Ed­u­ca­tion is not per­ceived holis­ti­cally in Pak­istan — this comes at great cost


In May the World Eco­nomic Fo­rum is­sued the Hu­man Cap­i­tal Re­port 2015 that fa­cil­i­tates a com­par­a­tive as­sess­ment of the ed­u­ca­tion sys­tems of var­i­ous coun­tries.

For that pur­pose the WEF has cre­ated an in­dex that uses four cri­te­ria (termed pil­lars) as a mea­sure.

They are ed­u­ca­tion, health and well­ness, em­ploy­ment and en­abling en­vi­ron­ment. The idea is to judge the pro­duc­tive ca­pac­ity of the work­force.

Where does Pak­istan stand in this league? With a score of 52.63, we rank 113th out of a to­tal of 124 coun­tries as­sessed.

In other words, only 11 coun­tries are in a worse state than us. Fin­land, which tops the list, has a score of 85.78.

In­ter­na­tion­ally, the fo­cus of ed­u­ca­tion has shifted ex­clu­sively to teach­ing tech­no­log­i­cal skills needed for the job mar­ket.

Ac­cord­ing to the re­port, “Tal­ent, not cap­i­tal, will be the key fac­tor link­ing in­no­va­tion, com­pet­i­tive­ness and growth in the 21st cen­tury.”

This is not ex­cit­ing news for Pak­istan where Alif Ai­laan, a newly founded NGO, had re­leased shortly be­fore the Hu­man Cap­i­tal Re­port was pub­lished its Pak­istan Dis­trict Ed­u­ca­tion Rank­ings 2014, which make for de­press­ing read­ing.

The cri­te­ria used are sim­ple and pri­mary be­cause the re­port seeks mainly to cre­ate public aware­ness about the need for ed­u­ca­tion for all.

Broadly, one set of ta­bles ranks dis­tricts ac­cord­ing to the phys­i­cal in­fra­struc­ture of their pri­mary and sec­ondary schools in the public sec­tor.

An­other ta­ble mea­sures ac­cess (in terms of enrolment score, gen­der par­ity score and re­ten­tion score) and learn­ing out­come score. Th­ese four are ag­gre­gated for the ed­u­ca­tion score.

What emerges clearly from the re­port, which also takes note of it, is that the phys­i­cal in­fra­struc­ture has no cor­re­la­tion with the ed­u­ca­tion score.

Many dis­tricts that are ranked high for their schools be­ing in good phys­i­cal shape do not nec­es­sar­ily per­form well in ed­u­ca­tion scores. Take the case of Bannu, which is at the top of the list in in­fra­struc­ture but slides down to the 64th po­si­tion in the ed­u­ca­tion in­dex.

The ed­u­ca­tion scores are more fo­cused on the is­sue of ac­cess in which many dis­tricts are do­ing well as enrolment has grown and gen­der par­ity is close to be­ing achieved.

But the wor­ri­some as­pect is the poor learn­ing out­come that re­flects on the ter­ri­ble qual­ity of ed­u­ca­tion be­ing im­parted to the stu­dents. Karachi (66.19), which is 43rd in the na­tional rank­ings, is be­hind Mohmand Agency in the learn­ing score (72.47).

Ob­vi­ously, we have failed to teach our youth the skills, which the WEF feels are needed to func­tion in to­day’s la­bor mar­kets to be able to han­dle the tech­no­log­i­cal and eco­nomic changes that are com­ing so rapidly.

For Pak­istan the prob­lems are of a triple na­ture. First, the coun­try seems to be in­ca­pable of com­bin­ing qual­ity and quan­tity in ed­u­ca­tion.

We have made it a “more or bet­ter” is­sue. For our pol­i­cy­mak­ers, it seems that uni­ver­sal­iz­ing ed­u­ca­tion means in­evitably low­er­ing stan­dards.

This should not be so. Given the right ap­proach, good ed­u­ca­tion can be for all.

Se­condly, in Pak­istan ed­u­ca­tion is not per­ceived holis­ti­cally. It is im­por­tant that ed­u­ca­tion is seen in the health, so­cial and eco­nomic con­texts as well.

Thus alone can the stu­dents be fa­cil­i­tated. A child in poor health or badly mal­nour­ished can­not be ex­pected to excel in his work and con­cen­trate on his stud­ies.

There­fore, it is es­sen­tial that the so­cial sec­tor be treated as a com­pos­ite whole with re­sources be­ing evenly dis­trib­uted be­tween the ed­u­ca­tion of chil­dren and their health care, nu­tri­tion, and leisure.

The third is­sue to be kept in mind is the hu­man devel­op­ment of peo­ple.

More than tech­nol­o­gists we need to pro­duce so­cial cap­i­tal. That is what our ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem has been lack­ing for a long time.

What use are highly qual­i­fied en­gi­neers and physi­cians if they have not been taught to work col­lec­tively as a team keep­ing in mind the high­est in­ter­est of the largest num­bers.

The OECD de­fines so­cial cap­i­tal as “net­work­ing to­gether with shared norms, val­ues and un­der­stand­ings that fa­cil­i­tate co­op­er­a­tion among groups.”

If ed­u­ca­tion in Pak­istan were to fo­cus on qual­ity as well as ac­cess, while em­pha­siz­ing the im­por­tance of work­ing to­gether, much could change in this coun­try.

Be­sides, teach­ing science and tech­nol­ogy is es­sen­tial to cre­ate tech­nol­o­gists and a skilled work­force in a mod­ern­iz­ing and mech­a­niz­ing econ­omy.

But so­cial sciences also need to be taught to pro­duce a ra­tio­nal cit­i­zenry.

The ba­sic flaw in our ed­u­ca­tion is that it lacks con­tent while stu­dents are happy with the pa­per de­grees and diplo­mas they re­ceive with­out hav­ing ac­quired any knowl­edge.

Be it an Ax­ac­tian de­gree or a sec­ondary school-leav­ing cer­tifi­cate from the Karachi Board of Sec­ondary Ed­u­ca­tion ob­tained by fraud­u­lent means, peo­ple are happy with them with no ques­tions asked.

The im­me­di­ate need is to cre­ate aware­ness of the value of knowl­edge and the abil­ity to think crit­i­cally per se.

The pa­per chase must be stopped at once if ed­u­ca­tion is to ed­u­cate our youth and not to em­bel­lish their cur­ric­ula vi­tae.

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