WHERE DO WE STAND AS A NATION?

SHAMSUL GHANI
(feedback@pgeconomist.com)
Oct 25 - 31, 20
10

In an economy where around Rs250 billion are lost in allowing feudal lords immunity from agriculture tax, another Rs250 billion are spent on running inefficient and corrupt public sector organisations (PIA, Pakistan Railways, Pakistan Steel Mill etc) and where fake degree holders are allowed to sit as legislators, the slashing of HEC funding and university grants should not come as a surprise.

If hundreds of students are finding themselves stuck up overseas for want of scholarship money the flow of which has been abruptly stopped, one should not feel ashamed as, after all, we are a flood-hit economy struggling to survive in the aftermath of a 'lukewarm' response of world donors whose interest in our rescue has faded as they feel that our own top brass of multibillionaires has failed to show any concern for their people.

One should, therefore, be fully convinced that education-funding cuts are the best response to an economic crisis as spending on education in a failing and corrupt society is sheer wastage of money that a conscientious government must endeavor to stop. Those who opt to challenge this proposition must appreciate the fact that mass education is the bane of feudalistic societies who never loose an opportunity to destroy educational systems.

The painful 63 years of survival owe much to Pakistan's natural resource base and other bounties of nature. We cannot and should not expect any miraculous technological breakthrough in view of literacy deficit. Unfortunately, we are not able to gauge the extent of this deficit as the mechanism to determine national literacy rate is faulty to the extent of being non-revealing and self-defeating. With a literacy rate of around 57 per cent, Pakistan shouldn't have been as economically and politically backward as it unfortunately happens to be. Instead of willowing in the mud of blissful oblivion, we should raise some serious questions about the misleading statistics we are persistently being fed with.

According to the Chambers English Dictionary, literacy is the condition of being literate. Further, literate in its adjective form means learned; able to read and write. The same word literate, in its noun form means an educated person without a university degree, or formerly a woman holding a certificate from St. Andrews University. Now, a class-I madressah student and a college graduate both are able to read and write. How do the government statistics tend to segregate the two levels of education that are miles apart? To elucidate the point, we can make use of some statistics released by the Ministry of Education, Islamabad.

NUMBER OF MAINSTREAM INSTITUTIONS & ENROLMENT

  ENROLMENT INSTITUTIONS
YEAR 2007-08 2008-09
Provisional
2009-10 Estimated 2007-08 2008-09
Provisional
2009-10
Estimated
Pre- Primary 8218419 8434826 8623544 - - -
Primary Mosque 18360468 18468096 18714582 157407 156653 156364
Middle 5426548 5414157 5445247 40829 40919 41456
High 2484537 2556186 2699589 23964 24322 24822
Higher Sec / Inter 959690 1074323 1147807 3213 3291 3399
Degree Colleges 383810 429251 458835 1202 1238 1275
Universities 741092 803507 948364 124 129 132
Total 36574564 37180346 38037968 226739 226552 227448

It will be observed that around 15 per cent of the country's total population is enrolled at the pre-primary and primary levels, perhaps mostly in mosques and madressahs. This number finally tapers down to a modest 2.5 million that is collectively enrolled at higher secondary, intermediate, degree college and university levels. The sudden drop in enrolment at middle and high school level clearly suggests that almost 70 per cent of those getting primary or pre-primary education give up the pursuit of studies. These 70 per cent dropouts are also counted as literate persons (unfortunately, a good number of these dropouts become the raw material for terrorist organisations).

The point is that unless proper weight is assigned to the different levels of education the individuals have attained, a sweeping statements like, "we have a literacy rate of 57 per cent" will do us more harm than any good. Moreover, the human capital we shall be producing under this misleading assumption will hardly be suitable for our own domestic markets, let alone the developed international markets. Such illusionist policies will take us nowhere and the goals to create a knowledge-based economy will ever remain illusive.

To say that Pakistan needs good education policies and a will to implement those policies will be a 'run of the mill' statement. While we keep lamenting about weak policy implementation, the policy formulation has also gone through sustained deterioration. The document known as National Education Policy 2009 does not make a good reading. Highly improbable and unachievable goals and objectives have been dumped together in this document. Only two of them are being reproduced here to gauge the level of seriousness of those responsible for the preparation of this document:

1. Government shall take steps to ensure that teacher recruitment, professional development, promotions, and postings are based on merit alone.

2. The government shall allocate seven per cent of GDP to education by 2015 and necessary enactment shall be made for this purpose.

Objective #1 hardly needs any comments. A society that has been raised on quota systems, and ruled by the herds of "non-graduates" and fake degree holders can not be expected to change overnight to give merit the recognition it needs. Objective # 2 shows the level of arrogance of policy makers. Malaysia and Vietnam, having literacy rates of 92 per cent and 93 per cent, spend 4.7 per cent and 5.3 per cent of their GDP, respectively, on education. During the last 63 years, we have not been able to raise the education expenditure percentage from two to three. The claim to raise this percentage to seven within a short period of 5-year is more than ridiculous - just to make an understatement. This is not the only unrealistic document prepared by policy experts. There is a huge sea of them lying unattended and unimplemented. As someone said, "don't ask me questions and I won't tell lies"; so do policy makers say, "don't ask us to make policies and we won't set unrealistic and ridiculous objectives."

We have reached the most critical juncture of our history: the economy underperforming for not being knowledge-based, social fiber destroyed by vested interests and our security being perpetually under threat. The moment of truth is staring in our faces. Are we destined to completely degenerate as a society and as a nation? To achieve a turnaround, we will have to be honest with ourselves as a nation, with the nation as leaders, and with the country as policy makers.