Speaking during the inauguration ceremony of Islamabad National University at the Prime Minister House on December 21, Imran Khan again stressed the need for empowering the youths of Pakistan with better education. The link between education and knowledge is understandable. No nation can seek the threshold of power unless it excels in education and the pursuit of knowledge.
The PTI government seems to be single-minded in transforming its election manifesto into a reality by focusing on providing good, compulsory and quality education. How can better education and knowledge cause miracles and transform a backward and underdeveloped country to a First World country? The right answer cannot be sought unless there is a political will, determination, hard work, integrity and brilliance on the part of those who possess authority, resources and are in a leadership position. Rhetoric and speeches for political consumption or photo session can never ever change the destiny of a country.
One can figure out three examples spanning over a period of five decades which are sufficient to prove the linkage between education, knowledge and power. First, South Korea which was an impoverished country during the 1950s and 1960s but the policies enacted by those holding power gave priority to free, compulsory and good quality education. Devastated from the Korean war of 1950-53, South Korea took another 25 years to introduce short-and long-term policies focusing on economy, human development and education to the extent that its ministry of education spends $29 billion and 3.4% of its GDP on education.
The second example is Singapore. It was not only the leadership qualities of Lee Kuan Yew which enabled Singapore to emerge as a First World country only in a span of three decades, but it was because of priority given to provide quality education that transformed a Third World country to a First World one. Singapore’s exports a year are more than the GDP of Pakistan!
China is the third success story as far as the triangular of education, knowledge and power is concerned. With a population of more than 1.5 billion people and the world’s second-largest economy, China spends $675.3 billion on education as cited by its Ministry of Education. As a result, China has managed to excel in the quality of education and pursuit of knowledge. There was a time not in the distant past that hundreds and thousands of students from China were sent to the West for seeking higher education and now the same country is becoming a hub of students particularly from the Third World countries, including Pakistan, to go for higher studies.
In all the three examples of focusing on education, quest for knowledge and power have one thing in common: single mindedness of their leadership to invest in their present and future generations so that they do not carry the baggage of illiteracy, ignorance, poverty and social backwardness. In all the three countries, free, quality and compulsory education at the grassroots level created a critical mass which was able to transform their youths from a liability to an asset.
Pakistan can learn several lessons from the successful models of South Korea, Singapore and China provided four major requirements are met. First, it should be the responsibility of the state to provide free, compulsory and quality education to all school-going children of Pakistan. Second, class and social stratification in education need to be eliminated as the state must make sure that education is a national duty and should not be used to make money. Unfortunately, education in Pakistan has emerged as a business in which no ethical and moral considerations are to be seen. Except public schools, all other types of schools must be eliminated because the purpose of education is to impart knowledge and not to judge class and social status as criteria for providing educational opportunities. Third, modern and scientific tools of education with a focus on developing analytical approach and critical thinking should be the priority so as to open the minds of students instead of promoting mediocre or below mediocre stuff. Uniformity of syllabus of subjects taught at the school, college and university level needs to be ensured.
Fourth, upholding of merit and eradication of corruption and nepotism must be ensured by the policymakers in educational institutions so that public money which is spent and invested for the promotion of quality education is not misused. Pakistan’s predicament is that deep-rooted corruption and nepotism derails any effort which is made to open schools and colleges or improve their standards. The three success models of development analysed above had one thing in common: zero tolerance for corruption and nepotism, particularly in the education sector. Imran Khan’s vision for a welfare and Madina-like state cannot be transformed into a reality unless attitude and behaviour of people changes for the better. And it is the mindset which needs to be reformed so as to ensure integrity, sense of responsibility, simplicity and dedication which are missing in the social milieu of Pakistan.
By converting the Prime Minister House into the National University of Islamabad, one cannot expect an educational revolution in Pakistan because such an initiative will not eradicate elitism in the country as the beneficiaries will not be from the lower or lower middle class but from the privileged class. Instead of adding another elite-centric educational institution, it would have been better had the PM announced the elimination of class-based schools in Pakistan from the next academic year and their ownership by the state. Everyone knows the fact that education in Pakistan has been commercialised since long which means the state has given up its responsibility to provide free, compulsory and quality-oriented education to all the nationals of the country.
If those who are controlling the instruments of power come out from their comfort zones and observe the pathetic state of education at the grassroots level in Pakistan, it will be quite clear that a major cause of the country’s underdevelopment and backwardness is its rust-ridden and exploitative school system. Unless, the state takes up the responsibility of eliminating class-based education and commits to provide free, compulsory and quality education, Pakistan would remain at the bottom of human development index and Imran Khan’s education project in ‘New Pakistan’ will be a non-starter.
Published in The Express Tribune, December 28th, 2018.