Education in Pakistan: Causes of Failed State and Future Road Map

Education has been accorded great importance in every religion and society. Islam also attached utmost importance to it.

1.    Introduction
2.    Importance of Education
3.    Present state of Education: Dismal

a)    Literacy
b)    Equity
c)    Quality
d)    Access
e)    Relevance
f)    Environment
4.    Technical Education
5.    Higher Education
6.    Causes of Failure
a)    Historical and societal
b)    Governance-related Factors
7.    Impacts on society and development
8.    Recommendations for improvement
9.    Conclusion

Education in Pakistan is in a dire state when seen in terms of vitality for socioeconomic development. Education is aimed at to develop human capabilities through knowledge, skills and creative strength that, in turn, enhance the socioeconomic growth. But ironically, in the present-day Pakistan, even the importance of education has not been recognized. Given the multifarious importance and diverse role of education in building a stable society, it becomes imperative that in Pakistan, the provision of education is ensured urgently and its uplift is sought through prudent policies with a pragmatic approach.

Education has been accorded great importance in every religion and society. Islam also attached utmost importance to it. Muslims ushered an era of glory only with education but when they renounced it, they fell into the depths of despondency and dejection. The West, today, dominates the world only because it realized education’s vitality to development. Article 26 of the UN’s ‘Universal Declaration of Human Rights’ reads: ‘Everyone has the right to education’. It is the second objective in UN’s Millennium Development Goals (UNMDGs) which requires education for all (EFA) by year 2015. The World Bank also underscores ‘the positive outcomes of education’ as ‘reduction in poverty and inequality, improvement in health status and implementation of socioeconomic policies.’

However, the state of education in Pakistan is far from satisfactory. The statistics of education present dismal picture in all the six important indicators that include literacy, access, equality, quality, relevance and environment.

Here is a brief view of the above-mentioned indicators:

The literacy rate for age 10 years and above in Pakistan, according to World Bank, is 55 per cent (67% for males and 42% females). This is the lowest rate in the developing nations in Asia. Sri Lanka has 90.7%; Indonesia has 90.4% while literacy rate in Vietnam, Iran and India reach 90.4%, 82.4% and 61% respectively. In contrast, in developed countries, it is almost 100%.

The second indicator means that access to education is a crucial factor in enhancing literacy. It’s obligatory on state to provide all the citizens with equal opportunities to improve their living standards. For education, it means ‘access to quality education for all, irrespective of family income, gender, religion and ethnicity, etc. Pakistan’s main problems are the paucity of funds and gender discrimination. Moreover, most villages are without schools and students of many villages share one school. In addition, the parents don’t allow girls to study in coeducation system. Girls’ schools, particularly at secondary level, are not in sufficient number.

The inequality in education system is a serious concern as well. It has many forms including gender-disparity, rural-urban divide and class structure. As regards gender-disparity, the literacy rate shows a gap of 25% between male and female. ‘A gap of more than 10 per cent is internationally considered a serious concern’, writes

Dr Shahid Siddique, the author of ‘Rethinking Education in Pakistan.

Rural-urban divide, another serious concern, is caused mainly due to economic disparity and condition of schools. People living in rural areas are relatively poor and standard of education in those areas is also unsatisfactory. ‘They assume that opportunity cost of sending children to school is greater than the benefit education is likely to bring’, says Dr Shahid Javed Burki.

In addition, public and private sector divide is also there. Most people cannot seek education in private institutions due to high fees and other expenses. These institutions have their own curriculum and examination system. This further widens the class divide in society; the rich become highly-educated while the poor remain poorly educated. To bridge this gap, there is neither policy to ensure a uniform system nor regulations to check the fee structure of private schools.

As regards the third indicator i.e. quality of education, it has been least emphasized in Pakistan. It’s basically determined by curriculum, textbooks, teachers’ skills and assessment system that are far below the international standards. These system flaws undermine the competence level of the students. This factor, in fact, helps students gain a foothold in market. But an average Pakistani student is unable to compete in the job market even of the national level, let alone the international competition. How ironic is that not a single Pakistani university is among the World’s top universities.

Fifth; the relevance is as much important as quality. What is taught in institutions must be relevant to what is in demand  in the outside world. Currently, there is a disconnection between education and employment sector as there is no system of consultation between academia and economic managers. Resultantly, the unemployment among the educated people surges.

Sixth indicator i.e. environment is also a crucial factor in improving access to education. A wide disparity is there in the environment in schools in rural and urban areas. Approximately, 12737 schools have been reported as non-functional (Ghost Schools).

The above indicators present a grim picture at every tier from schools to technical and higher education. To improve the technical education, there is no vocational awareness at middle and secondary levels. At present, there are 1140 government and 382 in private vocational institutions in the country.  The output quality is poor owing to the unqualified and untrained faculty and absence of collaboration with industry.

