Education: a case of negligence and lack of will

Ali Moeen Nawazish

Following the political rallies and speeches of political leaders over the past few weeks one is forced to again come to the unpleasant conclusion that no one really cares about education.

There seems to be no policy roadmap about how to educate our country’s masses. There seems to be no commitment to finding a long-term solution to our education needs. One is forced to come to the conclusion that education is not a priority. One is forced to realise that for the youth of this country the outlook looks bleak.

One can hammer in these statistics as much as possible but doesn’t make much difference. We are only sending three to four percent of our children to higher education, and our high school enrolment rate stands at under 25%. Yet, what is even more striking as always is that there never seems to be much difference among the majority educated and uneducated.

I want to focus on the quality of the education that is being provided to our children at the secondary and intermediate level. Article 25A of the constitution of Pakistan states that, “The state shall provide free and compulsory education to all children of the age of five to sixteen years in such manner as may be determined by law.”

Unfortunately most of our lawmakers and political leaders don’t care about this issue. They don’t have a vested interest in it. I remember two years ago in the program Jirga with Saleem Safi the panel of 8 consisted of the “education experts” and movers and shakers of education policy in Pakistan.

The question was posed to them that how many of your children or relatives have ever done Matric or FSc./FA or studied in a government school. All but one said that their children and relatives had done O Levels and A Levels. This disconnect leads to lack of intent to address this fundamental issue.

Three fundamental changes are needed in our public sector education system: books, exams, and teachers. Other issues such as big buildings, or grounds etc are issues that I won’t deny, but they are the icing on the cake and not the cake itself.

The examination system is absolutely abysmal. What kind of exams actually ask the same questions as those given in the book? The exams that we administer to most of our children. The examinations have become mere tests of memory and not tests of concepts and understanding.

Furthermore, it is not just that exams are different for different boards in the country, but they are also marked in the most unprofessional of ways. The conduct of exams is also one, which promotes cheating and encourages unfair ways of gaining advantage.

A teacher was telling me that the marks their students receive on the practical exams depend on how well they treat and feed the examiners. What is needed is one examination board or maybe two organised at the federal level. An exam board, which is recognised internationally and nationally.

It is always sad when on international university websites you can see that FA/FSc. students are deemed to not have me the basic criteria to pursue undergraduate studies abroad.

One exam board will mean that all children throughout the country will be studying one curriculum, and no one will be unfairly advantaged by giving papers from one board not the other.

It will also ensure exam quality, and the focus of this board needs to be testing understanding not rote learning. The board should be run by a professional organisation such as the HEC, which can enlist it’s own examiners and ensure professionalism in exam conduct.

I would appreciate steps the Aga Khan board has taken in this regard, but unfortunately it hasn’t been adopted widely. The government needs to endorse this federal exam board and make it compulsory throughout the educational institutes of Pakistan.

The quality of books available from different boards in the country is disappointing. The simplest of mistakes haven’t been fixed in years of revisions and the emphasis on rote learning remains obvious. Having one curriculum, which will be set by the suggested exam board, will mean that quality books can be produced cheaply.

First of all there will be no need to produce many books for the same subject just because they are to be used in different provinces. This will bring down costs and the money can be spent in producing better quality books.

In fact to be honest in this day and age one doesn’t even need to produce new books when so many quality books are available in the market.

One books or group of suggested books by the board will ensure that substandard or below par books are not being used. This will also help bring an end to the “key books” market, which thrives, on the examination systems test of questions in the book.

Thirdly, when the exams begin focusing on understanding rather than rote learning, teachers will be forced to change their teaching paradigm. The examination board must also be responsible for setting up teacher training workshops around the country to increase teaching quality levels.

Examiners from Cambridge international exams hold teaching workshops around the world, including Pakistan, to help improve teaching standards.

Why can’t we do the same in our own country? Until or unless the teaching paradigm in Pakistan changes from rote learning and by the book to creative thinking and understanding, we will only be producing “clerks” as the rhetoric goes not future leaders, innovators and thinkers.

These three things initially must change if we are to see progress not only in education but in the country as a whole. But, sadly all of this comes down to the political will of our lawmakers and political leaders. Perhaps, their should be a law passed which states that our lawmakers and political leaders can only educate their children in public sector institutions, perhaps only then we will see the political will we need to revamp the education system in Pakistan.

As Malala Yousafzai once put it in the program Capital Talk: “My school in Swat would never have closed down if President Zardari’s own daughter went there.” Unfortunately Malala that isn’t the case, and right now it seems like it won’t be for a long time.

The writer is youth ambassador of Geo and Jang Group.


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