Education reform: a student’s perspective

Published: January 18, 2012
The writer is an undergraduate student at Harvard University, Class of 2014. He is also the Chairman of Harvard University's John F. Kennedy Jr. Forum. He tweets @ibrahimakhan

The writer is an undergraduate student at Harvard University, Class of 2014. He is also the Chairman of Harvard University's John F. Kennedy Jr. Forum. He tweets @ibrahimakhan

Ten per cent of the world’s children who do not go to primary school live in Pakistan. Twenty-six countries are poorer than Pakistan but send more of their children to school. A meager 1.5  per cent of Pakistan’s GDP is spent on schooling which is less than the subsidies given to PIA, Pepco and Pakistan Steel. The average teacher is absent once a week. Our constitution gives every child the right to an education until the age of sixteen, and yet, 25 million Pakistani children do not have this right. These facts are courtesy of the Education Emergency Pakistan movement and they illustrate the dire situation our education system is facing.

Currently, education in Pakistan is rooted in rote learning and absent-minded memorisation. Creativity and problem-solving are disregarded. Knowledge is thrust at students, who have devised ways to retain the knowledge temporarily, regurgitate it and move on. But this is not the essence of education. An acceptable modern education is one that gives a student the best preparation for life after school. In our working lives, we have to make decisions and solve problems that require creative solutions. And yet Pakistani students do not learn these essential skills in school.

To make things worse, in most secondary and post-secondary examinations, a large part of the material is left to choice. In order to pass an examination, 33 per cent of the attempted material needs to be correct. This means that a student will pass an examination by knowing less than 33 per cent of a given subject’s material. Nowhere else in the world is the education standard this low.

The massive inequality present in our education system needs to be eradicated through various forms of regulation. We must devise a Pakistani system of education that is recognised internationally since our current system has lost international credibility. Then there is the difference between the Urdu-medium and English-medium systems. Hence, there is an urgent need for a coherent education policy that is able to form a unified framework for all Pakistani students.

As Heather Wolpert-Gawron an award-winning school teacher in the US, suggests in a recent book, an education system should value certain skills. Collaboration and communication should be encouraged. Problem-solving should be practiced, decision-making learned and questioning valued. Students should be comfortable with synthesising information and listening to others. Most importantly, they should develop leadership skills which are of particular importance to Pakistan. At the tertiary level, the idea of a liberal arts education is gaining traction worldwide. Its core philosophy is promoting choice and creativity, something we need to adopt.

Apprenticeship is prevalent in Pakistan and thus cannot be ignored when discussing education reform. Many poor children, who cannot afford an education, drop out of school in order to learn specific skills. Often these workers are misused and denied basic labour rights. These children need to remain in schools where their apprentice work is institutionalised and they are given a basic level of education. This will ensure an educated technical workforce, which is essential for any developing nation.

We need to act and act soon. Education reform must be emphasised, as it is today’s youth that will determine the state of tomorrow’s Pakistan.

Published in The Express Tribune, January 19th, 2012.


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Reader Comments (21)

  • Hamza Arshad
    Jan 18, 2012 - 11:17PM

    Of course, we need reforms in education system. The most vital one is to correct the dynamics of education. A common Pakistani student studies, or tries to study, almost five languages and, consequently, he is master of none. That’s why; he has to resort to cramming. What we need as medium of education: Urdu or English? We will have to decide and decide quickly. Secondly, we are a book-allergic nation. We have reading culture neither in our homes nor in educational institutions. We get just prepared material and try to stuff in our mind. I think the greatest enemies of education are those publishers who bring out notes and helping books. Is there anyone to launch a clean sweep in Urdu bazar?


  • Pakistani
    Jan 18, 2012 - 11:36PM

    Ministry of Education is hopeless, let The Citizens Foundation take control of it.
    TCF has a very professional system of teacher training and I have no doubt that they will turn around the current situation.

    Please watch this :

  • Arshd
    Jan 18, 2012 - 11:56PM

    Knowledge is thrust at students, who have devised ways to retain the knowledge temporarily, regurgitate it and move on.

    Because the teachers are also the product of the same system. They can’t think beyond it.


  • S A
    Jan 19, 2012 - 12:33AM

    @Pakistani:The role of The Citizen Foundation is DUBIOUS.
    In recently held Class five exams by PEC, TCF’s lahore branch could not show good result. Not a single student could pass all subjects, unfortunately. So one can imagine the poor status of “very professional system of teacher training” that Pakistani has mentioned in his comment.
    However TCF has gained worldwide attention to get massive donations through their false and ficticious success stories.


  • hope
    Jan 19, 2012 - 1:11AM

    absolutely right! im afraid your piece will die out here since there you are not talking about politics though but i know what you mean ;)


  • Usman Shahid
    Jan 19, 2012 - 1:28AM

    Education at Secondary and Higher secondary level in Pakistan and UK both are useless.
    Here teachers donot teach to learn rather prepare students for tests only as learning is not important but more and more grades are important

  • Jan 19, 2012 - 1:34AM



  • Pakistani in US
    Jan 19, 2012 - 2:55AM

    “Collaboration and communication should be encouraged. Problem-solving should be practiced, decision-making learned and questioning valued. Students should be comfortable with synthesising information and listening to others.”

