Why do we seek unity but end up with uniformity? If you want unity, teach yourself to tolerate diversity. Today, we are returning to a failed cure for our criticism of diversity in education. It should be interesting to examine this passion. A quick diagnosis says: we are leaning on intense isolationism to preserve the righteousness of a cause that doesn’t appeal to the world. English-medium education — called Boko Haram in xenophobic Nigeria — is our opening to a world we want to say goodbye to.
Imran Khan says there should be a uniform system of education in Pakistan. Instead, there are three: state sector, private sector and madrassa. Someone has applied a gloss to his thinking: we are producing three types of educated individuals who tend not to agree in their attitudes. Somehow, uniformity of thinking is the criterion and Pakistan will be better off if everybody thought the same and did not differ.
For some, it is wrong that the private sector stream is where only the privileged are educated. It offends their egalitarian view to see the poor remain outside the ambit of good-quality education. But the private stream of education is not only for the rich; some low-grade English-medium schools cater to the middle and lower middle classes as well. That’s the way it has always been in Islam’s historic madrassas too.
Those who point to ‘three nations’ being nurtured by the trifurcated system remain too scared of the non-state actors to criticise the madrassa system. Given that Pakistan’s ideology continues to converge to stringency of faith, the madrassa may be the utopian locus to aspire to. Currently, the mind is focused on how to reduce the salience of the ‘unbridled’ private sector education which makes its pupils take ‘foreign exams’. Boko Haram?
The private sector is often said to be ‘out of control’. But it is the madrassa in a kind of administrative wilderness that is often subjecting poor resident children to sexual violence. The madrassa might dominate in the coming days also because of the powerful nexus of the madrassa network with the nonstate actors and their financial hinterland in the dollar-heavy Gulf. Islamabad is quickly legalising hundreds of illegal madrassas and mosques it knows are aligned with the Taliban and al Qaeda.
The state-run system is either dead or dying because of the declining outreach capacity of the provinces and a derelict teaching community. Research shows that the private sector English-medium institutions — where all subjects are taught in English — have better teachers. Circumstances have pushed the parents to lean on this system to make their children more suitable for the job market which, in turn, interfaces more than ever before with the global job market.
One critic of the ‘three streams’ could not hide his offence at English-medium schools ‘aspiring to multinationals instead of state employment’. (It is true that universities such as LUMS have lowered the quality of civil service by attracting the good graduates to the private sector; but this has happened in India too.) Normally, anyone would think of up-grading the state sector instead of punishing the private sector.
Pakistan has often been called a ‘state without a nation’, meaning that it is a geographic unit without much cohesion among the people who live in it. Pakistan first became conscious of it after 1947, and soon found its cure in One Unit, which wiped out the provinces and their regional identities. After that, ideology was roped in to create the unity the state lacked. Today, Pakistan remains nation-less. We tried unity. Let us give diversity a chance.
Published in The Express Tribune, March 25th, 2012.