How the media covers education

Published: January 27, 2012

The writer is an Islamabad-based freelance communications consultant. She tweets @tazeen and blogs at http://tazeen-tazeen.blogspot.com

It has been almost two years since the Eighteenth Amendment was passed by the National Assembly of Pakistan and all children aged between five to 16 years have not only gained the right to not only access, but also to demand free education, in case it is not provided. However, it is sad that no provincial assembly has chalked out its own education policy as yet. More depressing is the serious lack of reporting and debate in mainstream media about this issue. For a country where more than half of the population is below the age of 15 and nearly one-third is below the age of nine, such laxity about reporting on the issue most important to the biggest group of population is scandalous.

Pick up any newspaper — English, vernacular, national or regional — and what passes for education reporting is never about education. Most news items published under the head of education are actually administrative statements like press releases by the various examination boards, announcement of academic year, examination notifications issued and reports about the annual meeting of board of directors or an academic committee of a university.

If the education news is not about the examination boards’ notices and proclamations, then it is usually about the administrative corruption of the education officials and the incidents and number of students caught red-handed while cheating during board exams. There would be some news pieces covering protests by the parents and students, against the aforementioned corruption and cheating, but the news coverage is always reactive and hardly carries any background information.

Most of the reporting on education is about performance of government-run schools. Although a huge number of children now go to private schools, there is hardly any impartial mention about the quality of education imparted there. There would be odd news about parents protesting fee hikes, or a school fair, but nothing more concrete. Some newspapers even have sections devoted to education, but they too print interviews of successful students and review job fairs and education expos, instead of focusing on real issues pertaining to education.

The reporting on education is also overwhelmingly urban. The news about rural communities does not get much airtime or space in any case, but the news about rural education is almost nonexistent in Pakistani media — not even the reports about cheating in exams or lack of facilities in rural schools. Similarly, education provided in madrassas does not get any attention from the media. Even though the madrassas have an estimated six per cent of children of school-going age, any news reference to them is almost invariably related to terrorism and never about the kind and quality of education which is imparted.

We devote reams of newsprint and hours-upon-hours of airtime on a non-issue like memogate, but the issue that is of most significance to the largest section of population does not command even a fraction of that attention. There is still debate about ‘what is to be taught and how and in what language’ but it commands less space in the media than the useless exercise of bashing the US. What is most tragic is that the group that is most affected by this criminal carelessness — the children of Pakistan — never get any space to voice their grievances. The future of millions of children is being ruined by this negligence and the media is silent.

Published in The Express Tribune, January 28th, 2012.

 

Reader Comments (11)

  • Muhammad Hamid Zaman
    Jan 28, 2012 - 12:02AM

    Tazeen,

    Lovely piece and definitely worth bringing up. We to bring education front and center of our policy debates and need to put pressure on our talk show hosts to shifts focus from Memogate to the gates of our development. I am really glad that you brought it up.

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  • Ms.Dogar
    Jan 28, 2012 - 12:43AM

    The media only catches up “hot and attractive” news items, for earning money through ratings. Memo scandal was chosen for unnecessary coverage on the basis of national security being at risk. Nonetheless, I find it a mere trick to distract people’s attention from crisis of gas, petrol, electricity, economy and so much more… and then comes education. No body can ever think of investing on our country’s man power – our children. No one is so far-sighted!!

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  • Falcon
    Jan 28, 2012 - 1:34AM

    Great article. To be honest, this is the single most significant yet unattended risk that our nation faces in the long run. This should be the key focus of every political party’s manifesto, but due to lack of education in their own ranks, that is hardly the case. I believe only PTI has it as one of the key pillars of their change manifesto.

    On a side note, I would like to highlight that I have seen articles pertaining to education and related indicators on Dawn. Nonetheless, someone on ET talking about it is a good start.

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  • Disappointed
    Jan 28, 2012 - 2:14AM

    Tazeen is right about everything she mentioned in this article. Hats off to her for this well crafted piece with meaningful content. One thing I would like to add here is that she forgot to include our nation as we are just as insensitive as these politicians and media are to the problem, though fully aware of the gravity of it. A very obvious example of the above is scarcity of comments for an article that demands the most interest and rating of respected readers. But we would more willingly give our valuable feedback on articles written over non-issues like Memogate or contempt of court than to spare our well-deserved attention to the gravest problem facing our country today. As almost all our country’s problems are the mere offshoot of the same underlying issue in question.
    Great Job Tazeen. Keep writing.

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  • Uza Syed
    Jan 28, 2012 - 3:18AM

    Education is anyways the least important an issue or topic of interest among most in this proud and “ghairatmand” nations who should be guided by the religion—– which started with command, “Iqra” —— of that they seem to have sole proprietry right over.

    Just check out the famous Karachi Jalsa speech of the Big Khaan Kaptaan’s and count the number of time this word “Education” is there and comapre it with the “I” in it. See, here everything begins and ends with “I” the rest is not interesting.

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  • Jan 28, 2012 - 4:45AM

    The media unfortunately, in search of freshest material ends up neglecting its educative role in the society. Sensation sells most. Like the politicians, media too relies on the short memory span of its readers/viewers.

    After the Karsaz incident some event organisers claimed that they had found chopped off heads of two perpetrators hanging from tree branches. The heads would be handed over to the crime investigating team. We never heard about that again.

    When Zardari took possession of a chalet(?) in Calais on the West coast of France, he stated that it was part of his inheritance. Inherited from whom? How? When? His daddy owned a cinema or two on Garden Road. Not necessarily grilling but a few more questions would have been quite informative.

    I believe the press corps ought to revise its role, specially as it is an important part of modern society. Vigilantism and promptness of newsreports override accuracy and reliability.

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  • Faizan
    Jan 28, 2012 - 10:11AM

    Great article Tazeen, you hit the nail with this argument. Its a situation where most of the efforts must go into education and family planning

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  • x
    Jan 28, 2012 - 3:25PM

    Sorry to be a pessimist but there are not enough jobs to go around for the educated lot, what hope is there for the ones who want education? when you have FA pass cooks and BA pass drivers because they couldnt get any jobs, then you realize that job creation is the need of the hour.
    However, education for the sake of education is crucial and its value can not be denied or underplayed. But concrete measures need to be taken to those who are educated and have the potential and will to make something of their lives, with jobs that utilize their learning and give them monetary benefits and opportunities enough to improve their lives.

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  • Jan 28, 2012 - 8:30PM

    The constitution says all children between 5 and 16 have the right to free education but why it did not include the word COMPULSORY education for this group. The citizens of Pakistan have the right to safety and fair justice. Do they get that? The elite of Pakistan are not willing to educate every child lest they start questioning their injustices.

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  • zafar ul hassan
    Jan 28, 2012 - 10:07PM

    The real issue, what is to be taught and how it is to be taught and in which language. This is what needs to be debated the most. Education has to take one thing into consideration. What does religion tell us about the ways that lead to development of intellect, wisdom, judgment and other personality traits like tolerance, patience, selflessness, sacrifice, honesty, fairness, compassion, to enjoin good and forbid wrong. Does religion show us a way to go about it. The fact is that it does and Allama Iqbal clearly talked about it. Its about time that we Pakistanis looked into this aspect before we come up with an kind of educational model or policy.

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  • Feb 1, 2012 - 4:10PM

    Very well covered and may you have an opportunity to look at our work in ASER Pakistan 2011 ;www.aserpakistan.org

    Please come and we will help you cover rural schools and issues
    Baela Raza Jamil
    ITA/SAFED

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