Pakistan’s year of education

Published: January 14, 2011
The writer is co-chair of the Pakistan Education Task Force and was an education adviser in Tony Blair’s government

The writer is co-chair of the Pakistan Education Task Force and was an education adviser in Tony Blair’s government

The announcement by the prime minister that 2011 will be the ‘Pakistan Year of Education’ bodes well for the future. The Pakistan Education Task Force has argued ever since its first meeting a year ago that Pakistan needs to give the highest possible to priority to education for good reasons.

By the middle of this century Pakistan will have a population close to 350 million — if they are all well-educated Pakistan could be a thriving Islamic Republic with a successful economy and a prosperous society contributing to solving problems not just within its borders but across the region. Without good education this positive outcome is unimaginable.

A ‘Year of Education’ could be the catalyst for a transformation of Pakistan’s schools system. Completing this task, given the many problems that currently exist, is a task for a decade or more but if 2011 galvanised the country it could bring the energy and drive which would start the process.

My experience of working on education in dozens of countries tells me that it’s not unusual for leaders to declare that they will have a ‘Year of Education’ or ‘Reading’ or something similar. Most are little more than a speech or two and a fleeting media story after which everything returns to normal.

I am sure Prime Minister Gilani is much more ambitious than this. How could he ensure that Pakistan’s ‘Year of Education’ is truly successful?

First, it would need support from a wide spectrum of Pakistan’s leaders in politics, business and civil society. Given that the provinces are in the driving seat on education they need to sign up enthusiastically. The Year needs to be seen as a national mission not purely a federal initiative. In short, it will need to transcend day-to-day politics.

Second, the underlying theme needs to be that every child is entitled to a good education, as Pakistan’s constitution promises. The ‘Year of Education’ should recognise those schools and teachers who are heroically contributing to making this possible while simultaneously starting to remove the barriers to this happening.

These barriers are substantial – and include in places inefficient and corrupt administration, teachers who don’t turn up to work, poor quality facilities and poor quality teaching. These problems can’t be solved in a year but unless parents see progress in tackling them then the proposed ‘Year’ will have a hollow ring.

Third, the country will need to reverse the trend and increase the proportion of national income it spends on education from below two per cent towards the four percent to which the government is committed. It will only be able to do this if it solves some of its wider fiscal problems.

Fourth, the message that education can transform the country’s prospects needs to be communicated through every medium — radio, television, newspapers, the internet and the emerging social media. It also needs to be communicated by a variety of messengers — not just ministers and officials, not just teachers and headteachers but businesspeople, artists and musicians, for example.

Fifth, people need to come to believe that it is possible for Pakistan to have a much more successful education system than it currently does. The history of education in Pakistan is one of ambitious goals set and then missed, going right back to the first five-year plan in 1956 which set the goal of universal primary education by 1961.

Even now – fifty years on – around a third of children are not in school. Given this background it is hardly surprising that while many people aspire to transform education in Pakistan, they find it hard to believe it will happen in practice.

Yet many education systems have made this transition successfully; for example, Korea and Malaysia from the 1960s, Minas Gerais a large province in Brazil and a number of Indian states more recently. Some provinces of China, such as Shanghai, which topped a recent survey of 60 education systems, have also shown what is possible. Why not Pakistan?

Published in The Express Tribune, January 14th,  2011.

Facebook Conversations

Reader Comments (16)

  • Jan 14, 2011 - 1:19AM

    Exactly! Why not Pakistan! Education, education, education! And I mean the type that actually helps you collect, analyse, synthesis and evaluate information to further ones capabilities, not the rote learning pass an exam get a medal type! Our collective progress is only possible by treating schools as palaces and every child equally regardless of their parents status, last name, background or caste! Recommend

  • Jan 14, 2011 - 1:30AM

    Pakistanis are certainly responsible for their own destiny and education they believe they already have – from the illiterate jahil mullahs – why should they require anything else is beyond meRecommend

