Challenges in revamping the education system

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  • One that works for all

The miserable state of Muslim denizens of the Indian subcontinent was worrisome but solution was nowhere to be seen. Why? They themselves were the biggest hurdle in improving their condition and that of their future generations. The reluctance to accept the existence of a problem hinders the progress towards solving it. And similar was the case with Muslims who were too timid, unenthusiastic and, unfortunately, unwilling to take up the new form of education set-up being introduced in the colony. Eyeing English as the language of non-Muslim colonisers and, therefore, a lingo of hatred was a perception that caused severe damage to the Muslim population by halting the prospects of its growth and progress for a long time to come. The struggle to clear the backlog was too engrossing to leave any time to keep abreast of latest advancements.

It was because of Sir Syed Ahmed Khan’s efforts that the Indian subcontinent witnessed a dawn of awareness for Muslims as a result of which they changed their lack of enthusiasm to eagerness to learn. Aligarh Muslim University, founded as the Muhammadan Anglo-Oriental College, played pivotal role in the movement of Muslim awakening which continues to inspire Muslims now living across the border.

Then Pakistan came into existence and with it emerged the problem of building a nation, as winning a separate homeland was not an end to all struggles but only the start. And this is precisely where we have miserably failed. In the midst of celebrating Independence Day every year, we forgot what our responsibilities towards this country were. The current state of affairs is a reflection of how poorly we have been investing our time and energy in easing the logjam of progress let alone achieving at a similar pace as the world, hence the reversal of betterment. Becoming a nuclear power has the potential of building image in the world but cannot guarantee one’s existence.

Among the many sectors our previous governments have ignored, education is of paramount importance. This is because while overpopulation seems to be the most obvious starting point of the poverty-overpopulation vicious cycle, education is the only solution to it. And while Imran Khan has made tall claims regarding putting the nation on the right track, education sector is the most difficult to streamline. However, if his team succeeds in doing so, the dream of living in Naya Pakistan could be soon materialised. Like in every other case, the solution in this particular instance lies within the problem.

The rift between private and state schools has only widened with time despite the idea not being a new one. The prevailing dilemma is two-fold: deteriorating quality of education and facilities being offered in state schools versus the affordability of private schools.

Private schools function on economic dynamics like any other which implies that they do not receive any tax breaks, subsidies or governmental support

Let us understand the whole scenario in detail: The minimal fee charged to parents by state-run schools definitely guarantees high enrolment of students but suffers a blow when it comes to upgrading curriculum and facilities, and maintaining the required standard of on-campus facilities, toilets and classroom benches to begin with. Certain schools in this category, such as those located in urban areas, do not depict a conducive environment that is too unfit to impart education but those in sub-urban and rural areas rarely comprise anything except four walls and a roof (sometimes just the ground). This reflects the amount of state expenditure on this sector and the priority given to education in all these years. The only alternative to this set-up is provision of all the aforementioned facilities and much more which are offered by private schools. From air-conditioned classrooms to clean toilets, hygienic canteens to functional playgrounds, qualified teachers to multimedia facilities, everything is provided by these schools in order to make the learning process more and more effective, efficient and impactful. But such ‘luxuries’ are never for free, hence hauling up the fee. Cost of electricity and fuel, taxation, rent, and staff salaries heft up the amount each parent has to pay, thus generating affordability issues.

One solution recently proposed by higher authorities of the country as a threat to owners of private schools is nationalisation – stooping down from provision to absence. Instead of lowering the standard of private schools to match that of state schools, the actual solution demands raising the level of government schools up to that of private schools. This requires spending of state funds on this sector to provide basic on-campus facilities and dedicated teachers.

Revision of syllabi is also a challenging problem along with bifurcation of system into English- and Urdu-medium schools. While frequent switching over from one form to another hinders the process of learning, out-dated with uncountable mistakes and errors makes it difficult for students to grasp fundamental concepts of a subject. Besides, high percentage of dropout at primary level followed by secondary level is alarming. Poverty and security concerns keep parents from sending their children to school who, in the former case, engage in child labour or, in the latter case, take up household-related responsibilities. Gender bias is also a major contributor in deciding fate of a child in this regard; education for girls is still considered to be a privilege in certain families hailing from middle and upper class backgrounds while that of male children a compulsion. Addressing all the issues in totality is the ultimate pathway that can lead towards solving them.

In fact, the biggest challenge for Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf, a political party ‘accused’ of comprising ‘burger’ people, is to thoroughly work on its education policy and bring radical reforms that could assure high percentage of enrolment, close-to-zero dropout, and same standard of education for all. Excessive marginalisation of students hailing from mediocre or lower background would forestall nothing but economic prosperity, resulting in conditions much worse than today.

Private schools function on economic dynamics like any other which implies that they do not receive any tax breaks, subsidies or governmental support. The established networks of schools within the private sector invest in provision and development of education, giving a chance of success to an important section of our society. These setups, besides providing quality education, give employment to educated females. Demonising the private sector to get applause from certain quarters would, therefore, be equal to nothing but a complete disaster.

We cannot form an equal society until we get quality in education, making the metamorphosis of this crowd into a civic society the biggest challenge of this government and those to come in forthcoming future. All we need is an education system that works for every child, not a select few.

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