Rizwan GhaniSaturday, July 30, 2011 - After 18th Amendment, improvement of education in Pakistan to international standards can be done with help of international frameworks including Program for International Student Assessment (PISA), National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) and boards like National Board of Medical Examiners (NBME). Federal and provincial governments have to address the issue of teaching language (English, Urdu or regional languages), standardization of curriculum, and dealing with two-track education system- Urdu and English medium to take local and international exams. These tested frameworks can bring the progress of decades in Pakistan while saving billions of dollars. Thus, Pakistan needs to adopt appropriate policies to raise education standards, sustain economy and earn foreign exchange.
The political, social and education complexities of teaching language can be controlled with help of international frameworks. PISA does not require the member states to change curriculums, teaching languages and teaching methodologies. It allows governments to periodically monitor outcomes of national education systems within internationally agreed framework. It provides a basis for international collaboration in defining and implementing educational goals and skills that are relevant to adult life (professional and social). PISA reading, mathematics and general science frameworks help bring national education at par with international standards. Around half a million 15-year-olds from 75 countries representing 28 million students, participated in PISA 2009 assessments and surveys. Pakistan can use PISA to improving national education standards in all provincial languages (www.pisa.oecd.org).
Teaching in local languages can improve Pakistan’s education standards internationally. According to the 2011 Writing Framework for National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) of America, good writing instruction empowers students to acquire new knowledge and to develop critical thinking skills. This is true of writing in all subject areas, not just English language http://www.state.nj.us/education/assessment/naep/results/writing/2011naep. PISA and NAEP framework rubrics allow student evaluations irrespective of language. Learning and teaching in mother tongue is a universal human right recognized by UN. China, was a top scorers in 2009 PISA testing http://www.nytimes.com/2010/12/07/education/07education.html. It shows education in mother tongue does not affect nation’s international competitiveness and national education standards. Since education is a provincial subject, therefore provinces should be free to impart education in local languages, make English and Urdu as optional languages.
Provinces can issue degrees with pass/fail with English/Urdu or both to free the country from politics of language. It will allow students to continue higher education without passing compulsory languages, which is a major contributor to school and college dropouts. It will allow the students to join job market who do not wish to continue with further education. The employer can omit or consider language(s) pass/fail status of candidate at the time of employment. On the other hand, the higher education institutions can keep compulsory languages as part of admission criteria. In line with many American universities, a six months period can be given to first year university students to clear compulsory languages.
In terms of syllabus, international frameworks and boards can help Pakistan’s policy makers develop required syllabuses, fulfill demands of local market, and meet national education objectives to bring national and international education at par. They allow improving exam testing and incorporating modern technology in reading and writing. In addition, they facilitate linking of national boards to international boards like NBME (www.nbme.org). NBME model allows state medical qualified doctors to take national level exams, upgrade national education and examination standards and link them to rest of the world. It allows tens of thousands of international medical graduates to take United States Medical Licensing Exam without actually studying in American medical colleges. It is equally true for British, Australian and New Zealand medical boards. This model can help cut cost of professional education and fight poverty in Pakistan.
Based on these frameworks and models, federal and provincial governments of Pakistan should collaborate to standardize local education and bring it equal to international standards. Islamabad should hold annual summits with China and western countries in line with reports of annual Indo-US higher education summits planning collaboration of universities in both countries. In addition, Pakistan needs to allow private publishers to print books according to the contents of given courses. It will improve concepts of students, standard of books and education. The existing control of federal government on higher education needs to be changed by allowing provinces complete control of universities, scholarships, hiring, training etc. Federal government needs to become a regulatory body instead of controlling authority and facilitates provinces to standardize higher education, provincial education and bring it equal to international levels. Federal education setup should work with ministry of labor and manpower to identify and develop human resource for interprovincial and overseas market, work with foreign missions to issue annual forecast of overseas jobs and train foreign workers and students.
Pakistan needs to organize education to cater to local and international needs, attract foreign investors and earn foreign revenue. Reportedly, America and Britain earned $31bn and £8 bn in 2010 from foreign students respectively. China is charging $5333 boarding lodging fee annually for a five-year MBBS and one-year internship. It is also offering seven-year specialization degree programs (5 years MBBS and 2 years specialization) in most medical fields. Beijing has gained international recognition through standardized tuition fees, transparency, qualified staff and allowing foreign students and teachers in local universities (http://www.4icu.org/cn/). The Chinese model can help Pakistan cut prices of professional education by 50 percent and train surplus number of local and foreign students to sustain domestic and international needs. In line with China, Pakistan should also take necessary steps to attract flocks of foreign students, interns and investors.
Finally, a debate is going on in China on two-track system- one for national college entrance exam (the gaokao) and other for international exams. Imran Khan’s PTI is deliberating about single education system. Pakistan can overcome challenge of teaching language, two-track system (English and Urdu medium) and bringing local education at par with international with help of international frameworks, NBME and more freedom to provinces.