Global power and lit­er­acy

Enterprise - - Contents -

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.

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