ISLAMABAD: The country is facing an ‘education crisis’ which, if not tackled now, can become insurmountable. But, given political will and resources, a reformed education system can still produce a tolerant citizenry accepting religious, ethnic and cultural diversity, and help Pakistan return to its moderate roots.
This is the crux of a report on “education reforms” in Pakistan recently released by the International Crisis Group.
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In its major conclusion, the Brussels-based NGO working to prevent conflict worldwide says: “If Pakistan is to provide all children between the age of five and 16 years free and compulsory education, as its law requires, it must reform a system marred by teacher absenteeism, poorly maintained or ghost schools and a curriculum which encourages intolerance and fails to produce citizens who are competitive in the job market.”
It says that curriculum reform is essential and overdue and urges the provincial governments to ensure that textbooks and teachers no longer convey an intolerant religious discourse and a distorted narrative based on hatred of imagined enemies – local and foreign.
“The working-age population will continue to grow in a country with so many young people. Without substantial and urgent efforts to improve access to quality schools, illiteracy and poor learning outcomes will result in rising levels of unemployment and under-employment, hampering economic development and – if the most attractive jobs are available with the jihadi forces and criminal groups – contributing to violence and instability.
“The rot can still be stemmed by reversing decades of neglect of the fast failing, under-funded education sector and opting for meaningful reform of the curriculum, bureaucracy, teaching staff and learning methodologies,” it says.
According to the report, poorly qualified and poorly trained teachers and rote pedagogy discourage learning. Improvements in methodology have yet to make it to the classroom, and what is taught is problematic.
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An unreformed curriculum continues to promote religious intolerance and xenophobia as do madressahs which flourish in the absence of a credible public education sector.
Private schools are flourishing but few, except those which cater to the elite, provide quality education. Attempts are being made to harness private sector support, including through partnerships and philanthropy, but the scale of the challenge requires a government-led approach and political ownership of reform.
“To counter the challenge posed by private schools and madressahs, which fill the gaps of a dilapidated public education sector but contribute to religious extremism and sectarian violence, the government will have to do far more than just increase the number of schools and teachers, it says.
Since the 18th Constitution Amendment devolved education to the federating units, provincial governments have taken some steps to meet their obligation to educate children. Yet, not all provinces have the required legislative apparatus, rules and regulations in place. Budgetary allocations, despite increases, are insufficient to meet growing needs.
The report deplores that millions of five- to 16-year olds, now entitled to free and compulsory education, are still out of school and the quality of education for those enrolled remains abysmal.
Nepotism and corruption permeate the system, including in the employment, posting and transfer of teachers.
It points out that militant violence and natural disasters have exacerbated the dismal state of education. Earthquakes and floods have destroyed school buildings, disrupting the education of hundreds of thousands of children.
More than nine million children do not receive primary or secondary education and literacy rates are stagnant. The country is far from meeting Millennium Development Goals of providing universal primary education by 2015. The primary school enrolment rate in 2012-13 registered a mere one per cent increase from the preceding year.
There are significant gender disparities and differences between rural and urban areas, the report notes. The combined federal and provincial budgetary allocation to education is the lowest in South Asia, at two per cent of GDP. .
Published in Dawn, July 10th, 2014