If you ever need imagine what sort of disparity prevails between the haves and have-nots in Pakistan, a quintessential example would be the education sector. Since its inception, health and education have been some of the most ignored sectors in the annual budgets, with priority being given to defense, power generation funds and debt servicing (the evil vortex). A country whose image is of a indigent, malnourished and sickly population, roughly 24% (2016)of which survives under a dollar per day has been a grave manifestation of irony for the last 71 years. It is disturbing to have about 2%(2018) of your total expenditure to be allotted to the education sector, which is among the lowest ones in the South Asian region (no surprise there). The funds that are allocated to the cause are stripped off by unworthy, unqualified, gluttonous, corrupt ministers who swiftly get away with this crime. Until about the last couple of years, unfortunately the law and order situation has been so feeble that there was no accountability for such actions if you have money. The situation has changed immensely with the strengthening of judiciary in Pakistan, who then fortified National Accountability Bureau (NAB) to carry out all sort of investigations against anyone who might not have been honest with their positions and power they had. Thank God for that, and big kudos to our judicial system and other institutions for reinstating their due dignity and faith. Still a long way to go but at least the right path has been chosen for the journey.
Besides lack of funds, there is a failure in state-level policy making and planning. The parliament hardly has any interest in any fruitful topic for discussion and debate. The rich can afford anything while the poor are not even getting basic human rights. There is mammoth disparity in the public and private school system. The public schools are like sad orphans in the movies, in miserable state with NOBODY looking after them while the private schools are a mafia in themselves, controlled by ultra-rich investors who have representatives sitting in the parliament to safeguard their interests. Every time there are limitations set on private schools, they make a joke out of it by open defiance because they have money and influence. It is a hopeless situation.
There is a dire lack of quality and infrastructure in public education, with ghost schools, absence of heating/cooling and power, extremely low attendance by the teachers, totally misfit and unqualified teachers who lack basic manners and grammar, both English and Urdu. The hiring process is mostly biased and politicized as reference system aka “sifaarish” is what gets you the job. It is a shameful state for a country that has a literacy rate of 58% (2017), a downward trend. There is also a gender gap with regards to enrollment due to the primitive mentality is particularly rural areas that keeps girls away from modern education, a concern which has not been pandered to in the last 10 years (shame!). It gives me nightmares to imagine what the future is going to look like for these kids who lack literacy, numeracy and vocational skills as there are almost NO vocational or technical training schools across Pakistan. Most of the work done in this sector is attributed to micro-finance companies and NGOs who have identified the issue and are setting up projects to fill up the chasm.
The private sector of education is a menace in itself. The fees are skyrocketing every year, with elite schools charging Pkr 80,000 per month, encouraging middle tiered schools to follow catch up with ever rising fees. The worst part is, kids are STILL sent for tuition for the same courses and material being taught at their super-expensive schools. What baffles me is how unaffected the high socio-economic class is with these rising fee structure. There is a clear absence of national interest among the elitists. Along with unaffordable fees, there is a condescending and ‘air of superiority’ attitude prevalent in these institutes. It is hard enough for middle class peeps to attend these schools, additionally they are not embraced by rich brats and their extravagant toys, gadgets, holiday stories, servants to work for them and celebrity lifestyle.
It is a sad situation because in the long term, they are creating a never-ending socio-economic, psychological and emotional gap. Poor education means poor employ,ment opportunities for the students, poor economy and the vicious cycle continue…
The country needs to have a clear, streamlined policy at school level. There should be either Matriculation or O-levels because there are differences in opportunity and standard of education already due to these two different options. On the other hand, maybe both systems can be implemented in both private and public sectors and there are no preferential treatments given to a student from a particular background. The fees need to be slashed and there has to be immense monitoring of the factors driving up the fees. The teaching standards should be identical across Pakistan with government holding training workshops so avoid discrepancies. The government must take aggressive steps to boost the education budget and policy making and implementation needs to be among our primary discussions at the parliament. The implementation should be monitored by NAB to ensure transparency and honest working. Let’s just hope the new government under Imran Khan addresses this crisis positively.