Ailing education in Pakistan

Pakistan devotes less than two per cent of its annual GDP to education
Feb: There is a general perception that the main cause of the pitiable state of education in Pakistan is the inadequate allocation of funds. The persistent refrain has been that Pakistan devotes less than two per cent of its annual GDP to education while most other countries, even in South Asia, allocate at least three to seven per cent.

To a great extent this is true of Pakistan but low allocation is certainly not the sole cause of the deplorable state of education. Based on my experience as a teacher and head of an NGO working for education, I can say that it is not the paucity of funds but their misuse, coupled with mismanagement, which is the main culprit.

Indeed, the quality of education at government schools can be improved without additional monetary support provided proper use is made of allocated funds. The following measures are urgent: 1) revamping the practically non-existent system of monitoring; 2) improving the teaching capability of teachers through a rigorous training programme; 3) appointing an experienced administrator from the private sector in all government schools.

These are indispensable steps if reforms are to be initiated and can be implemented without additional funds. Also, there are plenty of retired, senior private-sector executives who will be happy to volunteer their services if the government promises not to interfere. But before taking these measures, the government must appoint a panel of honest experts from different fields and provinces to formulate a policy on the above-mentioned points and present their recommendations to parliament.

It is unlikely, though, that the government would accept these recommendations as they may get in the way of too many vested interests. The root cause of the problem lies in the fact that the process of democracy has been repeatedly interrupted by military regimes.

The government of the last dictator, famous for his 'enlightened moderation', decided to raise the monthly salary of teachers significantly. The income of teachers of non-formal home-based schools rose from Rs1,000 to Rs4,000 for matriculates, Rs1,000 to Rs4,500 for intermediates and Rs1,000 to Rs5,000 for graduates. Similar increases were given to teachers of formal government schools but nothing was done to improve teachers' training programmes or the monitoring system with the result that while the GDP and the teachers' salaries went up, the quality of education did not improve.

In fact, something worse began to happen. Teachers who were matriculates and intermediates began to buy fake degrees in order to claim a salary of Rs5,000 and officials who could facilitate this scam became their partners. As for teachers of government schools, they continued to come late, leave early, teach indifferently, do other jobs as well as take cuts from snack vendors' daily sales in return for granting the vendors space within the school premises. Anyone who believes that a mere increase in salaries brings with it efficiency, higher productivity, greater motivation and improvement in teaching quality need only visit some of these schools.

The Ministry of Education is primarily concerned with the total number of students in government schools; whether or not they are learning is of no interest to them. Hence, principals, headmistresses and the teaching staff are made to orient themselves towards increasing enrolment figures. They are apathetic to students being late or playing truant and could not care less if the students extend their summer and winter vacations by weeks or if they actually return on the first day of school. This situation also suits teachers as it gives them the liberty to come late and leave early, and to give or not to give homework in order to avoid correcting and checking it. Therefore, despite the hefty increase in teachers' salaries, public-sector education continues to produce illiterates.

An astonishing example is that of a student who was meant to take his Matric examinations in less than seven weeks and did not know the meaning of the first word 'shiver' of the first exercise in the first chapter of the English textbook. I witnessed this when I went to teach English as part of an effort to start free tuition classes in English, Maths, physics and chemistry so that children would be able to obtain better marks in their board assessments.

In the end, the quality of education will remain poor in Pakistan until education becomes a top priority and is de-politicised. At present, it is a source of jobs for cronies and voters. The standard is so dismal that even the poor do not like to send their kids to government schools. Unless concrete action is taken to remedy this state of affairs, the gap between the haves and the have-nots will continue to widen. -By Mansoor Alam (Dawn)

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