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Education system: some improvement

August 26, 2012


THIS is apropos of Hajrah Mumtaz’s article ‘Getting it wrong’ (Aug 20). The writer raises a number of fair and frequently cited concerns regarding our educational system. But without further exploration of these concerns to distinguish myth from reality and without offering a clear, workable and pragmatic solution to these issues, I fear the writer herself is at risk of ‘getting it wrong’.

The article raises two issues which I would like to clarify. First, access to education is limited either due to the cost of education in private schools or due to insufficient availability of schools, competent teachers, and facilities in public and private sectors.

Second, education in Pakistan is not actually preparing children for success as it does not provide relevant and material knowledge.

Punjab, in collaboration with the UK Department for International Development, for the last two years has been working on a sustained, comprehensive and rigorously structured push to revamp and strengthen the educational system. This programme is seeing major successes already.

Contrary to the conception that schools are too expensive and enrolment entails a major economic trade-off, public schools are reasonably affordable, charging a fee of Rs20 a month. Books are provided free of cost. The monthly fee is often waived for many low-income students.

The fact that this is not a price point that deters large-scale enrolment is reflected by the fact that in Punjab 90 per cent of children between ages of five and nine enrol in school at some point.

The major reason for low enrolment is parents viewing their children as being too young for school -- many families do not enrol their children until they are of age six versus age four in most developed countries.

It is also not the case that there are not enough schools. There are some 57,000 public schools in Punjab, and while some schools in urban areas do suffer from limited capacity. In fact, schools are being consolidated in some areas to reduce excess or redundant capacity, ghost schools and the like.

Teacher quality is perhaps the one area where progress has been limited so far. But even here, assuming continuity of the current provincial government and education department's initiatives, we should start seeing material progress within the next two years.

The writer’s second point on knowledge versus education is well taken, though I would add some caveats.

If you review the new, 2006 curriculum, under which textbooks are now being produced, you will find that 70 per cent of religious content from non-religious subjects has been removed.

The new curriculum actually promotes values such as interfaith harmony and a more rigorous scientific questioning model. For the sake of continuity of the curriculum, textbooks under this new curriculum are being introduced gradually from lower classes upwards, so some older classes may still be using older textbooks.

While this will by no means address all the issues which are there in the content of our textbooks, this is an important step forward.