Quality improvement and the growth of science and technology based education should be the main focus of attention
Pakistan faces a variety of challenges in reforming its education sector whereas a lack of capacity in the higher education segment is one of the main reasons for the poor standard of higher education in Pakistan. Pakistan’s higher education system is relatively small in size as a contrast to its requirement. As a matter of fact, higher education is considered a very significant area for any country’s socio, political and economic development. Throughout history, universities have played a very important role in generating and disseminating knowledge, much to the benefit of human beings and human civilizations.
Higher education in Pakistan is making efforts in responding to the challenges of globalization in a local way. The policies of various federal and provincial governments have resulted in mushroom growth of new universities that are mainly concentrated in larger cities of Pakistan. Practically speaking, public universities should be allowed to open profitable part-time or evening programs to meet the growing demands of the students. The positive side of these developments is that it could control the outflow of the capital to the foreign countries by the parents. But the developments have also opened up a host of issues and challenges for Pakistan. There are a rapid deterioration of the standard of education and an absence of strong quality education.
Measures for professional development of education
Pakistan must identify the challenges in the area of higher education and should take some policy measures. The policies should include vision and target setting, training and Continuing Professional Development (CPD) arrangements for the teachers to enhance their skills, new teaching and learning techniques, developing strong quality assurance mechanisms and the like.
In a recent report, a leading European magazine observed that education quality is low in universities in South Asia and mentioned two types of skills shortages: (a) not enough graduates in specialized skills needed within high growth sectors, and (b) where graduates have these skills, they are still unemployed because English language, computer, communication, and problem-solving abilities are absent.
Pakistan needs to transform its classroom techniques as quality education has become a major issue in universities. World-class universities of the West should start opening their branches in Pakistan as well because parents are willing to pay high fees as well for quality education of their children. Moreover, high-quality distance learning education should also be initiated by the government so that more and more professionals could avail this chance and get professional certificates, which will thereafter help them in earning more. Universities throughout Pakistan should find ways to catch up with the new trends in higher education. By introducing a new curriculum, teaching and learning methodologies and technologies, universities in Pakistan can respond to the challenges of the 21st century.
Lack of professionalism and skills of the teachers of higher education is one for the reasons of low quality products. In Pakistan, professional development for teachers at a higher level is just confined to getting a vertical degree i.e. a PhD degree in the respective disciplines. Getting a PhD degree in their respective disciplines is considered the highest form of professional development, and university teachers are seldom trained further regarding their teaching skills.
On the other hand, though many public and private universities in Pakistan have made massive investments in modernizing their institutes, it is often found that teachers are reluctant to use the newer strategies in teaching and learning, and many opportunities remain under-utilized. If the higher institutes in Pakistan do not act with serious urgency, they would be on the wrong side of the rapidly widening knowledge and technology gap. The universities of Pakistan already lag far behind because of the shortage of resources, lack of knowledge, and mindsets of the teachers and administrators.
Resource constraints is another area of concern for the university administration. For years it is observed that the governmental budgetary allocation to university education has declined considerably vis-a-vis other levels of education. Recurring expenditures have increased rapidly at the expense of development grants. Most of the public universities are dependent on the government for funding and their ability to provide scholarship has deteriorated significantly over time due to dollar appreciation as well. The reason is very simple, students go abroad from higher studies and pay in their fee in dollars whereas government allocates budget for this purpose in rupees therefore as and when rupee depreciates, the budget allocation reduces accordingly. This currency adjustment has effectively reduced the allocated funds of the universities. The government should either allocate this budget in US dollars or increase the budget allocation itself so that at least universities can fund their students properly.
Staff development is one area which needs special attention. As a matter of fact quality of faculty is not up to the desired level in Pakistan. Teaching has become another job for some, where consultancy has become more important. The process has been further complicated by the absence of faculty evaluation in the universities. Improving the quality of faculty is made more difficult by the ill-conceived incentive structures. Faculty pay is generally very low in relation to that offered by the alternative professional occupations. Moreover, the present method of teaching the basic subjects, particularly teaching science at all levels, have been made ineffective by outdated methods and lack of broader aspects of disciplines. The growth of quality education at all levels is based on the teaching method to a greater extent, which needs to be supported with the required infrastructure and facilities.
Library and laboratory conditions are not conducive for quality education. There is no denying the fact that the use of library facilities by students and teachers have declined over the years. The teachers in most cases seem to rely on particular texts and the students seem to possess increasingly poorer language ability to comprehend and explore the treasure that the libraries hold. The libraries are poor as they lack adequate resources to buy recent publications and can’t order for the basic international journals. Likewise, the laboratories suffer from inadequacy of equipments.
There is no denying the fact that funding from the government for higher education and research is not at all adequate and HEC fails to provide funds according to the need of the respective universities. The very amount provided to the universities is mostly spent on the salary and allowances of the faculty development, research and establishment of new departments in response to the demand of time.
The universities’ contributions are widely accepted in the societies and seldom require any elaboration. The government must shift its focus of attention from general education to science, technology and information technology based education. The government should also formulate a long term strategic plan for higher education. The strategic plan for higher education should suggest that in the face of a changed scenario, quality improvement in the higher education has to be the main focus of attention and development of science and technology based education should be given top priority by the government and the private sector in the next two decades at least.