  • Jan 14, 2011 - 2:06AM

    Very nice article … we have to come out and bring revolutionary change in our Education system .. specially the Primary and Secondary Education system .. i agree with the writer that not just Ministers and officials, not just Teachers and headteachers but Businesspeople, Artists and people from every walk of life should come out and communicate the message about Importance of Education … By the grace of Almighty Allah Pakistan is a great country we have beautiful people, Culture & heritage, Natural Resources like Natural gas, Petroleum Oil, Coal fields, large hydropower potentials … Agriculture, Fishery, Forestry .. Pakistan has extensive mineral resources like gypsum, limestone, chromites, iron ore, rock salt, silver, Gold, precious stones, gems, marbles, tiles, copper, sulfur, fire clay, silica sand etc … Our 60% Population is youth .. we must educate them so then we can use our Natural resources for the best of our own country and people … now we have Natural resources but we don’t have such technology and talent who can work on that thats why foreign countries like Canada and Australia and some other European states r investing here .. they r the one who r mining and at the end they only give us i mean to Pakistan 10% to 20% of that mining which is not fair and maximum 20% to 25% of profit in that mining … so again Education should be our first Priority … we have to Invest as much as we can in Education sector … ” A man who has never gone to school may steal from a freight car; but if he has a university education he may steal the whole railroad. ”Recommend

  • Farhan Qureshi
    Jan 14, 2011 - 2:56AM

    Shuker Alhamdo LIllah …. atleast for a positive soch. (Although we cannot expect practical efforts on this issuie from these guys. (Unfortunately).Recommend

  • Jan 14, 2011 - 12:07PM

    I appreciate and agree with all the issues mentioned and revisited in the blog, but some how like other such blogs I don’t find a recommended solution or solution in action. I do understand that renowned educationalist share their experience but actual implementation of of the solution to issues are not brought forward. I am sure with so much research, survey and studies going on, projects and practices being established there must be some output, some success stories even 1% will help us identify good practices to apply the solutions. In my opinion establishment of a public library system and classroom and school libraries can play a big role in implementing solutions to already identified issues.

    I wonder how long should it take from identifying a problem, to finding a solution to implementing a solution, testing it and going though the cycle until a good practice or mechanism is reached for total implementation. (65% years?). There is definitely a fault some where at the top level project management where this much time and funding for this much time is provided, without reporting of acceptable results. A sensible educationalist should protest on forums where these decisions are made and allowed on political grounds.People effected by these decisions are not sitting on the forums or decision making tables or budget meetings.

    To my experience even if we start proper public/ children library facility, school library programs, ten years from now our 14 year old will not be loitering on the streets or going for suicide bombing even if they are poor and hungry. Hunger and poverty does not trigger terrorism. Unstable mind and social cause lead to such actions. Librarians are the people who can take such responsibility. Help me build a good library system I will give you 14 year olds that you will be very proud of. 45% of Pakistan population is 14 year old. Just imagine if we had done this only ten years ago what will be different today; every thing, even the streets and local transport would be pleasant places. Its never too late, just think how quickly your child grew from toddler to teen age, I bigger number of 4 year olds are on their way to teen hood. Lets walk them through. Just this generation please, you will see multiplying results. (Just keep politics and vested interest out of education you will also get better politicians)

  • Jan 14, 2011 - 12:07PM

    Unfourtunately Pakistan is a society of “Instant Gratification” the only way this could be done would be to make it mandatory education, enforced by an uncorrupt police force, which does not exist here.

    The parents will not see a need because they cannot understand what it means in the long run. Here the main goal is for today, right now…and we all know that goes for the political machine as well.

    Unless this is physically forced on atleast 50 percent of the people it will not happen. The concept and benefits of education are not understood at all. Pakistanis see the peice of paper (degree) as the valuable object….not the education that goes with it. That is why cheating in school and forging of degrees is so prevailent. They just cannot comprehend what education does for a society and they assume that the way it is here is the way it is everywhere in the world. They do not and will not admit that other countries are successful because of the education of the citizens, and the politicians simply do not care as trying to actually do something will mean effort they are not willing to make and the money will have to be spent on education not simply lining the pockets of themselves and their friends.Recommend

    Jan 14, 2011 - 12:52PM

    The author has discussed the most important field for any country ie education. India has made a lot of progress in this field and results are there for all to see as we are now competing with the best ie West and China and almost at par with them. However, the most important aspect is the curriculam and quality of education which Pakistan leaders and educationists should debate and remove the hatred element towards other religions and distortion of their history which has increased intolerance, violence and caused frustration amongst the youth of the country. Recommend

  • Hassan
    Jan 14, 2011 - 3:28PM

    @RS Johar – India needs to remove discrimination of untouchables and minorities from its syllabus – it is nowhere near China’s standards.

