Despite taking some significant constitutional steps and being signatory to several international accords, the condition of education is still inclining towards fragility in Pakistan. According to a report, recently released by a child rights body, Pakistan ranks second with the most out-of-school children in the world. The report reveals that around five million children are out of school and millions drop out from school before completing their school education.

This means that it is not only difficult but near to impossible to fulfil our commitment to the Millennium Development Goal aimed at providing primary education to all children by 2015. It is pertinent to mention here that regional countries such as India and Sri Lanka are very near to achieving the same goal/target.

Most children despite being enrolled are not getting an education due to the pathetic teaching-learning situation in our public schools. In short, the current system of education has as good as failed to educate the growing generation of the country.

But why has our education system reached this point? There can be multiple factors leading to this, however, some of the key reasons are a lack of political will, negative political influence, lack of accountability, a poor examination system and inadequate textbook and teaching-learning materials.

History reveals that education has never been the priority of any of our successive governments in our 66 years of history. Hence the lack of political will and commitment to the cause of education has been the major factor behind the deteriorating education system of Pakistan.

However, during the last elections, the major political parties of the country underlined education as one of the priorities in their manifestos. The media and civil society also played a considerably active role in highlighting the educational issues faced by the country. That enforced the political parties to include education in their party policies. Now it is time for the political parties to fulfil their commitments.

Education, being one of the largest employed public sectors, has been under pressure from many political/influential figures. It has been observed that at times appointments/transfers carried out on the basis of political or other affiliations are through violating merit. This practice has adversely damaged the performance of the education system at the management as well as the school level.

For instance, it is observed that teachers, who have been appointed through influence, are usually not able to teach effectively due to their lack of adequate knowledge and skills. Such teachers generally do not prefer to go to schools due to the patronage of influential personalities. Such practices discourage committed and competent teachers.

Furthermore, the teachers are involved in facilitating the election process in the country. Therefore, at times political parties try to appoint more and more teachers so that they can influence the election process. The practice does not only defame the profession of teaching it also affects the quality of education.

Hence, if the respective governments are serious about improving the condition of education in Pakistan, they need to reduce the negative influence of political parties and individuals in the education sector. An effective recruitment system needs to be established in order to appoint teachers according to merit. The practice of involving teachers in election needs to be reviewed in order to keep them away from negative politics.

Accountability is crucial for the improvement of any system. However, our education system lacks any workable system of accountability. There is no reward/punishment for good/poor performance here.

The last several years has seen monetary benefits increase for teachers. There is no monitoring and evaluation system in place to evaluate their performance in the classroom. Teachers are promoted only on the basis of service length and qualification while their performance is ignored. Hence, a strong monitoring and evaluation system is needed in order to monitor the performance of school teachers — monetary benefits and promotion of teachers need to be linked to their performance.

The current assessment system in schools here leads towards memorising and rote learning. It does not help the students develop the capacity of critical and reflective thinking. The focus on the factual aspects of knowledge and rote learing push the students towards opting for unfair means in examinations. Therefore, the examination system needs to be reviewed and improved on a priority basis.

Furthermore, the textbook and teaching materials do not have the capacity to provide authentic knowledge to students. Most of the material is outdated or out of context. Additionally, sometimes the textbook contains things that promote social/religious segregation and inequalities. Therefore, the textbook needs to be reviewed through different perspectives such as relevance, gender equality, social/religious balance, etc.

The country went through the process of elections for the first time after the 18th Amendment in which the responsibility of education was shifted to the provinces. Now, almost all the major parties have got an opportunity to be part of the government at the federal or provincial level. It is time for successive political parties to fulfil their commitment to enhancing the cause of education according to their mementos.

A traditional effort will not be sufficient to respond to the gigantic challenges that our education system faces today. Rather some extraordinary steps will be needed to ameliorate the wretched situation of education in the country. It is encouraging to see some provincial governments declare education emergency. It is hoped that this would not be similar to the kind of education emergency declared by the previous government that never produced any results.

In short, education is a matter of life and death for the nation. It cannot be ignored any further.

The writer is an educator.