IN May the World Economic Forum issued the Human Capital Report 2015 that facilitates a comparative assessment of the education systems of various countries. For that purpose the WEF has created an index that uses four criteria (termed pillars) as a measure. They are education, health and wellness, employment and enabling environment. The idea is to judge the productive capacity of the workforce.
Where does Pakistan stand in this league? With a score of 52.63, we rank 113th out of a total of 124 countries assessed. In other words, only 11 countries are in a worse state than us. Finland which tops the list has a score of 85.78.
Internationally, the focus of education has shifted exclusively to teaching technological skills needed for the job market. According to the report, “Talent, not capital, will be the key factor linking innovation, competitiveness and growth in the 21st century”.
This is not exciting news for Pakistan where Alif Ailaan, a newly founded NGO, had released shortly before the Human Capital Report was published its Pakistan District Education Rankings 2014 which make for depressing reading. The criteria used are simple and primary because the report seeks mainly to create public awareness about the need for education for all.
Education is not perceived holistically in Pakistan.
Broadly, one set of tables rank districts according to the physical infrastructure of their primary and secondary schools in the public sector. Another table measures access (in terms of enrolment score, gender parity score and retention score) and learning outcome score. These four are aggregated for the education score.
What emerges clearly from the report, which also takes note of it, is that the physical infrastructure has no correlation with the education score. Many districts that are ranked high for their schools being in good physical shape do not necessarily perform well in education scores. Take the case of Bannu which is at the top of the list in infrastructure but slides down to the 64th position in the education index.
The education scores are more focused on the issue of access in which many districts are doing well as enrolment has grown and gender parity is close to being achieved. But the worrisome aspect is the poor learning outcome that reflects on the terrible quality of education being imparted to the students. Karachi (66.19) which is 43rd in the national rankings is behind Mohmand Agency in the learning score (72.47)
Obviously, we have failed to teach our youth the skills which the WEF feels are needed to function in today’s labour markets to be able to handle the technological and economic changes that are coming so rapidly.
For Pakistan the problems are of a triple nature. First, the country seems to be incapable of combining quality and quantity in education. We have made it a ‘more or better’ issue. For our policymakers, it seems that universalising education means inevitably lowering standards. This should not be so. Given the right approach, good education can be for all.
Secondly, in Pakistan education is not perceived holistically. It is important that education is seen in the health, social and economic contexts as well. Thus alone can the students be facilitated. A child in poor health or badly malnourished cannot be expected to excel in his work and concentrate on his studies. Therefore, it is essential that the social sector be treated as a composite whole with resources being evenly distributed between the education of children and their healthcare, nutrition, and leisure.
The third issue to be kept in mind is the human development of people. More than technologists we need to produce social capital. That is what our education system has been lacking for a long time. What use are highly qualified engineers and physicians if they have not been taught to work collectively as a team keeping in mind the highest interest of the largest numbers. The OECD defines social capital as “networking together with shared norms, values and understandings that facilitate cooperation among groups”.
If education in Pakistan were to focus on quality as well as access, while emphasising the importance of working together, much could change in this country. Besides, teaching science and technology is essential to create technologists and a skilled workforce in a modernising and mechanising economy. But social sciences also need to be taught to produce a rational citizenry.
The basic flaw in our education is that it lacks content while students are happy with the paper degrees and diplomas they receive without having acquired any knowledge. Be it an Axactian degree or a secondary school-leaving certificate from the Karachi Board of Secondary Education obtained by fraudulent means, people are happy with them with no questions asked.
The immediate need is to create awareness of the value of knowledge and the ability to think critically per se. The paper chase must be stopped at once if education is to educate our youth and not to embellish their curricula vitae.
Published in Dawn, June 12th, 2015