Published On: Mon, Mar 23rd, 2015

E for education, R for reform

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By Syed Rashid Munir

“The mind is not a vessel to be filled, but a fire to be kindled,” observedPlutarch, the Greek historian and biographer. True to this spirit of learning, the Greeks laid the foundation of the modern academy, a place where the passions of enquiry could be evoked in yearning minds. To this day, the basic design and purpose of a school, where teachers provide instruction to students and prepare them for their future lives, remains essentially the same. It is no secret that education can provide a pathway for success in individual and collective life, and it is because of this reason that so much emphasis is put on educating the young minds of today, for they will become the leaders of tomorrow.

However, in Pakistan, this idea has been muddled beyond recognition for the majority of the population. For some, education holds no intrinsic value on its own and they end up just going through the motions of it all to get a ‘job-worthy’ degree. For others, the practical utility of going to school is undermined in some cases by the monetary benefits that could be accrued from other professions, as is the case with child labour. Apart from serving as an assembly line for churning out ‘employable’ students, the system of education and learning in Pakistan is not known for producing inquisitive minds that can spark the imaginations of entire generations. There are multiple reasons for this failure and the following lines will highlight a few, major hurdles that stand in the way of education reform in the country.

At the very outset, reliable data regarding literacy, enrollment, and student capabilities is very hard to come by. Even when the data is available, it is difficult to compare syllabi among localities, cities, regions or provinces because of the highly fragmented nature of the Pakistani education system. In our country, students can opt for a public school, a private one or attend a religious seminary (madrassa), where each category comes with its own set of pros and cons. Yes, the private sector schools have a good track record of producing academically sound alumni but not everyone can afford the high tuition fee. Instead, some opt to study in state-sponsored schools, where education is given free-of-cost all the way up to the primary (grade five), secondary (grade eight), or higher-secondary (grade 10/matric) levels, depending on your province of domicile.

In public schools, however, disinterested teachers with dismal salaries, combined with a lack of regulatory frameworks for ensuring the quality of education, translates into poor capabilities of public school students. The last recourse available for aspiring younglings is the seminary, where not only is the education relatively cheap – or in most cases free – but so are the dining and lodging facilities. Seminaries face no trouble in raising funding for financing their education wings, since they appeal to the religio-charitable susceptibilities of their donors. However, because of their insistence on suppressing dissenting minds and their propagation of millenarian ideologies, contemporary Pakistan is yet to see genuine research coming out of such places.–Agencies

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