INTERVIEW: DEAN FACULTY OF EDUCATION, UNIVERSITY OF PUNJAB
EDUCATION IS THE ONLY VEHICLE FOR SOCIAL MOBILITY.
Oct 31 - Nov 6, 2011
Prof. Dr. Hafiz Muhammad Iqbal is the Dean of Faculty of Education, University of the Punjab. He is one of the country's renowned educationists, who are highly regarded in the education circles.
Prof. Dr. Iqbal was bestowed with National Award 'Izaz-e-Fazeelat' in 2007 by the government of Pakistan and the Best University Teacher Award by Higher Education Commission (HEC).
Prof. Dr. Iqbal started his academic career from traditional educational institution called 'madrassah.' Later, he received contemporary education from leading educational institutions of the country and abroad and finally did post doctorate from University of Texas, Austin.
Dr. Iqbal has written numerous research articles and presented papers in numerous conferences abroad. Because of his experience, research publications, and qualification, he is considered an authority on issues of education.
In an interview with Pakistan and Gulf Economist (PAGE), he shared his views about education in the country. He said quality of education, particularly in public sector, both at lower as well as higher level, is far from satisfactory. At present, the enrollment rate in public school system is about 66 — 67 per cent, remaining 33 — 34 per cent children are enrolled in private school system. Available data reveals that on an average, a student of public school system lags 1.5 to 3 years behind the students of private system of corresponding level and age in term of achievement in language and mathematics, he opined.
Dr. Iqbal said: "In our country where most of the population is living below the poverty line and where there is much less economic activity, education is the only vehicle for social mobility. However, low quality of education in public school system is not imparting the required skills and developing desired competence among children and youth to compete with the private system. Hence, graduates of public school system are in a competitive disadvantage to compete for the job market. This is going to create a situation where grievances against the government and society at large are increasing. This situation may lead to chaos and confusion, sense of deprivation and may result in a revolt against the ruling elite. I suspect that low quality of education in public school system will eventually lead communal riots and classes between poor and rich section of the society."
When asked who is responsible for low quality of education, he said that main responsibility lies with the government, which has failed to provide a system based on egalitarian principles. Secondly, the teacher of public school system, who lacks competence, commitment, and willingness to implement effective teaching skills, he added.
PAGE: TELL US ABOUT YOUR NATIVE TOWN AND FAMILY BACKGROUND?
DR. IQBAL: I started my early education from a madrassah in remote area of South Punjab, and got certificate of 'shahadat-ul-alamia'. Meanwhile, I did my matriculation as a private candidate and then got admission in a college in Multan. I earned B.Sc. degree from Government College Bosom Road, Multan and M.Sc. Botany from University of the Punjab. After joining my service as a lecturer, I continued my professional growth and earned M.Ed degree from University of the Punjab, M.A. Science Education from King's College, University of London and pursued PhD as split degree program between University of London and University of the Punjab.
PAGE: YOU HAVE STUDIED IN WELL- REPUTED INSTITUTIONS BOTH WITHIN THE COUNTRY AS WELL AS ABROAD. HOW DO YOU COMPARE BOTH THE EDUCATION SYSTEMS?
DR. IQBAL: I feel that in developed countries imparting education to young children is the 'national obligation' as the whole society seems to embark on educating the new generation. In our case, no one seems to take the responsibility of grooming the children in a true sense. We do not appreciate the fact that imparting education is a collective responsibility of the nation. In this era of globalization, nations can develop only if they take the responsibility of education whole heartedly instead of playing the blame game. So it is utterly immature to make one person/stakeholder responsible for this vital and important task of nation-building. We, as a nation, have forgotten this universal truth and that's why our education system is deteriorating day by day.
PAGE: ARE YOU SATISFIED WITH THE CURRENT LITERACY RATE IN PAKISTAN?
DR. IQBAL: According to the available data, our current literacy rate is about 57 per cent. Although many independent sources do not agree with these figures, whatever the case, the percentage is not satisfactory. Before, we discuss the literacy situation, we need to see what definition of literacy we have adopted. In our system, any person who can read or write his name and make simple calculation is considered literate. Though according to our criterion, we have many 'literates' in Pakistan yet the question arises, do they really qualify for this title, and the answer is emphatically No.
PAGE: THOUGH THE COUNTRIES LIKE SRI LANKA AND BANGLADESH ARE LAGGING BEHIND PAKISTAN IN SCIENTIFIC AND TECHNOLOGICAL ADVANCEMENTS, YET THEIR LITERACY RATES ARE BETTER THAN OURS. WHAT ARE THE POSSIBLE REASONS IN YOUR OBSERVATION?
