Global power and literacy
Health and education are the basic rights of people, but despite rhetoric and tall claims over the last decades, no government in Pakistan made viable health and education policies. The result: Over 70 per cent population is still deprived of the fundamental health and education facilities.
Amongst reasons for students’ high dropout rates in Pakistan, a report cites inadequate access to schools, the practice of physical punishment, lack of facilities in schools and the deteriorating standards of education in state-run schools as the main factors for this unfortunate phenomenon. These reasons speak volumes about our commitment to education.
It really shocks one to learn about the deteriorating standard of education in government schools. Some years ago, the merit-conscious administration of an LLB course decided to admit the best out of the applicants through an objective test because the number of applicants exceeded the available seats by many times. The candidates were required to indicate the correct reply from three choices. The faculty of the institute was shocked to find that most of the candidates did not know the correct answers to questions like the year of birth of Allama Iqbal, the place where the Quaid-e-Azam started his law practice, the date of the first sitting of Pakistan’s Constituent Assembly, the name of the first Chief Justice of Pakistan, etc. None of the contestants could obtain more than 50 per cent marks in the test. One of the members of the faculty asked one of his nephews, a primary class student in an English medium popular private chain to attempt the paper. The boy scored 90 per cent marks. The story speaks volumes about the quality of education in the public schools in the country.
What else could one expect from the pupils of meagerly paid unmotivated teachers of public schools majority of whom do not take-up to teaching as a first choice, but land there only when they fail to get jobs in other professions. Consequently, the public-sector education system is in a mess. Even some of the past education ministers were candid enough to admit that education in Pakistan is in a bad shape because successive governments had made a mockery of the education system.
It was due to the importance of education in the Muslim society that the early period Muslims made many scientific discoveries and inventions, impacting the civilizations of those times in a big way. Given the importance of education and knowledge in Islam, it really hurts one to find high illiteracy in some Muslim societies.
It is knowledge which sharpens the man’s faculties, enabling him to distinguish between the good and the bad or the vice and the virtuous. Furthermore, education plays a crucial role in the progress, prosperity and sustained development of nations. It is because of the highest level of learning that the Jews, despite their small numerical strength, have positioned themselves as one of the most powerful and influential communities in the world. How did the Jews succeed in achieving this distinguished position? Of course, through quest for knowledge!
In support of this contention, one would like to quote an event of 1969 when the global Jewish society planned to build a gigantic synagogue in Jerusalem. To accomplish this task, they collected one billion US dollars from all over the world, an enormous figure in the late 60s. When the huge amount was handed over to the chief rabbi for the construction of the proposed monument, he contended that educating the Jews was more exalted a cause than building a synagogue. Instead of investing the funds in the construction of a religious building, the chief rabbi established the world’s great educational trust so that not a single Jew remained uneducated.
Experience tells that countries having a universal or near universal literacy rate have emerged as leaders amongst the comity of nations whereas the states having illiterate segments in their ranks figure low on the development index of nations. Because of education deficit, the donors maintain that some countries, including Pakistan, could not timely and efficiently utilise the aid commitments.
As the situation in public schools remains dismal, the affluent families continue to send their children abroad for education; while the middle and lower-middle class families get their children admitted in privately-managed schools/colleges that provide quality education. Presently, about 4,000,000 or some 40 per cent of the children are receiving education in 173,110 privately-managed educational institutions. Collectively, these institutes employ some 2,000,000 teachers and staff, including professional women.
Under Pakistan’s Constitution, it is the responsibility of the state to provide “free and compulsory education to all children from the ages of 5 to 16 years.” When seen in this context, the private educational institutions are sharing the burden of the state in a big way. Instead of providing subsidy to these institutions for shouldering one of the prime/ basic responsibilities of the state, the authorities have imposed various types of taxes and duties on them, treating them as commercial entities. In addition to social security and property commercialisation fees, these include: income tax @ 33 per cent, GST @ 16-17 per cent, super tax @ 3 per cent and EOBI @ 6 per cent.
Since most of the private schools operate in rented buildings, their rental charges keep increasing annually by 10 per cent; while they hire experienced/qualified teachers at above market rates and, after the APS Peshawar tragedy, they are also required to make adequate arrangements for security. All this adds to the operating cost. Since private schools receive no funding from the government or any other source, they are constrained to pass on the burden to the endusers as do most of the elite public sector institutions. But, many families, especially those in the lower income bracket, find it hard to bear it.
Responding to the demand of quarters, the authorities at the federal level and in Punjab have prohibited increase and frozen the fee at last year’s level. This step is likely to adversely affect the quality of education by making it impossible for the private schools to maintain the current level of educational standard, or cocurricular activities, or the number of children per class, or highly qualified teachers. A way needs to be found out to reduce the financial burden of the private schools so that their students continue to receive quality education at affordable cost through fee vouchers. Alternately, the government should reimburse to the management of private schools the rent of buildings hired by them for running classes besides catering to the security needs of private schools.
Coming weeks before LG polls and immediately after the farmers’ 431 billion rupees relief package, some circles believe that like the farmers’ package the freeze on the school fees also has political connotations. If that is the case, the Election Commission should take immediate notice of such arbitrary steps that amount to pre-poll maneuvering to secure favourable results during the forthcoming elections, and annul them so as to provide a level-playing field to all political parties.