It has been almost two years since the Eighteenth Amendment was passed by the National Assembly of Pakistan and all children aged between five to 16 years have not only gained the right to not only access, but also to demand free education, in case it is not provided. However, it is sad that no provincial assembly has chalked out its own education policy as yet. More depressing is the serious lack of reporting and debate in mainstream media about this issue. For a country where more than half of the population is below the age of 15 and nearly one-third is below the age of nine, such laxity about reporting on the issue most important to the biggest group of population is scandalous.
Pick up any newspaper — English, vernacular, national or regional — and what passes for education reporting is never about education. Most news items published under the head of education are actually administrative statements like press releases by the various examination boards, announcement of academic year, examination notifications issued and reports about the annual meeting of board of directors or an academic committee of a university.
If the education news is not about the examination boards’ notices and proclamations, then it is usually about the administrative corruption of the education officials and the incidents and number of students caught red-handed while cheating during board exams. There would be some news pieces covering protests by the parents and students, against the aforementioned corruption and cheating, but the news coverage is always reactive and hardly carries any background information.
Most of the reporting on education is about performance of government-run schools. Although a huge number of children now go to private schools, there is hardly any impartial mention about the quality of education imparted there. There would be odd news about parents protesting fee hikes, or a school fair, but nothing more concrete. Some newspapers even have sections devoted to education, but they too print interviews of successful students and review job fairs and education expos, instead of focusing on real issues pertaining to education.
The reporting on education is also overwhelmingly urban. The news about rural communities does not get much airtime or space in any case, but the news about rural education is almost nonexistent in Pakistani media — not even the reports about cheating in exams or lack of facilities in rural schools. Similarly, education provided in madrassas does not get any attention from the media. Even though the madrassas have an estimated six per cent of children of school-going age, any news reference to them is almost invariably related to terrorism and never about the kind and quality of education which is imparted.
We devote reams of newsprint and hours-upon-hours of airtime on a non-issue like memogate, but the issue that is of most significance to the largest section of population does not command even a fraction of that attention. There is still debate about ‘what is to be taught and how and in what language’ but it commands less space in the media than the useless exercise of bashing the US. What is most tragic is that the group that is most affected by this criminal carelessness — the children of Pakistan — never get any space to voice their grievances. The future of millions of children is being ruined by this negligence and the media is silent.
Published in The Express Tribune, January 28th, 2012.