Education is a process that facilitates the acquisition of skills, beliefs, wisdom and values rather than the mere accretion of degrees like the Pakistani society believes. At the heart of Pakistan’s problems lies the education conundrum. If Pakistan is to emerge as a stable polity, equipped to dive deeper in the twenty-first century and reap dividends from its burgeoning population, it must provide a skilled workforce that can power progress and an environment that is conducive to economic growth. In order to realise that dream, Pakistan must fix its outdated, colonial and ‘slave-producing’ education system. In order to do this, fractures in the present system must be pondered upon.
Anyone who dwells into this ocean of problems is inevitably taken back to the 19th century and Lord McCauley. For here is where the erosion of the Sub-continent’s ancient value oriented, religiously neutral education system happened. The old system placed an explicit focus on the learning of languages especially Persian and Sanskrit (which is written in Devanagari script), while McCauley’s system shifted the emphasis to an English centred education system which hurled the local population into an array of inferiority complexes (This is also where the present colonial mindedness emanated from).
Secondly, the axe of history inescapably falls upon the Lawrence brothers of Punjab. The brothers who were vehemently opposed to each other, decided to rule the local populace via their own local elders. The brothers achieved this by training sardars and nawabs in the ways of the English vis-à-vis chiefs’ colleges such as Aitchison College (which still boasts not only colonial tradition but the outgoing students proudly walk around with an air of superiority).
Economic mobility in Pakistan is mired with wealth, social connections and corruption, and therefore, education is looked towards as the means to make a place in the corporate world and consequently becomes an expectation builder. The problems in the education system can be broadly stratified along three lines i.e. demand-supply gap (which most literature has focused on), lack of quality (which most drawing room discussions focus on) and education-employment gap.
Firstly, the demand supply gap is grounded in the provision of education, which according to the Constitution of Pakistan is the responsibility of the state. Several surveys have revealed that ample distance needs to be covered to get to a school and more so in rural areas. This deters students and especially girls from attending even primary school.
Deconstructing the demand-supply gap reveals that lack of basic facilities in schools such as electricity, sanitation and clean drinking water also hampers the resolve of parents to send their children to school. The population council conducted a research in 2002 and the findings were confirmed by subsequent surveys. It revealed that at least 80pc of young males and 70pc of their female counterparts had a desire to get education. This portrays a failure on the state’s part to deliver on its constitutional promise (Not to mention, it hampers Pakistan’s social contract, if one exists).
Those left out of the education system would at best become sub-optimal ‘cogs’ in Pakistan’s economic structure and their massive numbers stand for an opportunity lost to Pakistan, which is detrimental to a sustainable economic-growth model (which Pakistan obviously hasn’t been able to come up with as of now).
Secondly, Pakistan’s education system has not only failed to deliver quality education and counter radicalism but also has three disconnected systems operating simultaneously. These are the public schools, private schools and religious seminaries. The three types can be easily recognised by three broad markers: ideological, qualitative and socio-economic.
Madrassahs cater to the poorest segment of the society and have the greatest divergence with contemporary economies. The syllabus taught in these seminaries is grounded in religious biases and portrays a narrow-minded worldview. A majority of the public schools and ‘non-elite’ private schools cater to children representing the middle class, and therefore, the majority. These schools follow a syllabus which is strictly regulated by the government and has a particular emphasis on rote learning. The medium of instruction is Urdu and students fail to develop a minimum proficiency in the English language, which unfortunately is a basic prerequisite for most white collar jobs in the country including the Central Superior Services (CSS). The syllabus is an imperfect blend between Islam and nationalism characterised by historical inaccuracies and biases.
Elite private schools apply indirect and stringent economic screening via their fee structures. These schools are without doubt for those that possess opulent amounts of wealth. These schools use English as the medium of instruction and promote critical thinking, objectivity and an adherence to foreign culture. Their curriculum is set by foreign universities such as Cambridge University but a few subjects such as Islamiyat and Pakistan Studies are regulated by the government (Nelson Kelly’s Pakistan Studies book, which has been taught to students since decades were recently banned by the government). The students of these schools generally depict wider world views in comparison to graduates of seminaries and non-elite public schools.
Interestingly, such is the divergence and isolation between the three systems that most students go their entire lives without intellectually engaging along systems. This in turn produces three varied and highly distinct cohorts within the same generation.
Lack of quality and the state’s failure to provide livelihood at the culmination of one’s educational journey has exposed students to become amenable to radical literature, ethnic violence and sectarian terrorism. The failure of quality is evident in the Mashaal Khan case, where university students murdered a fellow student for allegedly committing blasphemy without investigating or asking for the slain student’s side of the story (It was later proved in court that Mashaal had indeed not committed blasphemy). Similarly, those involved in the Safoora Goth carnage were university graduates.
Pakistan’s education sector has also failed to draw on contemporary education techniques and questions by the students are deemed as disrespectful to the teacher. The students are not allowed to intellectually challenge what they are being taught and this limits their ability to not only learn but also to think. This is why even after several years in a job, many people still falter during their basic work routines. Why? They were never taught how to learn.
Perhaps, the paramount structural problem with education in Pakistan is its examination system. The examinations are conducted to ascertain a student’s ability. Contrary to this, examinations in Pakistan attempt to determine a student’s ability to reproduce what they have read in books and sometimes exact paragraphs. Similarly, lengthy answers are expected which contrary to popular social belief do not represent intellect rather the inability of a candidate to vividly and coherently explain phenomena. The examinations do not focus and do not even ask the students to critically analyse situations and events. When it comes to sciences, students are expected to reproduce exact derivations and they are not taught how to apply formulas to given problems. This defeats the purpose of teaching them science in the first place. The students therefore mature into intellectually redundant adults.
Problems that ensure that Pakistan’s education system continues to stay in the 19th century have been discussed. Democracy can only flourish in politically aware and educated societies and the dismal state of the education sector in the country exacerbates the regressive cycle. This cycle ensures that such men and women are allowed to sit in the halls of power that do not wish for the masses to be educated. The ‘what to do’ and ‘how to do’ will be discussed later.