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THE March 31 issue of carried an article entitled 'A great deal of ruin in a nation', comparing critical statistics of four countries, Pakistan, India, China and Indonesia, with respective literacy rates of 50 per cent, 61 per cent, 92 per cent and 88 per cent. It found that “Pakistan's rotten governance shows up in its growth rates [charts show the above four countries with annual GDP/person growth rates of around two per cent, 4.5 per cent, 9.5 per cent and 3.2 per cent respectively, while defence/education spending, as a percentage of the annual budgets, are approximately 16 per cent/1.5 per cent, 13 per cent/four per cent, 11 per cent/5.5 per cent, and 3.5 per cent/20 per cent respectively].

“In a decade during which most of Asia has leapt ahead, Pakistan has lagged behind. Female literacy, crucial as both an indicator of development and a determinant of future prosperity, is stuck at 40 per cent. In India, which was at a similar level 20 years ago, the figure is now over half. In East Asia, it is more like nine out of 10.

“Given the government's failings, it is hardly surprising if Pakistanis take a dim view of democracy. In a recent Pew poll of seven Muslim countries they were the least enthusiastic, with 42 per cent regarding it as the best form of government — though, since the country has spent longer under military than under democratic rule, the army is at least as culpable.”

A 2010 educational survey of six Sindh rural districts by the South Asia Forum for Education Development painted an appalling picture of the learning outcomes of school-going children (three to 16 years): 63 per cent Class-III students could not read Class-I level Urdu/Sindhi sentences, 75 per cent children could not read English words, while 63 per cent of Class-IV students failed to do simple two-digit subtractions. The other provinces fared only slightly better.

Included in the bad governance and political and management adversities are the number of holidays schools are forced to take, e.g. in 2007 some 211 days (including vacations, weekends, exams/results preparation, religious, gazetted, provincial/local and unscheduled such as strikes, law and order situations, and so forth), leaving about 150 days for useful teaching.

Three years ago, the Sindh caretaker education minister admitted that the level of education in the province had fallen so low that it could fall no lower. Fortunately, the present provincial dispensation has as its senior minister of education, Pir Mazhar-ul-Haq, an old boy of Karachi's St Patrick's School, an institution that celebrates its sesquicentennial this May 6, with a century-and-a-half of the school motto: 'Service to God and Country'.

The Irish Fusiliers stationed in Karachi built a chapel in the mid-1850s in the cantonment where now stands another famous school, St Joseph's Convent, and, in 1861, established St Patrick's School nearby to cater to the educational needs of the growing 'parish' community.At independence, when Pakistan was in dire need of good schools, community institutions such as these two — BVS, Narayan Jaganath, Karachi Grammar, Sindh Madressah-tul-Islam, Burn Hall, the several Presentation Convents and others — were there to fill the void all over the country.

St Patrick's has catered to the wide spectrum of society, regardless of caste or creed: children of Sindhi waderas, Baloch sardars, well-to-do families of Karachi, the middle classes and the poorest of poor, Muslims, Christians, Hindus, Scheduled Castes and Parsis. All sat side by side in bright, airy classrooms, acquiring quality education at affordable fees (waiver or reduction of fees was available for the indigent.)

Such was the mission of St Patrick's and the scores of teachers, outstanding men and women, who made this institution one of the finest in the subcontinent. Living former students remember how teachers focused more on the lessons of life and character-building than the curriculum — amongst the many Patrick Mendes, Ozzie Nazareth, Kathy Gomes, Super Fernandes, Jal D'Souza, Simon D'Lima, Romana D'Mello, Yolande Pinto-Hendersen, Julius Correa, Frs Stephen Raymond, 'Punchy' Mascarenhas, Todd and 'Tona' deSouza. The school band, scouts and other co-curricular activities were part and parcel of the deal.

One claim to fame was its sports teams and athletes. In 1936, when India was crowned hockey champion at the Berlin Olympics, the school team gave a sound drubbing to the Bhopal Wanderers — more than half of them Olympic gold medallists; St Patrick's played Peter Paul Fernandes, a member of the Indian team that won in Germany. Winning all-India trophies like the Cabral Shield, the Beighton Cup, the Aga Khan Cup, and the Customs Cup was expected of St Patrick's — such was the talent, skill and tenacity of the youngsters.

The Ruby Shield and the Pentangulars were also dominated by cricketers from St Patrick's for many years. Remembered from my school days in the 1940s was Dutch principal, Fr Petronius, who unfailingly sent Jack Britto, an able cricketer who never seemed to grow old enough to graduate from school, to regularly beat our BVS team. Jack, an all-rounder, went on to play hockey for Pakistan in the 1952 Helsinki Olympics. Wallis Matthias and Antao D'Souza were Pakistan's test cricketers in the early decades.

The school is blessed with large open spaces and playing fields for cricket and hockey that contributed to its prominence in sports and were formation grounds for its erstwhile champions. These heritage spaces are a valuable sports legacy of the city and need to be maintained and well-utilised.

St Patrick's has produced a president, two prime ministers, a Nishan-i-Haider recipient, four governors, two chief ministers, scores of federal and provincial ministers, generals, air-marshals, an admiral, two cardinals, a chief justice of the supreme court, chief justices of the high court, judges, Olympians, Test cricketers, prominent businessmen, heads of corporate organisations, and social and celebrity icons. The present administration must address the challenge of maintaining the reputation of the school and the brilliance of its alumni.

Pakistan suffers. It is overpopulated and undereducated. It needs more schools that provide 'Service to God and Country'. arfc@cyber.net.pk