    pakistan will do well once the education dilemma is resolved.Recommend

  • ravi
    Jan 14, 2011 - 6:05PM

    well man every discussion in pakistan turns out to be india bashing. Do you know how much reservation is provided to “untouchables” and “MINORITIES” in TOP EDUCATIONS INSTITUTES of India.
    Anyways we atleast have a system which needs rectification(agree on some fronts) but pakistan has to build a system from scratch after coming out of the dillema. Recommend

  • Anoop
    Jan 14, 2011 - 10:48PM


    “India needs to remove discrimination of untouchables and minorities from its syllabus ”

    –> I know your Urdu Newspapers feed you lot of crap but this has to take the cake. What exactly does that mean? I dont even understand.

    According to the Constitution and law Minorities are protected and enjoy,if not greater, rights than others and Untouchability has been banished.

    “it is nowhere near China’s standards.”

    –> Maybe it is not right now, but we are not sitting and waiting for things to happen. We are dealing with it. Last year our Legislature passed an Education Bill which will revolutionize education in India. And, we have the IITs, IISC and IIMs who are noted all over the World.

    Get this: A guy who doesn’t get into IIT can get into MIT, the standard is so high. I wonder if there is half as good as an institution as in Pakistan like a single IIT.Recommend

  • Hina Ansari
    Jan 14, 2011 - 11:51PM

    This is one of the best articles on Education in Pakistan I have come acrossRecommend

  • Humanity
    Jan 14, 2011 - 11:56PM

    The need for education can never be over stated.

    We, however, need triage on an urgent basis or else the year of education will not come to be.

    The misguided hate mongers at the pulpit, on the TV screens, and on the keyboards must be controlled and prevented from spewing poison. Their funding must be choked. In the absence of governance, people must confront the challenge and start to counter intolerance with acts of tolerance and forgiveness.

    Pakistanis must forget about all foreign hands and step up to tend to their hopeless, despondent country men and women. The change must come from within. Stop waiting for a no leader to lead you, as there is none. Each one should step up and lead him/herself and choose to do good towards other. Show the world what you are made of. Godspeed!Recommend

  • pmbm
    Jan 15, 2011 - 10:40AM

    Primary and secondary education should be transfered to local level, run by elected board members from parents. Honest, well qualified teachers from the locals should be hired and paid according to their ability and results. Private schools and present ‘madrassahas’ should be eliminated.Every child should have same opportunity, they should be guided according to their ability and inclination.Schools should be financed by tuition from those who are able to pay, zakat funds,taxes, donations from philanthropic citizens,such donations to be tax-exempt.
    A standardized curriculum should be used by all school districts.It should consist of science and mathematic,urdu,arabic and english languages. For Muslim students The Quran with translation should be completed by matriculation. Minority children should be provided their religious education.
    This will produce not just doctors ,engineers ,teachers and other professionals but HONEST doctors engineers teachers and other professionals. Recommend

    Jan 15, 2011 - 3:35PM

    @ Hassan
    You have commented about discrimination of minorities and untouchability in our curriculam. I can assure sir, there is nothing of such material in our text books which are prescribed in schools and colleges. On the contrary, all religions are stated as equal including Islam and Gandhian philosphy is taught against untouchability and the same if practised invites six months to one year imprisonment. India is indeed very lucky to be secular where Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs and Christian live under one roof with peace and harmony and exchange greetings during major religious festivals with one another. I would advise you to visit India sometime and see it yourself. Regards and best wishes.Recommend

  • Jan 15, 2011 - 11:15PM

    @some above ones, Oh come on! Its highly immature to bring India VS Pak contests in every discussion. Of course India’s edu system is much better than ours, no denying this fact. However, no point in igniting comparisons on the comment section of every single article published on ET ( this is for all such typical commentators; both from Pakistan n India). Its high time that we as nations shed this prejudiced n childish attitude.
    @author, brilliantly written! I felt a fresh wave of optimism after quite some time while reading this article….very positive, thought provoking and intelligently articulated!Recommend

  • Jun
    Jan 16, 2011 - 12:02AM

    What we lack in our present education system is not to concentrate on ways to groom students. On one side there is no education at all and on the other side education is there but aim of that education is to make professionals by concentrating on text books only .These educational institutes are not concentrating in developing a groomed mindset of their students .Recommend

More in Opinion