The Education Dilemma of Pakistan
Education is the road to national development. Being a dynamic force, a viable education system enables a nation to achieve its national goals. Since its inception, Pakistan, being a developing country, has been facing critical problems in its education sector. Perhaps, this is the reason why the system of education has failed to meet the aspirations of the nation. This sorry state of affairs has sprung out from motley factors. In the instant write-up, a humble attempt has been made to explore some of the critical problems that have so far plagued the education system of Pakistan.
Article 25-A of the Constitution of Pakistan obligates that all five- to 16-year-olds should have free access to education. This constitutional provision, introduced as a part of the 18th Constitutional Amendment in 2010, makes 10 years’ education a basic right of a citizen. This essentially means the government must make sure that every child in this Land of the Pure gets a minimum 10 years’ education. Unfortunately, despite the passage of ten years since the amendment, no government has made sincere efforts in its implementation. And governments, especially the provincial ones — as education is now a provincial subject after the 18th Amendment—are yet to bring it on the radar. The negligence on the part of the governments can be gauged from the fact that Pakistan has the second highest out-of-school children population in the world.
Pakistan has about 52 million children aged between 5 and 16 years. Of this, 22.8 million (or 44%), are out of school. According to the Economic Survey of Pakistan 2018-19, literacy rate in the country is 60%, a 2% jump from the previous year’s figure, thankfully. However, with the exception of Afghanistan, Pakistan has, regretfully, the lowest education outcome in the region. Comparatively, Iran has literacy rate of 86%, India 77%, Bangladesh 73%, Sri Lanka 92%, and Maldives 99%. Though Pakistan has enrolment rate of an encouragingly 92% at primary level, due to high dropout and low retention rate, this figure steadily decreases as we move upward to the secondary and tertiary level. Moreover, disparity in literacy rates of different strata of the society has further aggravated the situation: for instance, gender disparity (male 72%, female 51%), urban-rural disparity (urban 76%, rural 53%), and inter-provincial disparity (Punjab 64%, Sindh 57%, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa 55%, and Balochistan 40%).
Regrettably, Pakistan, as the aforementioned statistics show, is one of the countries having poor educational system. Motley factors spring out in this sorry state of affairs. However, neither of them has been attended by any government, as provision of basic education to its populace is the fundamental duty of the state.
To begin with, no proper planning and policymaking tops the priority list. Weak governance, poor administration and lack of policy-implementation—if there is any—have abysmally perturbed the education sector. Also, there has been a sheer lack of political will on the part of successive regimes to implement policies vigorously. Moreover, in overall policy-formulation, teachers, who indubitably are the backbone of education system, have been ignored. They are regarded as unimportant element which has led to the alienation between teachers and the education system.
Meagre budgetary allocation is another contributing factor to the abysmally low performance of our education system—Pakistan spends around 2% of its GDP on education. Although successive governments have pledged to increase this amount to at least 4%, a target which was first set in 1992, yet no progress has been made in this regard. In fact, Pakistan, since 1971, has been spending, on average, 2.34% of its GDP on education—the global average for the corresponding period is 4.4%, which is at far north of ours. True, Pakistan has the lowest spending on education in the region.
To top it all off, approximately 89% of the allotted amount is spent on administrative expenses, e.g. teachers’ salaries. The remaining 11% goes to developmental expenditure. Apart from this, because of corruption, lack of accountability and wastage of resources spent on education, only 20-30% of the budget is efficiently utilized. In the expenditure on education, bulk of the investment is channelled to a few well-maintained higher education institutions, thus high-income groups are benefitted at the expense of primary and secondary education institutions, which are the most important and crucial tiers of education. Usually, 20-25% of the budget remains unspent; this figure, however, varies from province to province.
Teachers have their own share of blame in this dilemma although they make the backbone of our education system. However, inadequate number of trained teachers and their absenteeism has bottlenecked any promising change in our education. According to a UNESCO report, the quality of teachers is low in Pakistan. Usually, schools, especially those in public sector, do not have the approved strength of teaching staff and the posts remain vacant for a long time. Nepotism has further exacerbated the situation. Due to this malpractice, such teachers enter into this profession who even cannot produce a single page of creative writing. They, especially those in primary schools, even cannot read lessons in English, the language of instruction, fluently. To compensate their lack of professional knowledge, they usually adopt suppressive and authoritarian attitude towards their students, but it is detrimental to the innate abilities of students, and they are made to suffer from an inferiority complex throughout their lives. Moreover, despite the passage of many laws against, corporal punishment is still rife in educational institutes, which is a leading cause of high dropout rate, especially at primary level.
Exceptions apart, there is a great paucity of teachers who can motivate their students and inculcate in them analytical and creative thinking. Likewise, the educational curricula also do not encourage objectivity and critical thinking; they promote only rote learning and memorization of facts and figures. It awards cramming more than innovative learning. Besides this, distorted version, especially of history books, is taught to students, which ingrains them with narrow-mindedness and prejudice against others. Our textbooks emphasize theoretical work rather than practical work. In short, the educational curricula, being old and traditional, do not meet the demands of current, challenging times.
On innovation front, Pakistan lags far behind other countries of the world. Being less innovative in nature, our education system produces unskilled workforce for a decent job. Practical implementation of theoretical work is not taught to students. As a result, unskilled and less innovative workforce floods the job market every year. Such workforce, instead of being a bonanza for our national economy, proves a burden on it. This is one of the reasons why the education system does not contribute sufficiently to the national economy. This sad picture has been depicted in the country’s recent ranking of 107th in Global Innovation Index 2020.
Remedially, the education system needs a holistic approach for its overhaul from top to bottom. Proper tangible policy planning and implementation thereof in letter and spirit is the need of the hour.
To uplift the education system, the government should declare an Education Emergency. Budget should be increased to the minimum benchmark of 4% of the GDP and must be utilized efficiently. Curriculum should be made innovative and it should also be evaluated on a regular basis. And most importantly, the state must begin to see education as a right, not a favour, its people are entitled to. Change, indeed, won’t come overnight. It is, surely, a gradual process and will take time.
Tailpiece: at present, Pakistan has no uniform education system. The incumbent government is going to introduce Single National Curriculum (SNC). It will be introduced in three phases: from prep to grade V in 2021; from grade VI to VIII in 2022; and from grade IX to XII in 2023. However, this curriculum has generated a national debate. It has not, as critics posit, been formulated in accordance with the development of child’s cognitive skills or to promote intellectual growth and social and economic productivity. It is going to promote further rote learning and prejudice against others. One can only hope for the best.
The author is currently serving as a teacher in KP government. He can be reached at: email@example.com