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Stakeholders urged to work together for better education

October 12, 2013

KARACHI, Oct 11: “Every child is born with potential but society helps him realise that potential and helps him become an active citizen. That’s how peaceful cohesive societies are developed,” said Karamat Ali, the executive director of the Pakistan Institute of Labour Education and Research (Piler).

He was speaking at a consultation on ‘Education: The Road to Universal Access’ held at the launch of a discussion paper ‘The Cost of Universal Enrolment: A Case Study of Primary and Secondary Education in Sindh’ by Dr Pervez Tahir and Wasim Saleem on Friday.

“In our society, our old values are stifling humans instead of evolving them. It is not letting them move towards betterment. But freedom isn’t when others decide for you,” said Mr Ali.

Dr Tahir, former chief economist of the planning commission of Pakistan and one of the authors of the paper, gave a presentation of his research work while showing the percentage distribution of population age groups, the number of enrolled students at various levels, share of public and private sectors in total enrolment, the budgetary expenditure on primary and secondary education, the cost of sending all children to school, predictions for achieving 100 per cent enrolment by 2017-18, etc. His findings gave way to a bigger discussion.

Director of programmes for the Idara-i-Taleem-o-Agahi and public policy specialist, who has been a former technical adviser to the Ministry of Education, Dr Baela Raza Jamil spoke of the issues of governance in education. “How are the rules being made in the assembly without knowing what the people really need and what will work for them?” she questioned.

“Why publish a school textbook in eight days without planning it with teachers, parents and writers?” she wondered. “There are so many educational institutions but no functionality as that requires institutional coherence?”

“The public sector is choked and all private schools aren’t big enough to absorb the kids coming out of public schools. With just a few private schools in the rural areas where do the kids looking for a better education option go?” she wondered.

“When the EDOs [executive district officers] are not moving around or consulting each other, then who will go around talking to the parents and children about the problems? The government should enable the society to understand its problems and then work with it in order to solve those problems,” she concluded.

Senior journalist Zubeida Mustafa said that in order to do anything worthwhile in education, the stakeholders need to come together. “But even though all want the same thing, they just can’t work side by side. Those who know something won’t discuss it with the other party and spring in on them as a surprise later. So maybe we should call it ‘Ignorance for All’ instead of ‘Education for All’,” she observed.

“Then we get so engrossed in the statistics that we forget to carry out the real work. Just opening schools without teachers is of no use. Don’t make them jails where children are sent forcibly. Try and find out why so many drop out of schools. I have heard children who have dropped out of their schools saying that they left school because there were no teachers there to teach them. Why are there ghost schools and why are there visa teachers?” she asked.

“I saw a school in Orangi that was just a hut really and surrounded by dirty water. When I asked the way to get to the school, I was asked why I wanted to go there as no one studied or taught there. At another school, I found one maulana who said he ran the school but I didn’t find any pupils. Lying that the children had gone home, he proceeded to ask me for a donation for his school. With such things going on all around, what’s the use of spending on education when we don’t check where the funds are going,” Mrs Mustafa said.

“When this country did nothing for education in the past 65 years, how can it suddenly wake up and fix the shortcomings of so many years in just 10 to 15 years? Then what are we doing by offering free education here for 12 years? Free and compulsory education in Finland, China and even India is for fewer years. The main intention should be for teaching the child to read and write good enough to read the newspaper and write letters and do arithmetic. At least that way he would be able to gather different opinions and know how to think critically himself and be able to differentiate between good and bad and that can be achieved in even seven years of schooling,” she added.

“We want our children to pass exams only to get a certificate or degree that will then lead the way to a good job. How they get the degree is of no significance. It doesn’t even matter if they cheated their way through school and college. This is why our degrees are looked down on abroad. Many others only study here with the intention of leaving the country later and contribute towards the brain drain,” she said.

“What’s the use of an education that doesn’t change your way of thinking and give you good values?” she questioned.