Learning at crossroads!

Shabana Mahfooz

At this moment, the status of education sector in Pakistan is at the crossroads. State owned schools, on the whole, still lack the quality and standard which they are expected to provide. They are constitutionally ordained to give free education to the children of the country as their birth right. But the truth is that over 20 million children of school going age in Pakistan are still out of school. This number would have been even bigger had it not been for the contribution of the private sector.
But emerging as a giant after the shortcomings and failure of the State-run system, the private sector has started to act as a monopoly. After years and decades of charging heavy tuition fees and self-structured rules and regulations in exchange for somewhat decent infrastructure, trained staff and imported curriculums, the private sector is now coming under fire for its sins it may have committed earlier. But the treatment meted out to it is sadly, an outburst rather than engagement aimed at improvement, with many prompted to declare the restrictions introduced as unconstitutional and an effort towards de facto nationalisation.

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Trying to reform the education sector in a high-handed manner is not a solution to the problem. Increased budget allocation and in turn higher spending on education sector, for improving infrastructure and human resources in public schools is a dire need. The teachers need to be trained adequately and before that, skilled appropriately. Private schools, on the other hand, do require monitoring but cannot be ‘manhandled’ simply due to the fact that they belong to private enterprise. A winning combination of improved public schools and quality conscious private schools could shift the wayward future of education in Pakistan towards progress. Many non-governmental organisations are active in the field and could contribute to both sectors.
There is also a great need to introduce some uniformity. All the schools in Pakistan, those on the nook of a street and others under a shady tree in a rural area cannot offer the same curriculum or same facilities, agreed. But at least can we come undo the clear division we have made that public schools are Urdu medium and private schools are English medium. Those educated in state schools take pains to hide their shame of poor linguistic skills in English and the ones educated in upmarket private schools, take much pride in the fact that they can hardly speak or read a full sentence in Urdu without assistance. We still have a clear contradiction living amongst us in the form of our older generations, taught through Urdu medium until middle school and yet being able to converse, write and read immaculately in both languages.
The generation before us, especially at the time of creation of Pakistan, was mostly educated at state-run schools. At a time when it would have been taken for granted that the quality of such schools may suffer due to teething problems, the generation grew up to be highly educated and qualified scholars, scientists, statesmen, journalists, artists and politicians. The generation after, influenced slowly by a growing role of private sector, did reasonably well too. If issues in the education sector persist the way they are even after seven decades of independence, what future generation can we expect and what role do we foresee them playing?

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