Wanted: More than a uniform education system

Even if underprivileged children are introduced to O' and A' Levels, they lack access to opportunities to pursue more

Nadir Eledroos January 02, 2012
Politicians agree that the education system in Pakistan has failed. When they are not arguing about whether or not a section on jihad is necessary, most agree that the country requires more schools and a unified curriculum. 

When it comes to education, politicians and bureaucrats love building schools and talking about reform. However, building schools is something tangible and easily achievable; they hang banners, pose for a photograph, pray before an inauguration plaque, and bask gloriously in the satisfaction of constructing a new school. Curriculum reform is also another talking point, but there doesn't seem to be a lot of agreement on exactly what the end point needs to be after the reform process.

The O' and A' Level system is considered the pinnacle of learning for students in Pakistan. The Federal Directorate of Education (FDE) recently announced that it would begin offering O' and A' Level classes at some of its schools. It hopes that children from deprived backgrounds will be able to appear in the same examinations as their affluent peers and that this will help bridge the divide between them. Sounds good, but while they have good intentions, implementing such a policy will still not tackle the biggest inequality that children from deprived areas face: lack of equal opportunities.

Offering a different curriculum, as the FDE is proposing, is not going to bridge the gap between students from deprived backgrounds and those from affluent ones. Even if the government schools in Islamabad start offering O' and A' Level classes in their colleges, will they be able to attract the same quality of teachers as private schools? Will their labs, library, and computer rooms be well equipped in comparison? Will students from poorer backgrounds be able to afford all the variety of textbooks and guides that are required? Will the parents of such students be able to pay for the same private tutoring that the affluent children can afford? Will students from poorer backgrounds have a handy computer with a decent internet connection available at home to supplement their learning?

Consider this argument in another way- students from affluent backgrounds enjoy not only better access to schools, colleges, teachers and tutors, but also have access to a ready made network of contacts. These can help them in getting internships and job opportunities that students from poorer backgrounds are completely cut off from.

Coming back to our curriculum, there are many improvements that need to be made. The content needs an overhaul based on the needs of tomorrow's students; not a paranoid security apparatus concerned with inculcating nationalism. However, rather than viewing curriculum reform as an end in itself, it is nothing more than an initial part of a long process.

Two factors that determine good learning and good examination results are the quality of teaching and parental interest. Recently, the example of Karrar Hussain Jaffar's is one that comes to mind, where he attributes his success to his parents' encouragement despite the lack of wider aspiration amongst his peers.

In terms of state policy, the government must make massive investments to support and train teachers. Good teaching can support learning even if the curriculum is poor. However, an excellent curriculum with a poor teacher adds little value to a students learning. We already see glimpses of this happening; a recent example is of the One Rupee School in Karachi, whose founder Parveen Rao, emphasises the importance of good teaching and supporting teachers from the local community.

No doubt that exams, certificates, and a foreign curriculum will make a difference, but what Pakistan really needs is good teachers. Students from deprived backgrounds should be able to make the most of their time in school and narrow the gap that exists between them and the children from affluent households. We must move beyond testing and grades.
Nadir Eledroos Nadir teaches Economics at Bellerbys College, London and is interested in Pakistani politics and current affairs. He tweets @needroos (https://twitter.com/needroos)
The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necassarily reflect the views and policies of the Express Tribune.


Noor | 12 years ago | Reply Our Education system needs a general overhauling, in that: 1. Comprehension of Quran to be included at various levels of education starting with Montessori (oral education), and progressing on, so as to make sure that the Quranic teachings are understood by children by the time they pass their Matric or O levels. 2. For above, we may resort to a 10 minute family discussion session within our homes on daily basis, in the language we're comfortable with. While doing so we would be the best among all, as per Hadith, "the best among you are those who teach and learn Quran". 3. Another objection to education system is that of Rattafication by children. Teachers attribute this to the lengthy syllabus. Can't we reduce the syllabus to have better understanding? kids securing 1st & 2nd position do produce the stuff for writing in exam, but actually donot understand the theme. 4. As examples, the personal attributes of Tipu Sultan & Haider Ali of honesty, spirituality, etc played helpful role to make them win the fights, not concerned with physical majority. Similarly, Quran says, Charity increases your wealth, while Interest reduces; though physically opposite, if we understand the crux, we may become very successful for both here & hereafter. 5. The schools are so much concerned about the result & profile of their campus, that they spent 70% of time rehearsing for exams, thus virtually the students study for just about 2 1/2 to 3 months a year. Taking it to 17 years of study, the students, in my opinion have wasted all these years for just Rattafication of 3 months stuff per year. 6. I would rather like to take my kids out of school & make a syllabus by myself do that hidden dimensions of education are also explored. 7. Moreover, the kids don'r get time for any other study due to thick syllabus books, thereby making their thinking restricted to the bookish knowledge only virtually, unable to think or invent differently. 8. These systems are making us so much dependent on gadgets that even a hawker can't make addition of 63 & 48 to sell his 2 kgs of fruit, and looks for a calculator for it. 9. Is there a conspiracy going on to educate our kids through at least Graduation for social acceptability, thereby wasting their time & God gifted resources for initial 17 years of their lives?
KDP | 12 years ago | Reply Hope any new approach to Education will include teaching true or unbiased History of the sub continent before M Bin Kasim
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