In the sphere of higher education, unfortunately, only 3.7 per cent of Pakistani youth of 18-23 age group is enrolled. This is very low as compared to other developing countries as Malaysia has 12% while India has 7%. Although due to scholarship programmes, the situation has improved, still there is paucity of trained faculty and laboratories. Only 25% of university teachers are PhDs and only 20 per cent of them are active researchers. Government is ought to give special treatment to this sector but ironically, it not only curtailed the funding of HEC but also attempted to disband it. It may cause the positive enrolment trend to revert and that would be a lethal blow to human resource development as it is crucial to translate the dream of knowledge economy into reality.

Such neglect of education sector in Pakistan is the result of many factors ranging from historical and societal to governance-related issues. In past, the education system which the British introduced in the Subcontinent didn’t go well among the religious leaders. Hence, the Muslims eschewed the education. On the other hand, the Madaris were confined to religious education. Women were not allowed to seek education in public institutions hence a big portion of population remained illiterate.

Another big reason behind this fiasco is the feudalism. Feudal lords influence the policymaking due to their political contingencies. They denounce education to ensure cheap labour in their fields and to maintain their political base.

Poverty is another factor which prevents majority of rural population from educating children. More than 30% of Pakistan’s population is living below the poverty line. Pakistan’s is an agro-based economy and its 65% population lives in rural areas. Most people cannot afford the cost of educating their children, that’s why they take their children to work with them in fields at an early age just to increase the family income.

These impediments could have been removed had there been realization, vision, planning and seriousness among our leaders. Unfortunately, there has always been lack of commitment to education development on part of those at the helm of affairs. This is evident from the paltry resource allocations in the annual budgets. The funding to education in Pakistan has always been below or around 2.5% of GDP that is extremely low.

It is further perplexing that even this meagre amount is not spent fully for development of education sector. About 10 to 30 per cent of education budget remains unutilized. Then there is embezzlement of funds as well because corruption is rampant in the education department. This grave situation is the outcome of two main factor i.e. no accountability system and undue political interference.

All the areas of education ‘primary, secondary, technical and higher education’ reflect neglect of education sector. Though there have been policies formulated and goals set, but when it comes to their implementation, there is a lack of commitment. So, the education system has failed which has resulted in deteriorated social conditions and a vulnerable economy.

This dismal state of education has placed Pakistan at 134th place among 177 countries of the world as education is a major indicator in human development index. It also exhibits that the education has a serious impact on the image of a country in the globalized comity of nations.

It’s a universal fact that the education develops ‘thinking of man’ but in our society its failure has led to the widespread discontent and chaos. World has genuine concerns that poorly-educated people pose serious threat not only to Pakistan but also to world security. Former VP of the World Bank and a renowned economist Shahid Javed Barki writes:

‘The education system of Pakistan is deteriorated to the point where it now threatens economic, political and so cial stability not only within the country but also poses a real danger for the world at large.’
Keeping in view the multifaceted role, education has to be the top priority. Our education system requires an overhaul and in addition to additional resources, there is an urgent need to redesign educational system for promoting productivity in socioeconomic sector. Following are some recommendations that provide a pragmatic roadmap to reform the education sector in Pakistan.

1.    Primary education must be made compulsory. The textbooks and uniforms should be provided free of cost to the indigent children and rewards may be offered to them on passing examinations. Usher, Zakat and Benazir Income Support Programme (BISP) should also be linked with enrolment of child in school.

2.    Technical education should be encouraged. Introductory technical subjects should be taught at the middle level to enhance awareness and encourage interest of students. The network of polytechnic colleges should be expanded to cover the remote areas as well.

3.    The 19th century was of steam and coal, 20th was of electricity and the 21st is of information technology (IT). Therefore, due importance should be given to IT. Computers with trainers should be made available in secondary schools.

4.    Government must develop a uniform curriculum to eliminate the multi-tier system of education that furthers the class divide. It should enable the child to compete at national and international levels. The curriculum of private schools may be adopted with little modifications. It would be convenient as the private schools will be less resistant to such change.

5.    Education must be relevant and responsive to national environment, culture, society and economy. The social and religious values must be embedded in the children to make them good citizens. The education should conform not only to the local industry but also to international market.

6.    Higher education deserves serious attention in this regard. Steps should be taken to attract youth to higher education. The investment in this sector should be increased to meet the demands of universities. An effective reform of the higher education system in Pakistan requires a down to up approach; without the improvement of colleges, it is out of question to improve the quality of university graduates.

7.    A uniform and sound system of national testing should be promoted. The National Education Assessment System (NEAS) should be entrusted with more such tasks. A federal council to ensure uniformity in all the universities’ examinations can be another prudent step.

8.    The importance of teachers in education need not be overemphasized. The remuneration and incentives for teachers should be increased to attract the intellectual and competent persons. In-service teachers should be required to qualify some exams to go into the next pay scale.

9.    A qualified and motivated teacher also needs training and grooming. Therefore, the capacity of training institutes should be enhanced with expert trainers. A well thought-out syllabus and policy should be formulated containing modern teaching techniques.

10.    Importance of private sector cannot be undermined as it has saved Pakistan’s education system from complete collapse. It’s difficult for government to uplift the education sector single-handedly, so the private sector should be encouraged to invest more. The establishment of private education foundations on non-profit basis may be a good option. The private schools should be made to give admissions to poor students.

By: Irshad Ali Sodhar


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