May 21 - 27, 20

Basic education system in Pakistan is pitiable not only because of having the lowest enrolment rates compared with that in the world's economically underdeveloped countries of Afghanistan and Zimbabwe for example, but also because of its quality as compared to the international standards. Pakistan ranks 121st in primary education and health in the global competitiveness report 2011-12 released by the world economic forum.

Only half of the girls go to primary schools in Pakistan with half of its population of 180 million under 18 year of age. This rate is 60 per cent for boys. Primary school going rate for boys is 66 per cent in Afghanistan, 90 per cent in Zimbabwe, 80 per cent in India, and 100 per cent in Sri Lanka.

There are primarily three types of schooling available for children in the country: public sector, private sector and medersah. There are 157,360 primary and 41,330 middle schools including more than 50,000 private schools in the country, according to Pakistan economic survey 2010-11.

Religious education institutions have been operating in the country for years. It was not before 9/11 that the urge of reforms in the education system was heartily felt. Later, a number of institutions were established with the aim of integrating religious knowledge with the science and technology.

Pakistan's 97 per cent population is Muslim. Since majority of the population is comprised of the followers of Islam, a sizeable portion of them want their kids to learn Islamic basic principles.

Medersah culture has been fostered on the readiness of parents to send their children to religious institutions. In past, these religious institutions only focussed on creating youth/adults master in fiqh but unfit for mainstream economy, or to the least, coming on par in economically beneficial knowledge (conventional worldly lore) the same-aged group would acquire in conventional educational system.

Employability is not the purpose of basic education, which is just a step up in the ladder of personality building and societal development. Economic benefits of education can spring up in later stage of education. But, this stage of the child development is very crucial and in short a prime determinant of his/her success and failure in future: high schooling; at college level; university; and profession.

At some practical state of mind, a Pakistani government decided to transform medersah education system and bring it in equal terms to other prevalent education systems in the country. Iqra, Suffah, and many other religious education institutions have been emerged on the landscape with the claims of providing English medium education within the religious and historical frameworks. These institutes brought about a change in the education history of Pakistan since they really became able in a short span of time to attract children of lower-middle and middle classes.

There are religious education institutions that make kids memorise the Holy Quran by heart in his/her early age. Normally, by six or seven years, a kid memorises the Quran word by word and during the tough learning process, s/he may or may not be taught of compulsory subjects of English, Urdu, etc.

Because of the kid's engagement with the religious taleem, s/he usually goes through the Islamic way of teaching. So far so good, the real problem begins when these Hafizul Quran (those who can recite the verses in the Muslim sacred book without seeing them) are brought back to the mainstream education.

At times, they have to leapfrog two classes in one education year to atone for the missed education. In another sub-education system, they are admitted in the fifth standard directly on the basis of the certificate issued from the religious institution, which gives them exemption of five-year of conventional education.

A father, who himself is a Hafizul Quran, this scribe talked to, said his son was going through a very difficult time in giving concentration to the subjects of two classes in one year after having spent his early years in one such religious education institute.

Spiritual teaching is one of the most essential things in any society to foster tolerance, peace, harmony, and self-moderation. Needless to highlight the needs then of it in a society like ours fraught with religious and sectarian intolerance, aggression, conflicting personalities, revered materialistic values, and pompousness.

It is now on the part of the institutions to look into the role they are basically playing to build a civilised culture. They should ask themselves if, being a proponent of western model, they are inculcating in their kids human values or unconsciously producing lots uninterested to the ground realities around them and insensitive to the plights of the society at large. Or, if others are feared of the westernised culture, so are they up to make some idealised society integrated with the principle of equality and zeal to add to the positive developments instead of reversing it altogether or churning out cults fed on the hatred to the antithetic ideology(ies) with ambiguous and unseen development plan(s) to steer the world.

Now, in our society where proponents/education activists are threatened of forced marriages as retribution to their cause of promotion of female education, reforms unfortunately follow the urgency first and foremost of changing the mindsets and promoting the significance of competitive education not one that makes us isolated in the world. Can it be a possible in a nation where the Telegraph says, "far more is spent on bullets than on books?"

Educationists are of the view that there should a single basic education system in the country or at least in the province, as tit is the constitutional responsibility of the state to provide basic education to all. Beaconhouse and other Cambridge school systems are at far better positions in terms of quality of education because of their faculty, teaching aids, and infrastructure. Increase in fund allocations can also improve the global competitiveness of public sector education.