Hassan Mushtaque Malik
EDUCATION plays a pivotal role in the advancement of a nation. It is the catalyst of national development and paves the path for progress. It is what sets nations apart and helps them attain a prominent place in the comity of nations. The founder of Pakistan Quaid-i-Azam was a staunch supporter of education. He said, “Come forward as the servants of Islam, organise the people economically, socially, educationally and politically and I am sure you will be a power that is accepted by everybody”. The importance of education for the development of our country cannot therefore be neglected. Unfortunately, almost none of the governments that followed made any worthwhile efforts to improve the education system in Pakistan. Before going further in discussion, it is noteworthy to discuss the provisions for education in the Constitution of Pakistan; which is a much chanted slogan of almost all political elites of the country. Article 25-A of the 1973 Constitution says:- “The State shall provide free and compulsory education to all children of the age five to sixteen years in such a manner as may be determined by the law” The constitution goes on further to make the state responsible for the education of its citizens in the following way: • Special care will be taken for educational and economic reforms in the backward areas. • Illiteracy will be removed and secondary education will be made compulsory within minimum possible period. • People from different areas will be imparted training for agricultural and industrial development. Technical and general education is generally available and higher education accessible to all on the basis of merit. • Participation of women in all spheres of life will be encouraged.
Despite all these provisions for education in the constitution, not much has been done on the above mentioned grounds. The system of education in Pakistan remains in a dismal state. The present educational systems present in Pakistan are mainly, primary schools, secondary or high schools, Madaris, universities and vocational training institutes. Among them, there are many which belong to the private sector. This trend of private education flourished after the public institutions operated by the government failed to provide quality and up-to-the-mark education. Today, more and more private schools and more private universities are present throughout the country which in most cases, are providing better education and facilities than those provided in public sector institutions. The situation in the remote areas is even grim. There are either not enough institutions, or not enough teachers, or the lack of quality teachers or until recently, the issue of terrorists which prevents students from attaining school education. Hence, the students of such areas are either left with a few choices, either to quit their academic career or to leave their hometowns and head for the metropolis for better chances of education. Those choosing the latter are faced with multifarious problems, both financial and social. Moreover, it also adds to the already loathed menace of urbanisation while the remote areas sink deeper in depression. Adding to the plight of the nation is the brain drain which follows when the youth feels that the country cannot provide for their academic requirements. As a result, the country is deprived of many bright minds every year – an utterly useful asset.
As discussed earlier, the constitutional provisions for education haven’t been adhered to in letter and in spirit. The total allocation of funds in the country’s budget is 3% which is mere peanuts. Such a small amount would never be able to pull the nation out of ignorance. Government’s level of seriousness regarding this matter is evident from the fact that the dearth of colleges and universities throughout the country especially in the remote areas is critically felt. Moreover, students are treated with lack of respect. Their administrative matters are handled lackadaisically. The recent mishandling of the results of board examinations by the Punjab Government and a similar stunt performed by the medical board officials in Karachi epitomise this issue. Currently, the educational environment in Pakistan is divided. There is the madrasa system which provides religious education, and then there are schools which are further divided into those which follow the federal or provincial boards and those which follow the University of Cambridge’s board of education. Diversity of these academic paths has led to confusion and difficulty in handling of affairs both on part of the students and the administrative authorities. The situation gets further aggravated when the students pass their board exams and the universities are faced with the task of making a fair selection from among these students.
The higher education scenario in Pakistan improved significantly though when in 2002 the then President and Chief of Army Staff General Pervez Musharraf formed the Higher Education Commission (HEC) with the main purpose of amelioration of the system of higher education and to bring it at par with that of the developed countries of the world. HEC has been a success story ever since and has raised the bar of educational standard to a position much better than it was ten years ago. The HEC stimulated quality research work in universities and updated their academic curriculum and administrative structures. It provided many scholarships at home as well as to those wishing to pursue education abroad. It opened the gates of free higher education to the top brightest students of remote areas through its “Balochistan-FATA” scholarship. But all cannot be left to HEC. In order to improve the educational scenario further, the government must make sure that the provisions of Article 25-A are implemented in letter and in spirit. For those unable to get the formal education, it is incumbent upon the government to set up more vocational training institutes through which these people could learn a variety of skills and increase their chances of earning a better livelihood and playing a stronger part in the country’s economy. Pakistan has immense human potential. Unfortunately the education system is not properly managed to harness this potential. The country’s development will remain slow as long as these systems aren’t tweaked to perform at their optimum. For a stronger, respected and a more prosperous Pakistan, we need to address the cause of the brain-drain that is hampering its progress
—The writer is freelance columnist.