ARE SCHOOLS FOSTERING CRITICAL THINKING?

TARIQ AHMED SAEEDI (tariqsaeedi@hotmail.com)
Nov 09 - 15, 2009

In the midway to achieve universal primary education by 2015-one of the eight millennium development goals endorsed by 189 countries including Pakistan under the auspices of United Nations-it is relevant for education policy makers in Pakistan to realize the fact that is mere increasing net enrolment ratio in primary education sufficient to fructify the high literacy rate or is there something else attainment of this goal must accompany with?

That something is improving standard of education, which should ideally be acceptable across the border. What is the parameter to measure the standard of education? A learning process that is qualitative in nature, catalyst to reasoning, a philosophical characteristic of human being, and that moves systematically from the threshold of primary, secondary, and tertiary learning is indicative of quality education.

A core of qualitative schooling process lies certainly in the primary grade that determines the future direction of mental formulation of a child. This is the very production stage in which frame of references is being designed. If learning process is as much flexible as the growing memory is at this stage then individual mental capacity can be explored at maximal and vice versa. The exception is always there, but products of predominantly conventional (government funded) primary education system in Pakistan are difficult to be moulded later in secondary, colleges and higher education.

World Economic Forum's Global Competitiveness Report has ranked Pakistan 117 among 134 countries in terms of quality primary education.

A visible division between two poles apart education systems in Pakistan-that is enrooted in class difference-makes one understand that why are the products of two systems (public and private) not identical if education simply implies learning.

Private education or specifically basic education is simply expensive and out of reach of economically deprived segment of the country. Since this segment constitutes the low-income majority with $2 per capita income, it is out of question that why people of this segment remains out of this privilege. Does only expensiveness guarantee quality education? Maybe in our case it is true.

Because of charging high fees from privileged class, most of the private schools become able to affiliate with Cambridge and other internationally acclaimed pedagogical systems and afford suitably trained teachers largely hailing from similar schoolings. The same reason strengthens the capacity of private schools to bear operational and maintenance expenses of hiring quality mentors as well as curricula consultants. Consequently, what such schools produce stand fightable to foreign examinations and assessments. They contribute to socio-economic mobility in effect.

Many educationists in the country strongly believe that we cannot produce talents effective for the society and the economy unless we concentrate as policy makers our energy on promotion of formal and non-formal education. At least, it has been recognized that creating knowledge-based economy is not possible without literacy, which is lowest in Pakistan when compared to other countries in South-West Asia, according to a UN report. For example, literacy rate among age group of above 15 is 50 percent in Pakistan and that rate is much below than that in India (61 percent), Iran (82 percent), Sri Lanka and Maldives 91 and 96 percent respectively. However, the rate is good in comparison to 49 percent in Nepal and 47 percent in Bangladesh.

The poor education system in the country is an impediment in the way of producing literate-one who could read and write-and this results in substantial dropout rates e.g. 33 percent of the students drop out from the schools before reaching class five because of various reasons including primarily uninspiring styles of teaching and monetary problems.

Many developed countries have reached the pinnacle of economic prosperity because they promoted educated mindsets. China's success is attributable to its decades-old endeavours towards education. This is not to underestimate the education expertises within the country. Educationists, social workers, and media have been repeating intimations and recommendatory solutions on the deteriorating state of public education system from time to time.

As a matter of fact, nationwide public sector education is supplying crammed memories in the society lacking analytical skills. Although, state has accepted provision of primary education as its responsibility and is subsidizing education to an extent, sadly all successive governments put the education in the bottom of development plans. It is manifested in the allocation for education in the public sector development plans and gross development products.

Government used to spend only two percent of GDP on education. Additional share proposed in the current budget can doubtfully be spent on education sector because of tightened budget. Even if government succeeds in utilizing four percent of GDP for betterment of education, the quality results are difficult to appear.

For, one achieving 86 percent literacy by 2015 requires massive expenses, beyond 7 percent of GDP according to conservative estimates. Two, again literates with crammed memories will never be useful for the economy and the society. Either they would drop out in the middle of education because of lack of motivation or they would add burdens to the economy due to having constrained mental growth.

Unfortunately, Pakistan's education system has suffered from tremendous politicization over the last few decades. What an expert describes precisely that 'ideological preferences of the state' has pushed education in Pakistan toward the brink of disintegration. It is undeniable a fact that education curricula in the country has been under immense influence of religious dictators and warmongers whose primary purpose is to imbibe young minds with biased ideology rather than to cultivate disinterested mindsets. Maybe, one likes to call it cultural constraints that curb atmosphere of questioning-which is otherwise fundamental to disentangle confusion of growing minds.

In any case, education for economic and social advantages needs unrestrained thinking and inquisition. Restrictions on thinking start verily from canned mentoring that revolves around a single recommend book. Assessment is restrictively based on reproduction of text of the book. An intellectual digression is not possible.

For the betterment of the economy and the society, it is imperative that schools be nursery of fostering productive minds instead of ghettos to strip humans of creativity.