BY: MOHAMMAD RAZA

Under a series of changes that the Constitution of Pakistan was subjected to under the 18th Amendment in 2010, a fundamental right to free and compulsory education to all citizens till the age of 16 was conferred on the people of the country, placed in the constitution as Article 25-A. The insertion of the said article was welcomed as a panacea to the stunted education growth in the country manifested through plummeting enrolment rates, cross- gender literacy disparity and a rising number of drop outs from public schools at the time. However, seven years on there has been a slight improvement in literacy rates and enrolment has seen an upward trajectory; the education problem or the education emergency ,as I prefer to address it, in Pakistan still persists but with greater profundity.

The primary aim of our current education policy appears to be wholly designed towards enrolling maximum number of students and building more schools, since the policy views low literacy rates to be the underlying problem which hampers development in the education sector. Though, what seems missing from a policy standpoint is the end objective the education policy aims to achieve and the due urgency that improving the quality of education being imparted in public schools (and universities) requires. The presence of three parallel systems of education in the country raises even greater questions over the priority of the State in overhauling the public education system especially given that rarely do any among the affluent send their children to schools where government sanctioned and monitored curriculum is taught.

Absence of the mention of contributions of individuals belonging to other religions in the sub-continent, inaccurate historical accounts and imposition of personal opinions of certain groups as facts in science books are a dominant feature of text-books being taught as part of the matriculation and intermediate examinations. Reference to KK Aziziís book titled, Murder of History could be a helpful guide to explain the veracity of the distorted facts that are penned down in these textbooks. Even more unfortunate is the fact that the system encourages rote learning over conceptual understanding, this limits the desire and ability of a student to get a grasp over the subject and makes his experience wholly utilitarian focused towards obtaining high scores which he can score only if he learns by heart the answers to potential exam questions instead of understanding the academic concepts being taught. It has been due to these reasons and others that government board matriculation exam students have dwindled over the years.

This dissatisfaction has led to a surge in enrolment in private schools that offer the British Ordinary and Advanced Level certificates. Equivalent to the Matric and Intermediate Examinations, year by year greater numbers of students are enrolling themselves for these exams even though the exam fees nearly touch the six-figure mark. Those who canít afford these sums of money have opted to enrol in the Agha Khan and similar other private matriculation boards preferring them over government examination boards. While others have found the madrassah schooling system more appropriate to their needs. The alarming reality is that there are an increasing number of students who are opting out of the schooling system that the State has to offer and private education systems are being preferred by those who can afford them. The cost is more than just a heavier fee bill. A recent study by Alif Ailaan titled ĎWho Gets the Good Jobsí found out that students who had obtained the Ordinary and Advanced Level education certificates had greater starting salaries and earned quicker promotions than those who had done matriculation and intermediate degrees, in a comparative research of salaried individuals across varying managerial position who had studied for the same number of years. The findings present a worrying situation. If this triple tiered education system continues to be in place, then those who are financially well placed or can manage to buy British education certificates for their children shall continue to earn more and thus in turn give their children better and more rewarding education while those who donít earn well shall be forced to keep their children in government programs who would consequently have stunted career growths and less rewarding jobs. This is how the status quo education regime in Pakistan breeds inter-generational income inequality: the children of the poor remain poor because their parents cannot afford the good quality private education that can secure them high paying jobs in the future and State sponsored education does nothing to help get rewarding jobs, as things sta

It is in this perspective that one comes to question the social objectives, if any, that the education policy manifested through Article 25-A envisions to achieve. Greater literacy rates for sure are imperative to achieving greater parity however it can and should only be construed as a means towards an end and not an end in itself. The latter though seems to be our Stateís only priority since for the former to take effect, the rights defined under Article 25-A need to be revisited. The quality of education being provided free of cost needs to be at least made at par with that being imparted in private schools, madrassah reforms are necessary not only to filter their curriculum from hate speech and extremist thought but skills that are in line with the requirements of the modern day need to be included in the syllabi in order to make their students more employable.

These are however, short term remedies to the scourge of negligent behaviour that has plagued our education system for decades. In the longer run, the only sustainable solution appears to be the introduction of a uniform system of school education that doesnít discriminate between the privileged and those who are not, and the extension of compulsory free education up-to University with adequate quality-assurance measures, in an environment where students can freely express themselves without the fear of being harmed by their peers for having an opinion different than that of the majority.

Source: https://www.pakistantoday.com.pk