Nov 17 - 23, 2008

The state of education in Pakistan paints a dismal picture. Education is the main vehicle for socio-economic development but unfortunately about half of adult population in Pakistan can not read and write. Pakistan is the sixth most populous country of the world. Due to rapid population growth and inability of the formal education system to bring all children into school, illiterate population has increased from 22 million in 1961 to 48 million by 2005. It is feared that by 2015, illiterate population in Pakistan may rise to 52 million. In the area of education, Pakistan is lagging behind other countries of South Asia, even Nepal, Bangladesh and Maldives. Pakistan has been spending less on education as compared to other countries in the region.

According to Education for All Global Monitoring Report 2008 by UNESCO, Pakistan is spending 2.4% of its GDP on education against the UNESCO-recommended norm of a minimum of 4% and against 3.8% spent by India, 7.5% by Maldives, 4.7% by Iran and 3.4% by Nepal. Out of 2.4% only 1.93% of GNP is being spent on education in real terms and only 11% of the total education budget is allocated for the higher education sector. The total education budget is needed to be increased to a minimum of 6% as recommended by UNESCO for developing countries with at least one-third of it going to the higher education sector.


A brief mention of the problems faced by education sector is as under:


The reason behind the current state of affairs is lack of political will and half-hearted efforts by the government which can be gauged by the fact that the portfolio of the education ministry remained vacant for substantive time when ministers from one political party walked out from the cabinet.

Sixteen major political parties of the country had committed in a Joint Declaration on 'Education For All in Pakistan' to increase the present allocation of the education budget from 2.4% to 4% of the GDP within the next three years. But the ruling coalition contrary to its claims after coming into power slashed 5.7 billion from the fourth quarter of the last years' budget of Higher Education Commission (HEC). In the realm of policy making, there exists lack of commitment and consistency, made manifest in the form of stringent budgetary allocations, delays in disbursement of funds, and institutional inefficiency and corruption.


Pakistan is placed at the lowest rung of the international literacy ladder. The reason for Pakistan's dismal rating on yet another development indicator is due to the simple fact that the literacy ratio in Pakistan still hovers around 50 percent. Standard of education is also equally shocking. People appearing for lowest level jobs while holding a post graduation degree exhibit pathetic knowledge. The lack of sufficient infrastructure in the form of school buildings and facilities, low professional capacity of teachers due to the non-availability of proper training institutes, uneven teacher-student ratios, lack of teaching aids, as well as low public awareness concerning the value of education, all contribute towards maintenance of low educational rates at the ground level.


The curricula and related pedagogy are usually inappropriate or at least inadequate for the set goals in many disciplines. Furthermore, there is no integrated system in which one step leads to the next to enable a student to develop a truly sound base for the discipline he or she is interested in. Moreover, even at the higher levels of education, there is no mechanism worth its name to help a student in gauging his or her potential or in deciding on a suitable academic career.


There are many systems working here, resulting in not synergy but social division and conflict. For example we have English medium schools, Urdu medium schools, and religious madrasas. Students coming out of English medium schools, especially good private sector schools, have little or no awareness of their religion and culture whereas those passing out from Urdu medium schools are usually destined to work in clerical and lower level positions. Religious madrasas churn out yet another class that are usually unaware of the world outside their own and, with their strong sectarian bias and little or no training in modern disciplines, are usually ill-equipped to interact meaningfully with the larger society and are also monumental at times in spreading sectarianism.


The present government should declare a national educational emergency and involve the whole nation in waging a war against illiteracy. Some steps that the government might consider taking in this regard are:


Education should be declared as the highest priority of the government. Unless the impediments of illiteracy and lack of education are removed, the road to democracy will remain fraught with the danger of exploitation of the masses by the select few. In the absence of political will in the ruling classes to do something tangible in this arena, it seems impossible to take concrete steps to defend the country against illiteracy and lack of education. Therefore it is to be borne in mind that there is no factor more important to the well-being of a nation than human resource and no negligence worse than ignoring its development.


It is imperative to introduce a standard education system for all and licensing and certification of teachers to improve standards as is done in the USA. Authorities have to introduce high quality selection procedure for higher level teachers and offer the candidates better incentives. Masses need to give more importance to language education and mathematics at the primary and secondary levels. Computer education should also be introduced gradually right from the elementary stage in education. The unfortunate fact is that usually even our postgraduates lack basic skills in these areas. Language and mathematics are the foundation on which acquisition of other skills depends. Though much of the problem is due to poor teaching, yet curricula, texts, pedagogy and examination techniques also have a lot to do with the current situation.


Focus on expansion of elementary education, using both formal and non-formal methods, remains vital. There is however simultaneous need to expand adult education, literacy and functional literacy programmes, which are not only a basic requirement for economic development, but also vital for improving the overall literacy rate of the country.


Electronic media can be used more extensively for educational purposes. A channel could be devoted to just education. In this regard, a) teachers of high caliber can take classes for different subjects at various levels, b) these lecturers can be telecast as well as recorded, c) the lectures can be delivered by telecasting them or by playing recorded cassettes even in schools in far flung areas where quality education is usually not available, d) later on computers can also be used with sufficient data banks and with internet and e-mail facilities for more interactive education, and e) if an appropriate system is designed, more students can be taught in one school using cassettes, discs, etc. with relatively less teachers.


More emphasis should be given to the development of educational institutions for some unconventional disciplines as fashion designing, art, music and literature. There is a lot of talent in the country in this field and a great, high return international market for the products and services of skillful people in this area. Similarly, a system of continual vocational training should also be introduced for workers in different fields.


A uniform system of education should be introduced gradually to eradicate the problems multiplicity of systems creates as pointed out earlier. Two important things that the government should attempt in this regard are: 1. Introduce one medium of instruction. In the international environment of competition today, English has assumed unprecedented importance. Although Urdu will perhaps remain a language of our people for a long time to come, English has to be given preference if a choice is to be made (as too many languages undermine instruction in any one). 2. Religious education should be incorporated in the mainstream education.


To put the educational system back on track will is needed more than money; it will require a change in the way our society views education and in the way it is prepared to deliver knowledge that would be useful in the market place. The education system must aim to change the general mindset so that all citizens begin to recognize that it is not right to barely concentrate superfluous dimensions of life but to become productive and active participants in all fields.

Pakistan's educational system requires an almost total overhaul. It will not be reformed simply by the deployment of additional resources. This has been tried several times before by the donor community under the auspices of the World Bank's Social Action Program and that did not succeed. What is required now is a well thought out and comprehensive approach that deals with all facets of the system. Moreover, even while working resolutely towards this goal, it must also be borne in mind that literacy is just the first step towards truly educating our populace, but it is an obviously vital one, without which the longer quest for education cannot even be embarked upon.