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Sorry state of education

March 26, 2011

DURING his visit to Sindh, President Asif Ali Zardari asked the Sindh government to improve education both qualitatively and quantitatively. It will be a great service to the people of Sindh, a stronghold of the PPP, he said, if these directives were acted upon in letter and spirit.

Quality education mainly consists of three factors; pedagogy, assessment and material resources (curriculum, textbooks, etc) while governance in and management of schools are enablers in achieving their objectives. The pedagogy being employed in schools neither helps Pakistan become a democratic society nor stimulates students’ curiosity to explore the world and develop critical, analytical and independent thinking skills.

Instead of engaging students in dialogues, discussion and debates they are trained to be conformist, obedient and respect authority. With regard to the assessment, roughly 80 per cent of questions in examinations are knowledge-based which tests students’ memory but not their ability in terms of knowledge-application. The rote-learning method is unfortunately very common in Pakistani schools. Another thing, at the same time more important, is that curriculum and textbooks are not in synch with requirements of 21st century.

All these factors affect the development of students’ innate and natural talent and makes learning a horrible experience. Therefore, the need of the hour is a paradigm shift in order to make learning fruitful and productive and spare students from having unnecessary feelings of anxiety, tension, depression emanating from schools.

A few findings worth comments have been thrown up in the Education Emergency Pakistan 2011. The report indicates that 85 per cent proportion of people believe education helps citizens elect better leaders, makes people better citizens and reduces extremism. Yes, it seems correct to some extent but it depends on what type of education is being imparted in society. Of late, BBC Urdu conducted a survey to find out level of knowledge of people about Balochistan in Lahore, Punjab. A group of students from two private elite universities also participated in the interview.

These students couldn’t take a name of a single city in Balochistan and shockingly one student said that she did not have any particular interest in history. Upon that BBC surveyor reminded the student that Balochistan is one of the provinces of Pakistan. Further, student retorted that yet it falls in the subject of the history! In other similar surveys one finds that educated youth prefer military government to democratic one.

They may be well-versed in English language, modern knowledge and technology but they have little or inadequate knowledge as well as understanding of Pakistan’s geography, history, ethnic diversity, culture and political issues. This is a new form of ‘illiteracy’ being created in our educational institutions.

As for the extremism, it is a naive notion because education itself cannot reduce it without establishing justice in society. Educated youth show propensity towards revenge and rebelliousness as soon as they become aware of unfair treatment being meted out to them or a group of people they identify themselves with. For that matter, they fall prey to extremism.

A serious problem can be judged from the fact that seven million children are out of schools in Pakistan, of them 4.5 million belong to Sindh only. This situation will become more depressing if one takes into account the number of drop-outs. Some cosmetic and superficial measures will not be enough to tackle the issue in an effective manner as it seems is being done. In response to the president’s directives Sindh ministry of education and literacy has chalked out a campaign to increase enrolment in the province.

I doubt this campaign is going to achieve any results as no efforts are being made to address the problems of missing facilities, absentee-teachers and those teachers who just turn up to show attendance and do not teach. These are quite big challenges in Sindh affecting overall performance of the education department.

A complex and difficult situation prevails in the province as far as teachers are concerned. Four major types of teachers who don’t perform their duties are spot on the education system. These teachers are those who enjoy political patronage, work in media as working journalists, are office bearers of teachers unions and close to them and lastly sacrifice a part of salary after negotiations with concerned authorities.

Sindh Education Information Management System (SEMIS) has developed a data base which covers information about students, teachers, schools, etc., but it doesn’t provide any information regarding place of posting of teachers. If this information is included in the data base then it will be easy for the government to keep track of them and force them to perform duties. Besides, education department should mobilise school management committees to monitor attendance and performance of these teachers.

During the address to parliament, the president said that making tough decisions is the responsibility of leadership. “We are not afraid to lead and we know the way. I expect a few tough decisions will be taken vis-à-vis education sector.” The sinking boat of education can be saved only through good governance. It has been learned that approximately 600 posts of grade 18 (both male and female) of education administration cadre are lying vacant in the education department.

Since 2002 no Sindh Public Service Commission examination has been held for recruitment of education officials. Presently, there are 16 out of 23 EDOs that are in lower grades (19 grades) but have been working at the post of grade 20. For last five years no promotions have been given to the officials. On annual basis the promotions should be done as per the rules but this is not happening. This situation clearly serves the agenda of the vested interest groups because lower grade officers working on higher grade posts shows higher level of compliance and obedience and being under pressure.

This practice must end as it doesn’t require huge financial resources and expert consultants. Furthermore, steps should be taken to ensure all recruitments and promotions are transparently based on merit and officers are empowered to resist any sort of illegal interference. Without these simple but tough decisions substantive and significant improvements cannot occur in the education sector.