DR. IQBAL: This is a very pertinent question. I also believe that we should compare our education system with Asian countries instead of quoting examples from European countries. The literacy rate of Sri Lanka is 100 per cent and that of Bangladesh about 60 per cent. The key reason is that their budget allocation for education sector is more than ours. Our national budget never exceeds two per cent of total expenditure while most of the times it was only 1.7 per cent. Now the question arises, that by spending such a meager amount how we can achieve the targets of quality education. When Pakistan came into being, our literacy rate was about 10 per cent. The current literacy rate is 57 per cent. It means that we increased our literacy at the rate of about 0.7 per cent per annum. Keeping in view the population explosion, if we keep on developing with this pace, we will be able to achieve 100 percent literacy rate in next 60-70 years. This means that about 45 per cent of our population will remain illiterate for a further period of at least 50 years.
PAGE: OFTEN, IT IS SAID THAT WE HAVE A DUAL SYSTEM OF EDUCATION. WHAT IS THE REASON THAT HAVE WE FAILED TO INTRODUCE A UNIFORM EDUCATION SYSTEM IN THE LAST 64 YEARS?
DR. IQBAL: There are two main reasons for the failure to develop a uniform system of education. The first one is the absence of a political will and commitment. Secondly, it is not a simple task to bring change. All the stakeholders need to be aware of the gravity of the situation before bringing any substantial change in the existing system.
Let me also explain that we have multiple system of education not dual. For example, there are separate institutions for armed forces like Army, Navy, and Air-force; local bodies; public sector schools; private elite and non-elite institutes; dini madrassahs and public sector autonomous and semi-autonomous institutions. By 'uniform education system', we mean that there must be complete uniformity in the selection of curriculum, textbooks, administration, and examination system. But, unfortunately, with this large number of different subsystems operating within one country, with their own widely divergent curriculum, we are actually having about 15 education systems or even more. I am also a firm advocate of bringing in Dini madrassahs in mainstream education. But, the relevant point that is always ignored in this regard is that this is not the only subsystem which needs to be integrated in mainstream education. What about the other 13-14 other sub-systems? Don't they need to be made part of one uniform system?
PAGE: WHAT IS THE IMPLICATION OF HAVING MULTIPLE SYSTEMS OF EDUCATION?
DR. IQBAL: I sternly believe that it is the right of every Pakistani citizen to have an equal access to the quality education. They need to have equal opportunities in terms of curriculum, infrastructure etc. Disparity in education is resulting in chaos and confusion in the minds of the people. Same is the case with the curricula and the textbooks. I would like to point out one element and the consequence of multiple textbook policy adopted by the Musharraf government. One of the school systems in the country is teaching a distorted account of Islamic history to the students of Year 6. According to the textbook adopted by that school system, the famous Al-Aqsa mosque is built on the Jewish Temple, a Zionist concept, which cannot be proved in the light of scientific research. That's why I called it a difficult and complex issue, which should be taken up seriously.
PAGE: THE GOVERNMENT HAS DECIDED TO USE ENGLISH AS THE MEDIUM OF INSTRUCTION IN EARLY YEARS OF EDUCATION. DO YOU THINK IT CAN BE IMPLEMENTED?
DR. IQBAL: We cannot ignore the status of English as the lingua franca. It is the language of technology and scientific development. But, it does not imply that we should use a foreign language as the medium of instruction. The evidence from recent research has shown that if the education is imparted in mother tongue during early years of schooling, the learners will do well in their academic subjects. As far as English is concerned, I would like to favor a strong element of functional English in early years of schooling instead of making it the medium of instruction so that our children will be able to use it effectively and conveniently for their higher education. At present, teachers do not have the required competence and proficiency to teach science and mathematics in English. Moreover, use of English is a medium of instruction requires a story input by parents, which is not possible keeping in view the library status of most of the population. If English is used as a medium of instruction, it will lead to further marginalization of the poor children.
PAGE: GOVERNMENT OF PUNJAB HAS ESTABLISHED DANISH SCHOOL SYSTEM. WILL IT IMPROVE THE SITUATION?
DR. IQBAL: Danish school system is a good initiative and part of the government to provide quality education to children of less developed areas. But, these schools are very few considering the 60,000 schools in Punjab. Keeping in view the consequences of low quality of education and magnitude of the problem, what we need is an excellent system of school education; some excellent schools are not the system. If the system as whole is not up to the mark, we will not achieve the desired objectives.