Pakistan and thus cannot be ignored when discussing education reform. Many poor children, who cannot afford an education, drop out of school in order to learn specific skills. Often these workers are misused and denied basic labour rights. These children need to remain in schools where their apprentice work is institutionalised and they are given a basic level of education. This will ensure an educated technical workforce, which is essential for any developing nation.
We need to act and act soon. Education reform must be emphasised, as it is today’s youth that will determine the state of tomorrow’s Pakistan.
Published in The Express Tribune, January 19th, 2012.