Of elections and education

Published: February 2, 2012

The writer is assistant professor of biomedical engineering at Boston University and tweets @mhzaman

With the continued fluctuating dynamics of our political system, the non-stop media pundits are constantly analysing the positions of various politicians vying for power in the next administration. Some positions seem to remain unchanged, others are changing by the minute. Yet, despite all the musical chairs within parties, new political marriages and juicy break-ups, focus on some of the substantial issues remains, at best, cursory. Chief among the white elephants in this room is the education policy, at all levels, in all provinces, for all people.

Given the youth of our population, the financial burdens of our society, the inequalities in access and lack of a robust policy, it has never been more important or urgent to put education front and centre of all political debates, and more importantly, of our future development agenda. It is unfortunate that either education is not something our leaders are interested in talking about, or if they do venture into that territory, the discussion is shallow, devoid of details and is full of hyperbole. I believe that the people of Pakistan deserve better. It is time that we insist on a concrete policy and a clear vision.

I propose that we insist on a serious discussion on this topic and I suggest we do it soon. While I am interested in a healthy debate, there are two things I am not interested in. I do not care either about ‘gotcha’ moments or live-TV shouting matches. Given the lack of civility among our politicians in public forums, any live debate is going to derail from civility and have plenty of both the ‘gotcha’ moments and comedic shouting matches. To have a serious discussion on a serious topic, I propose that we give each leader a full and exclusive moderated platform and a clear opportunity to explain his or her policy. That said, the discourse still has to have clear and firm rules of engagement. I propose two basic rules to keep our focus on the issue that has taken the back seat for way too long. First, the party leader must not invoke stories of personal sacrifices, of years spent in jail and of martyrdom of party leaders and family members. While stories of sacrifice cannot be belittled, they are not an education policy. Secondly, blaming the opposition also cannot be offered in lieu of a plan to educate the society. We, the people, must demand details of the plan, not old rants or new insights about devious ways of previous governments to rob the country.

To lay out a level playing field for all, I say that we even give the questions ahead of time. Education policy should not, and cannot be crafted instantaneously. After all, it is a matter of our survival, not a quiz competition. So here are three simple questions that I would ask our leaders vying for power and claiming to offer the best Pakistan of tomorrow. Question 1: How will you ensure universal access to primary and secondary education to all Pakistanis, particularly to under-represented groups, including; girls, minorities and those living in low-income rural areas? Question 2: What is your vision of higher education and research in the country? How will you strengthen the university system and create a culture of research and innovation? What areas will you give preference? Question 3: And how exactly will you pay for all this?

Let us, for a change, insist on substance this time around on all matters pertaining to the education policy. Let us insist that blanket statements with buzz words like free education for all, one system from now on, Asian tiger in research, envy of the world etc., are backed up by concrete plans. Let us see the vision for our future and laud those who really care about education and call the bluff of all others who have nothing to offer.

This time around, let us insist on details. Since the devil, as we all know, may very well be lying there.

Published in The Express Tribune, February 2nd, 2012.

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Reader Comments (6)

  • Ahmed
    Feb 2, 2012 - 12:47AM

    Brilliant! Oh and can I ask one more thing : Can we get a pledge from the leaders that their education ministers, if they come to power, will be educated themselves?

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  • Mirza
    Feb 2, 2012 - 3:52AM

    The rich have no problem educating their kids. The army has their own schools and doing well. The poor masses have madarsas for them to study and train. With the nuclear boms in pleney why would poor be provided real education. They have a deadly combination that no other nation has bombs and madarsas.
    BTW, great Op Ed, hope people pay attention to it. Mere faces and slogans are not going to change the plight of Pakistanis. Concrete plans and “where the money would come from and where would the cuts made” must be explained.

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  • Feb 2, 2012 - 10:59AM

    Very well written absolutely right we should rise our voice to ask the policy of education from our leaders but really our leaders have not clear policy they just used normative words not any practicle plan. In sindh province there are many schools but teachers don’t come because lack of interest of our leaders

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  • Liberal
    Feb 2, 2012 - 1:05PM

    Rural Sindh is totally barren from education!!! Damn education minister!!!

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  • sars
    Feb 2, 2012 - 7:58PM

    Absolutely!!!
    We need educated our population to be educated, skillfull and contributing to the economy to get anywhere as a nation.
    What we dont need is for the government to treat us like idiots, and use political smokescreens to camoflage the fact that they deliver nothing and rob us to boot.

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  • zafar ul hassan
    Feb 2, 2012 - 9:59PM

    The leaders should be asked the following extremely essential questions:
    What does Quran say about intellect development? How can we make moral education effective?
    The fact that I want to point out is that Quran tells us about intellect development and performance of correct moral actions. So the education policy has to also take that into account. Allama Iqbal was extremely vocal about this fact and talked about it.The following is what he said:

    “I venture to say, that the present system of education in this country is not at all suited to us as a people. It is not true to our genius as a nation, it tends to produce an un-Muslim type of character, it is not determined by our national requirements, it breaks entirely with our past, and appears to proceed on the false assumption that the ideal of education is the training of ‘human intellect rather than human will.”

    Syed Abul Vahid, Ed. Thoughts & Reflections of Iqbal (Lahore : Sh. Muhammad Ashraf, 1964), p. 45.

    Any policy that ignores Allama Iqbals point is just not going to work.

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