Bridging Gaps in Educational Structure

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  • 8/6/2019 Bridging Gaps in Educational Structure


    Bridging gaps in educational structureBy Hussain Mohi-ud-Din Qadri

    Traditionally, Pakistan's education sector has been classified broadly into three

    parallel systems public or government-run schools, private schools, and madaris-- each of which follows its own curriculum, teaching methods and examinationprocesses. The state-run school system's inability to respond to the country'seducational needs has benefited the madaris and private schools alike. Madarisoffer free education, boarding and lodging, providing incentives to the homelessand less privileged sectors of society, whose demand for education is weigheddown by economic restraints.

    The private school sector has similarly benefited from the failure of the publicschool system, with the number of its institutions mushrooming to above 36,000

    over the past two decades. Many of these institutions are driven by profit andcater to the more privileged segments of society, with tuition fees that areunaffordable to a majority of Pakistanis. The standards of education in the mostprivileged of them, including their use of English for instruction, is far superior tothose of the public schools, which teach in a vernacular language.

    In effect, the private school system has created a system of educational andlinguistic division. The products of the public school sector often areuncompetitive in the job market. One study observes: The present educationscenario is full of contradictions. On the one hand, there are dynamic, fast

    moving educational institutions charging exorbitant fees, while on the other thereare almost free or very affordable government schools as well as religiousinstitutions (Madasris), which are entirely free. The students of these institutionslive in different worlds and operate in different languages.

    The only way to address this increasing segregation is through a radical reformof the public school system. The majority of Pakistanis do not have the means toaccess quality private school education, and the private school system hasneither the resources nor the incentive to expand to the extent that it couldaccommodate all Pakistani families. Moreover, it is the state's constitutionalobligation to provide education to its citizens.

    The failure of public sector to provide the basic services such as education to itscitizens has resulted in the phenomenal growth of religious seminaries across thecountry. What further allowed the Madaris to grow at fast pace was the statesinvolvement in Afghan War in the name of Jihad when foreign money andextremist ideology found its easy way into Pakistan. The development was onlyto leave an indelible effect on the countrys structure and polity for the worse.

  • 8/6/2019 Bridging Gaps in Educational Structure


    One key feature of these religious establishments has been their constructionalong sectarian lines meant to serve the interests of the donors. Hence the kindof curriculum taught in these seminaries was designed in accordance with thepeculiar sectarian interests. The absence of oversight by the state and societywas instrumental in the production of religious ideologues that ignited the

    sectarian fires and divided people along these lines.

    This also explains why the forces of extremism, terrorism and radicalism haveemerged in the country with consequence we are having to put up with. It isunfortunate that instead of nipping the evil of radicalism in the bud through broad-based reforms of the religious seminaries, the successive governments havegone about doing things for short-term, tactical ends. These measures can onlybring in small benefits but cannot eliminate the mindset from which pervert ideasstem.

    There is a dire need that the government brings these religious seminaries in themainstream by breaking their age-old isolation through various time-boundreforms. The modification of curriculum and placement of graduates of theseinstitutions in the job market can be helpful. This calls for serious consensus onthe issue starting with documentation of religious seminaries. The state cannotand should not jettison the fundamental obligation of educating its citizens toshadowy actors with suspicious interests. This is where the role of provincialgovernments is of crucial importance after the devolution of education thanks tothe 18th Constitutional Amendment.

    Effective education reform in Pakistan will, admittedly, be complex, difficult, andunlikely to achieve immediate milestones. It requires a level of political will andcommitment that has been lacking. Pakistan's education sector is highlypoliticized, tailored more to the interests of various state and political actors thanto an objective assessment of educational requirements. Far from curtailing anupsurge of intolerance and extremism, it has widened class and ideologicaldivisions.

    In the past, the government has initiated programs to upgrade the publiceducation sector and achieve an equitable education delivery system. Many ofthese initiatives have focused on increasing access to education, especially forfemale students. Others have focused on the quality of instruction, throughteacher training. While such schemes are important, they have failed to redresssome of the most significant failures of Pakistan's education system policies atthe national level that cater to political rather than development interests;bureaucratic obstacles to policy changes; a carefully controlled, highlycentralized syllabus that plays on political, religious and sectarian divisions; and

  • 8/6/2019 Bridging Gaps in Educational Structure


    a culture of corruption and manipulation that has impeded any significant changeto public schools.

    63 years after independence, Pakistan still lacks an equitable education system,and the literacy rate is 49.5% one of the lowest in the world. Despite an

    assortment of declared strategies for providing education and removinginequalities, Pakistan's education indicators remain deplorable, including lowpublic spending, literacy and enrolment levels, high dropout levels, acute regionaland gender inequalities, and budgetary inequities. Government policies andreform efforts have clearly failed to address the economic, social and politicaldimensions of the problems facing the education system.

    (The writer is PhD candidate currently based in Australia)


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