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Rapid paradigm shift in education need of the hour

Pakistan’s education sector is being identified as poor quality by independent analysts since long. The education sector is getting the least importance when it comes to the allocation of development expenditures from both the federal and provincial governments. The situation further aggravates when allocated resources are distributed to districts, which in turns cause variations in the literacy levels among various districts countrywide. It is encouraging that one of the goals of the new government is to work on human development, which is not possible without spending on education. As a routine, the government announces aggressive educational improvement plans but it seems that the policymakers don’t seem to realize the importance of investing in the people. It must be understood that if Pakistan wants to compete with the world then it has to modify its existing system of education and it has add more skilled workers in the system.

Pakistan’s education system is sub-classified among three broad segments, i) Public sector, ii) Private sector and iii) Madrasa. It would be appropriate to say that there are multiple systems working presently in Pakistan, resulting in no synergy but social division and conflicts. For example there are English medium schools, Urdu medium schools, and religious schools. Students coming out of English medium schools, especially from good private sector schools, have little or no awareness of their religion and culture whereas those passing out from Urdu medium schools are usually intended to work in clerical and lower level positions. Religious schools bring yet another class that is usually unaware of the world outside their own and, their limited knowledge is creating significant conflicts among various circles these days. By virtue of these categories, Pakistani society has split among various segments and class.

Post 18th constitutional amendment, provincial education ministries have reasonable resources at their disposal for education sector which should be used effectively. Curriculum in Pakistan has always been a controversial issue. Every provincial government takes it seriously but ended up with a hotchpotch syllabus. Different provinces of Pakistan have different curriculum and every ruling party has different priorities.

Since 2001, foreign countries especially USAID are also advising Pakistan on formulating syllabus. There are certain problems associated with the existing curriculum in Pakistan, which are; inaccuracies in fact and omissions that distort the nature and significance of actual events in history whereas there is no justification and reason in adding controversial issues in the syllabus; insensitivity to religious diversity; omission of concepts, events and material that might encourage critical self-awareness among students; outdated and illogical tutorial practices that hinder the development of interest and insight among the students.

A high-profile committee was constituted by the Supreme Court has recently completed its report and recommended several measures including the declaration of an education emergency in the country. Under Article 25, 37B and 38B of the Constitution of Pakistan, the state is obligated to offer free and compulsory education to children between the ages of 5 to 16. Pakistan is facing a challenge of 25 million out-of-school children between the ages of 5 and 16, with 2 million children being added every year. A paradigm shift is required to accord appropriate priority to the sector in terms of financial and human resources along with sufficiently empowered institutions for oversight.

Pakistan is spending only 2.2 percent of GDP in 2018-19 on education which is lowest in South Asia. Economic Survey of 2018 says that the education-related expenditure increased by 5.4 percent to Rs. 699.2 billion in 2017-18. It is noted that the provincial governments are also spending sizeable amount of their annual development plans on education. According to the Economic Survey of 2017-18, last year the literacy rate dropped by 2 percent, from 60 percent to 58 percent.

 

In order to conduct root cause analyses, it must be kept in mind that bulk of the education infrastructure is situated in the provinces and under their control, therefore, additional measures and allocation of more funds should be expected from the provincial governments. Some 25 million children are out of school in Pakistan because governments have neglected education, even though free universal education from ages 5 to 16 years is a constitutional right. Balochistan is home to the highest number of out of school children followed by tribal areas. Access to public schooling remains dependent on family income, geographical location and gender. Most children drop out by the age of nine, and girls from poor communities are least likely to attend school.

As per Pakistan Education Statistics 2016-17, which was launched by the Academy of Educational Planning and Management (AEPAM), a subsidiary of the Federal Education Ministry; in a relative term, Balochistan is home to the highest proportion of the out of school children followed by FATA. The report says that 70 percent of children in Balochistan, 57 percent in FATA, 52 percent in Sindh, 40 percent in Punjab, 34 percent in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, and 12 percent in Islamabad are out of school. However, comparing the situation in 2017-18 with now, the overall number of out of school children saw a decrease of 3.5 million. The rapid dropout ratio is a real reason for deplorable conditions of education. There is an alarming rate of dropouts; around 23 million children are out of school. In addition, poor infrastructure, absenteeism, lack of basic facilities, poorly trained teachers and an insufficient budget for the sector are one of the root causes behind falling standards of education system in Pakistan. Unfortunately government institutions no longer enjoy the reputation they used to have 30-40 years ago. These institutions are not perceived as institutions of high academic standards anymore.

Besides many frustrations in the society, one of the single most significant is that securing degrees from the government universities doesn’t mean securing a good job. Students of government institutions are confined to an outdated syllabus and are unable to compete in an increasingly competitive job market against the products of elite private schools. With this, it has become our mindset that students from few universities only have potential and the rest of the graduates are not up to the mark. This thinking has been developed mostly by the professors of the private universities in order to promote their institutions. The inadequate supply of public schools, sub-standard teaching, along with an ill-planned syllabus, has given rise to private schools in last fifteen years or so.

Standard of education in Pakistan has dropped over the period despite the emergence of a few private institutions. There are various reasons for this deterioration out of which few are; rapid growth in poverty is one of the prime reason of illiteracy in Pakistan. Instead of getting education, kids of poor families start supporting their families. The continuous increase in food inflation is further worsening the situation; the curriculum and related teaching method are inappropriate or at least inadequate for the goals set by many disciplines. Most of the teachers in public and private (specifically catering lower middle and low-income group) sector institutions don’t have trained staff even they hire non-qualified teachers to increase either profitability or have lack of funds to survive; compensation of public sector teachers is much less than the teachers of same qualification and experience but working in private sector. Lack of interest in teaching and motivation due to less monetary incentives is one of the underlying causes of poor condition of education system of Pakistan.

It must be understood that education is the essence of development of a society, without literacy even democracy can’t work. Therefore, in order to survive in the competitive world, it is required that highest priority should be given to education by the government. It is important that the same syllabus should be implemented countrywide. Educational reforms can be started from changing the structure and contents of the syllabus, without indulging into any controversy. A uniform system of education should also be introduced gradually to eradicate the very basic problem. It is important that the government should introduce one medium of instruction.

Pakistan’s education system ranks among the world’s least effective systems. Pakistan has to realize the importance of literacy and should aggressively spend a considerable amount of money on the improvement of this sector. It is important that new institutions of world-class and education city should be established for creating knowledge and helping students to be informed, critical and active citizens of Pakistan.

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