Every year, around this time, nervous students wait for a piece of paper that they have been conditioned to believe will define the rest of their lives — their ‘O’ and ‘A’ Level results. Over the last decade, there has been a steady rise in the quality of the results, although some believe that grade inflation may have played a part in that. Ambitious parents, wanting the best for their kids, have poured money and even more effort to ensure that their grades guarantee them a spot in the best colleges. But we have become so caught up in the rat race that we rarely consider whether these exams are truly as valuable as we think they are — both for students and the education system at large.
An estimated 180,000 children took their ‘O’ and ‘A’ Level exams this year, a number that seems quite considerable until you realise that the majority of Pakistan’s population is under 25 years of age. Still, there is clearly a demand for these and other similar foreign exams. Basically, just about anyone who can afford to do so decides to take their children out of the Matric and Inter system, in favour of foreign systems that have greater credibility in the West. Our local system of education has been so thoroughly discredited that such alternatives are being considered by more people every year.
Essentially, Pakistan has ended up with a dual system, one for the elite and one for the rest of the country; this creates a kind of educational apartheid in the country. The solution isn’t, as some have outlandishly suggested, to immediately impose one system on the entire country, as that would unfairly hurt those who give foreign exams. Having a uniform educational system should be a goal we aspire to work towards, not by demonising those who sit foreign exams but by matching our local system to the same quality. The aim should be to provide every Pakistani child the opportunity to excel by having a level playing field. We may not be able to achieve that in the near future but we certainly shouldn’t give up on the idea.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 15th, 2012.