Education is a privilege — it shouldn’t be

There is a dire need to reevaluate how we are preparing our future generation for a globalised, knowledge-based economy.
Published October 5, 2022

October 5 is World Teacher’s Day, and for Pakistan, it should be one of those days to introspect and look upon its education and teaching standards.

Pakistan is pitched as a big market, with huge potential, and no one fails to mention its bulging youth population. What those pitch decks don’t mention is that school education outcomes are insufficient to support economic and social development in the country.

An estimated 22.9 million children aged between 5-16 years are out of school — a worrying statistic for a country whose current workforce is young, mostly unskilled, and poorly prepared for productive employment, said the Asian Development Bank in the ‘Foreword’ section of its June 2019 study titled ‘School Education in Pakistan: A Sector Assessment’. This number — 22.9 million — is the world’s second-highest number of out-of-school children. It is now estimated to be closer to 24 million.

Now comes the second part — the fact that those who are enrolled in school aren’t doing well makes the situation all the more depressing. Pakistan severely lags behind the rest of the world in terms of learning outcomes with nearly 40 per cent of students unable to perform well enough on standardised exams held annually by the government.

This is the main argument — a bulging young population is currently ill-prepared to enter the workforce. When they do enter the workforce, wages tend to be low and contribution to overall economic productivity of the country is found wanting.

Thus, there is a dire need to reevaluate how we are preparing our future generation for a globalised, knowledge-based economy. Education has to be re-imagined. It has to be made easier and more accessible. Teaching and transferring a skill-set is one of the earliest traits in human history — without it, we would not know how to do most of the things we do today.

The good news is that education is valued in Pakistan. A significant portion of income is spent on this sector. But for the lower-income groups, quality education has become expensive, and hence gone out of reach.

These past few years, if one were to look hard enough, education is the one sector that has suffered a lot — be it due to the pandemic, high inflation, or the floods. Urban areas may have still fared better, but Pakistan’s rural centres have been ravaged.

What can be done?

Learners need to be met where they are. The education has to reach them, whichever platform it takes. And the push needs to come now. The online search trends for educational content is increasing, and in fact, students are overwhelmingly seeking exam preparation material from online sources.

In my experience at Edkasa, we have realised that edtech is a breakthrough for the education sector in Pakistan. It is low on cost, and enables one qualified teacher to reach several students at once.

It has very few barriers to entry for students — one just needs a smartphone and a stable internet connection (both still easier to achieve) — and doesn’t discriminate among genders.

Recently, Edkasa partnered with TikTok to launch an #ExamReady campaign on the social media platform that has been well-received by students since engagement rates of these videos have been higher than industry benchmarks. This shows education is a supply-side issue. TikTok’s reach coupled with edtech platforms and curricula by top educational institutes can prove to be a game-changer.

The digital learning process also withstands other pressures such as the pandemic, and is in fact, the only solution in times when road access to schools is blocked. It saves on costs for the school, and could genuinely provide the state the most cost-effective solution. It can also be more easily monitored, and the feedback loop for students is faster and easier to access.

The path to success

However, before one gets carried away, this change cannot be implemented overnight. It needs careful management, and requires behavioural change from students, parents and stakeholders as it is more self-directed compared to traditional learning methods.

The ADB, in the earlier-mentioned report, suggested that by broadening and deepening reforms, Pakistan could reach the millions of children who currently get no schooling, thereby improving participation rates in school education at all levels.

“Targeted investments and programmes could improve completion rates and learning levels. Properly focused, reforms could reduce inequalities in education outcomes across gender, socioeconomic strata, geography, and districts. Public–private partnerships (PPPs) can play a key role, as can strengthened mainstream government systems,” said the ADB.

The public sector is swamped, and it is understandable. Its resources are limited, and the population has only that much capacity to contribute. It is time for quality education to be made more accessible by trying on different ideas and tools.

Header image: Mahrukh Mansoor/ File