A commodity called education

  • And how it is bought, sold and used for the greater stratification of society


To buy, sell, bag profits, and possess novelty is what humanity has reduced to. We are voracious consumers whose sole agenda is to devour more, acquire more, possess more, flaunt more, and feel alive through what we have bought. Cars, clothes, accessories, tattoos, bags, etc are our reason, our rationale to live another day.

Education, of late, too has become a commodity in our beloved motherland. Education is the buzz-word around which our concerns and conversations revolve incessantly. We are either ‘concerned’ about the overall situation and the paltry percentage of GDP our government spends on educating our future generation or ‘angered’ by the not-so-good grades our children bag.

Education, like detergents, chocolates and cars, is a commodity which is bought and sold. At private schools the more money one is willing to spend, the better brand of education one will get. And trust me; your purchasing power has a serious impact on your child’s life. Good grades in O and A-levels can take him to Oxford, Harvard or Cambridge on a scholarship. Bad ones will be sufficient to land him in a fine local university. Have a couple of millions to spare? Have a young man or young lady interested in donning a white coat? Bingo. He/she can and will become a doctor from any one of dozens private medical colleges.

Money, beyond doubt, makes all the mares go where you want them to.

But if you don’t have the money or the mare, the government offers its hapless, less-privileged masses, ration-quality education at public schools. It is cheap, at times free and utterly devoid of any future promise or foreseeable prestige. Gone are the days of bureaucrats hailing from ‘taat’ schools and sons of poor households, making it big. That breed, like dodo and dinosaurs, is long extinct.

Good grades in O and A-levels can take him to Oxford, Harvard or Cambridge on a scholarship. Bad ones will be sufficient to land him in a fine local university

The age of foreign universities educated elite has dawned in Pakistan. These students, a majority of whom hail from the moneyed class, rule and run all boulevards of social, political and economic activity. The social standing and the accompanying expertise and the tag of foreign education puts those eons ahead of anyone who does not match their credentials. Education, for the filthy rich is a way to perpetuate their social standing, maintain their financial prowess and help them cement their place at the top of the food chain. They devour all they survey.

Then there is just-rich stratum; this lot has enough to get locally available “English-Medium” education but they fall a bit short of affording what the filthy rich can with incredible ease. Their choice is limited. They choose from a dozen or so private schools and provide all they can to their protégé. Some do well, others; well they are left with an American accent that reeks of superficiality. Education, for just-rich, translates itself in jobs in the IT sector, telecom, business administration, and some CSS qualified bureaucrats peppered here and there.

The picture of education if seen from the eyes of a middle-class parent paints an utterly dismal picture. The middle-class folks have to opt from one of two options. Option one is to cut expenses here and there and send their kid to a private school. Option two, to send him to a government school and provide for extra tuition. Both choices have consequences. In the first instance the kid ends up being a victim of acute sense of inferiority. In the second, after getting mediocre education he faces wild, ferocious competition in the job market.

In a nutshell, the middle-class suffers the most in the prevailing scenario of education. They strive, they struggle, they strive more, and they struggle some more. And still they are part of the zero-sum game.

Now, meet the king, the ultimate winner in all this. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, hail the dirt-poor segment of your society. These bands of merry creatures give less than two pence to all the education and the claptrap accompanying. They live, they reproduce, they reproduce more, and they reproduce again. Their children attain enough strength, before the completion of their first decade on earth, to sustain themselves and contribute in the family’s coffer. They start their professional careers as ‘rag pickers’, as ‘chota’ of some mechanic, as assistants of car washers, etc. The children of dirt-poor lead their life in ignorance, which we know is sine qua non to experience ‘bliss’.

Will Durant, an epoch defining historian and a philosopher of astronomical proportions, summed up the whole process of education in a single line, “Education is a progressive discovery of our own ignorance”. By this he meant, I guess, that discovering our ignorance is the utmost task humans need to undertake. The question is: are we willing to explore these uncharted territories of ignorance?