Every University of Karachi student signs an oath upon admission stating that they will personally teach one Pakistani how to read and write. Few ever do. The goal of the oath is to eliminate the gap between those with access to higher education and the larger population who cannot even read a street sign.
This divide is growing according to an official in the ministry of science and technology. He says the Higher Education Commission has ‘misplaced priorities’ because of which the educated are getting smarter and the u neducated are staying that way. Despite good intentions, poor planning and lack of strategy has resulted in a class of moderately qualified, potential employees whom no one will hire (including the government) because they lack specialisation.
Primary education remains a neglected step-child. Foreign and government funding tends to be spent on quick fix investments like education cities where assembly line PhD students can be produced. But until quality primary education is made affordable, higher education will remain a luxury that only few can afford or even aspire to.
This week the United States announced that it will provide aid worth $10 million for science and technology projects in Pakistan. The aid is part of the US-Pakistan Science and Technology Cooperative Programme that began in 2005. But what good has this aid done in the past four years? Millions of dollars in aid has failed to improve government schools where teachers fail to convey information to students. Unqualified faculty pass pessimism on to their students like a disease.
Private groups have attempted to make a difference at an informal level – and they have. To each girl who now knows how to read the instructions of a sewing machine or to the little boy who can tell his father what a fertiliser can says. But once institutionalised the difference can be greater. An educated public, means educated voters. And that is what we all want, isn’t it?
Published in the Express Tribune, June 11th, 2010.