    If this was practiced in Pakistan, we wouldn’t have jihadi-teens-cum-qadri-followers and PTI trolls.


  • x
    Jan 19, 2012 - 3:13AM

    The late, lamented bhutto saab’s gift to us , nationalization of schools which created so many problems for subsequent generations and effectively destroyed the essence of education. Good intentions gone sadly, badly, madly wrong.


  • hkapadia
    Jan 19, 2012 - 3:36AM

    @Ibrahimakhan, great article dude ! One question more which you could probably answer is how do you tackle this problem? Do you leave it to the provinces or keep it federally controlled? Maybe a conversation needs to be started on how to solve the solution since you have outlined the problems pretty well here.
    @SA There is an element of truth is what you are alleging, but to completely take away the credit from TCF is not fair. I know someone who teaches there and has discussed this problem with me where they are forced to pass all the student in their standard tests. Why? Maybe they want to improve their numbers, maybe their infrastructure can’t retain students who fail and want to repeat a class. I feel its the latter, and now that they have grown so big, they are hesitant in changing their structure to accommodate for a large amount of under performing students.


  • Mehak Amer
    Jan 19, 2012 - 5:18AM

    Great article Ibrahim.
    Education is SO important, especially for the people in our country and its so good to see someone write about this. Keep it up.


  • Reader
    Jan 19, 2012 - 9:37AM

    Well written. An outline of the issue and a brief discussion of the broad solutions was required.


  • zafar ul hassan
    Jan 19, 2012 - 6:40PM

    Reform has to be based on Iqbal’s educational philosophy. It is the best way to nurture creativity in kids


  • Reader
    Jan 19, 2012 - 7:32PM

    @Zafar ul Hassan: And what is that philosophy? Enlighten us please.


  • Farhan
    Jan 19, 2012 - 7:34PM

    Simple, clear and to the point. Action must be taken now.


  • Paki-Away
    Jan 20, 2012 - 7:23PM

    @S A – Atleast NGOs liek TCF give students the opportunity to go to school, the train their own teachers and have set up vocational programes and internship schemes as well as mentoring for graduates of their schools. So to take away credit and accuse them of falsely making money is very unfair and criticial without actually knowing what they do. Its one of the few NGOs thats actually transparent with all the money donated to them. Also please keep in mind that this is an organisation based in Pakistan and therefore face all the challenges of surviving in our country.I have been involved with TCF from a very young age and am proud of how much of a change they have made in the past 15 or so years, something our government should have taken responsibility for but was unable to do. So get off ur high horse and try and help organisations like TCF that are actually making a difference.


  • S A
    Jan 21, 2012 - 12:30AM

    I have a question: if you had children, would you like them to get enrolled in TCF and benifit from their (so called) trained teachers???


  • zafar ul hassan
    Jan 21, 2012 - 12:49PM

    @Reader: to give importance to development of human will so that the faculties of thinking, understanding, learning etc are used to their maximum potential. Through this approach creating knowledge would become a norm. This obviously would lead to creativity, inventions, scientific progress etc.


  • asma naz
    Jan 21, 2012 - 7:33PM

    i would like to discuss the poor performance of our education sector from the perspective of a teacher. A teacher plays a lead role in disseminating knowledge to the pupil. it can safely be said that a teacher’s ability to do well is pivotal for delivery of quality education. Among a host of reasons for poor performance of teachers, one is the pathetic attitude of society at large towards a teacher.

    Historically teachers have not been reciprocated socially, morally and financially. A teacher at primary level earns a salary too short to sustain an average family. However, the primary level is vital stage in building the character of a student. Whatever he learns at primary level keeps with him/her through entire life.

    Therefore, it is prudent to emancipate teachers financially and show them due respect.


  • Jan 30, 2012 - 4:22PM

    exactly, we need reforms in our educational system immediately, i think education sector should prefer practical education over theory, and should set up a skills analysis system to avoid the wastage of talent and also make education as cheaper as possible.


  • Hafizarshad
    Feb 5, 2012 - 1:02AM

    I think we need to focus on changing the methodology of teaching. I talk about teaching methodology which gives students opportunity to react, question, think, and speak what the have in their minds. But it is the duty of a teacher to provide such methodology. suppose we have a four line poem. if the teacher reads it and asks the students to read it one-by-one and then goes on to the exercise directly, do we think the duty is done? No, I think those four lines can create a whole world of meaning if the teacher gives his students an opportunity to think and discuss, and asks students to try some poem like the one they have read. For this purpose we should introduce more Pair-work, small group work in our classrooms. We must start this from primary schools.


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