EDUCATION'S SYSTEMIC MESS

SHAMSUL GHANI
(feedback@pgeconomist.com)
Oct 31 - Nov 6, 20
11

Alan Greenspan's concern about the falling US elementary and secondary education systems and Clyde Pestrowitz's 4-point diagnosis on US education ills - shorter duration of the student year, non-payment to teachers in line with the salaries of accountants and lawyers, lack of meaningful national curricula, and falling classroom discipline - are surprisingly relevant to our case.

Greenspan has shown skepticism about US students' mathematical skills. On the contrary, Pakistani students have excelled in this discipline, both on domestic and international levels. So, on competition front, we cannot demand more from our students. It is the systemic front where our education and students suffer most.

ENROLMENT & TEACHERS' STATISTICS IN '000

Education Level Enrolment Teachers Students Per teacher
2008-09 2009-10 2010-11 2008-09 2009-10 2010-11
Pre-Primary 8435 8743 8925 - - - -
Primary 18468 18756 19022 465.3 466.5 470.0 40.5
Secondary (Middle+High) 7970 8083 8183 759.8 777.6 792.8 10.1
Higher Sec / Inter 1074 1165 1257 76.2 77.1 79.2 15.9
Degree Colleges 429 542 620 21.2 30.8 35.7 17.4
Universities 804 936 1105 52.8 57.8 63.5 17.4
Total 37180 38226 39111 1375.3 1409.8 1441.2 27.1
(Source Pakistan Economic Survey 2010-11; 2009-10; figures are provisional; 2010-11 figures are estimated; last-column figures are absolute numbers based on 2010-11 statistics)

The high dropout ratio at primary-to-secondary level and a high students-to-teacher ratio at primary level are the major weak links in our primary/secondary education system. The sudden drop in enrolment at secondary level clearly suggests that more than 55 per cent of those getting primary education give up the pursuit of studies. These 55 per cent dropouts are also counted as literate persons (unfortunately a good number of them either becomes the raw material for terrorist organizations or transforms into unskilled, cheap labor).

The point is that unless proper weight is assigned to the different levels of education the individuals have attained, even a low literacy rate of 57.7 percent can not be taken as real literacy rate, which according to the ex-HEC chairman, is not more than 25 percent - even less than the most illiterate nation of the world Burkina Faso.

The issues of meaningful curricula and a student-year shortened by long vacations and unlisted holidays have a direct linkage with our governance system.

Consistent policy measures and a will to move forward on educational front are needed to tackle these issues. Political systems, revolving around the size of the vote bank and predominantly guided by the intellectually subnormal feudal, can not be expected to take up these issues. Poor teacher-remuneration-structure and lack of classroom discipline are the two issues that can be tackled with active societal participation. The falling standards of male education are the byproducts of a number of factors, the most serious being the lack of discipline among the male students. If you happen to be a secondary school teacher, you must be knowing what it takes to stand your ground in a secondary school boys' class, leave alone the question of seriously teaching them.

Most of the times, you feel that if some teaching has to be done, it has to be on the terms of those occupying desks in front of you. To be active, inquisitive, and a bit naughty is one thing but to be rowdy is entirely a different and serious proposition. There are normally four to five boys in a class of 30 (or even more) who seriously want to listen to the teacher and carry out things according to his or her instructions.

What are the factors that have transformed the once docile, attentive, teacher-fearing, focused students into the present time's non-serious, playful, irresponsible lot. Their gender possibly throws some light on this change.

Today, boys have two distinctive sets of activities - outdoor and indoor. The time they spend indoor is mostly occupied by such functions as net and mobile chatting, sports watching, video gaming, internet social networking etc. Girls, on the other hand, by virtue of their vital role in the traditional household system, get comparatively less time for studies. But, whatever time they get, they use it optimally.

Undue exposure to our infant yet violent media makes boys a bit headstrong and intractable. Home environment also plays an important role. Those parents who are struggling to make the ends meet tend to be more concerned about the progress of their children. It is more likely that the children of such parents would excel in the field of studies if they (parents) are able to create a congenial home-environment. The over-populated homes of low-income groups are the breeding grounds for stress, fraction, and acrimony. Such home environment is dangerous for a male student. High-income groups have a tendency to unduly pamper their children besides letting them have their way without any check and balance.

Such students, particularly the male lot, become self centered and arrogant. They seldom submit to the authority of their stingily paid teachers.

Commercialism is yet another factor. Mature and developed nations seldom allow commercialism set in two professions - medical and education. In Pakistan, in the absence of a fair teacher remuneration system, usually insufficiently qualified teachers are engaged for a meager remuneration. Since such teachers have to keep their job, they find it extremely difficult to root out the element of rowdiness from the cabals of students. They just spend the allotted time in the classroom and are often found struggling to complete the prescribed curriculum on time.

To correct the situation, parents will have to be more participative to create a viable parent-teacher partnership system. While no use of physical violence against the rowdy students can be recommended, the educators will do well to at least design some disciplinary code for meticulous observance. The disciplinary code should be designed in such a way that the students and their parents get sufficient time to straighten out things. A school strictly following such disciplinary code, may have to expel 25 to 50 students each year. But, once that school gets recognition as a discipline-oriented school, parents will beeline to get their wards admitted to that school.

To make this system successful, the educators/owners will have to set the level of their commercial greed a few notches down. They will have to hire really competent teachers who are humane by nature and who love their profession in real sense. When fairly compensated, the ultimate aim of such teachers would no doubt be personality development.