Given below are some recommendations to the government for improving education in Pakistan. The recommendations follow a brief mention of the problems they might be helpful in tackling:
A. Low literacy level and low standard of education
These are general problems and need no elaborate comment here.
B. Inappropriateness of curricula and pedagogy
The curricula and related pedagogy are usually inappropriate or at least inadequate for the set goals in many disciplines. Furthermore, there is no integrated system in which one step leads to the next to enable a student to develop a truly sound base for the discipline he or she is interested in. Moreover, even at the higher levels of education, there is no mechanism worth its name to help a student in gauging his or her potential or in deciding on a suitable academic career.
C. Multiplicity of educational systems
There are many systems working here, resulting in not synergy but social division and conflict. For example we have English medium schools, Urdu medium schools, and religious madrasas. Students coming out of English medium schools, especially good private sector schools, have little or no awareness of their religion and culture whereas those passing out from Urdu medium schools are usually destined to work in clerical and lower level positions. Religious madrasas churn out yet another class that are usually unaware of the world outside their own and, with their strong sectarian bias and little or no training in modern disciplines, are usually ill-equipped to interact meaningfully with the larger society and are also monumental at times in spreading sectarianism.
A. Declare educational emergency
The present government should declare a national educational emergency and involve the whole nation, including the army, in waging a war against illiteracy. Some steps that the government might consider taking in this regard are:
1- Declare education as the highest priority of the government. Explain that unless the impediments of illiteracy and lack of education are removed, the road to democracy will remain fraught with the danger of exploitation of the masses by the select few, and that in the absence of political will in the ruling classes to do something tangible in this arena, it seems that it is up to the army to defend the country against illiteracy and lack of education, for there is no factor more important to the well-being of a nation than human resource and no negligence worse than ignoring its development.
2- Make it mandatory for government and army officers at all levels to do stints at various educational institutions in relation to their skills and national requirements.
3- Make it a mandatory requirement for various degree programmes that the candidates, after taking their exams, shall spend a specified period of time [for specified hour(s)] in teaching at assigned institutions. (These assignments should be given in a judicious and practical manner).
4- Ask for volunteers with specified qualifications to contribute their services in their areas of work or residence under organised bodies that can be formed for this purpose by the government.
5- Ask the public to contribute financially for this purpose. Modern marketing and fund raising techniques can be adopted for this task.
6- Many government school buildings can be converted into commercial schools of good level. The government can consider offering many of these schools to private sector organisations in the field of education on the condition that a specified percentage of bright students from the lower and middle classes will be granted admission and scholarships. Tax benefits/exemptions may also be made part of the deal to encourage entrepreneurship in this area.
7- Offer tax benefits/exemptions and other such incentives to private sector groups to invest in education in rural and less developed areas.
8- Make it mandatory for each industrial unit/agricultural estate of an area above a specified limit to provide for a school within the premises/area. Alternatively, the owner can be asked to share costs with the government for setting up such school. Another option is giving various financial/tax incentives.
9- Introduce standardisation of curricula and licensing and certification of teachers to improve standards (as is done in the USA).
10- Introduce high quality selection procedure for higher level teachers and offer the candidates better incentives.
11- Use electronic media more extensively for educational purposes. A channel could be devoted to just education. In this regard,
a- teachers of high calibre can take classes for different subjects at various levels,
b- these lecturers can be telecast as well as recorded,
c- the lectures can be delivered by telecasting them or by playing recorded cassettes even in schools in far flung areas where quality education is usually not available,
d- later on computers can also be used with sufficient data banks and with internet and e-mail facilities for more interactive education, and
e- if an appropriate system is designed, more students can be taught in one school using cassettes, discs, etc. with relatively less teachers.
12- In rural areas, provide each school with at least one army man to ensure that people face no resistance from the feudals in educating their children.
13- Provide people with incentives to educate their children. This can be done in various ways. For instance
a- even lower level government jobs as for clerks, peons, constables can be linked to a minimal level of education and entrance tests.
b- various loans (e.g. agricultural loans) can be linked to whether an applicant has educated or is educating his children.
14- Link agricultural loans/tax benefits to feudal landlords with a specified number of people they have helped in obtaining a required level of education.
15- Similarly, link industrial loans to education.
16- Similar linkages can be made in relation to adult education programmes
B. Improve, update and form curricula, texts, pedagogy, and examination and evaluation techniques
There is no need to say that improvement, updating and new work needs to be done in these areas. Again, some steps that the government might consider taking are:
1- Give more importance to language education and mathematics at the primary and secondary levels. The unfortunate fact is that usually even our postgraduates lack basic skills in these areas. Language and mathematics are the foundation on which acquisition of other skills depends. Though much of the problem is due to poor teaching, yet curricula, texts, pedagogy and examination techniques also have a lot to do with the current situation.
2- Various teams of experts should be involved in performing the above mentioned task of improvement and formation.
3- Instruction in science, history and social studies should be incorporated in language teaching at the primary and secondary levels through activities and projects.
4- Computer education should also be introduced gradually right from the elementary stage in education.
5- At the proper stage, instruction in foreign languages (especially Arabic for closer cultural and economic ties with the Arab world, for curbing sectarianism and fanaticism, for greater unity in the Ummah, and for better understanding of Islam in the educated classes) and social skills (for enhancing Emotional Intelligence) should also be encouraged (Goleman,* 1996). Both these areas have gained immense importance in the wake of globalisation.
6- More emphasis should be given to the development of educational institutions for some unconventional disciplines as fashion designing, art, music and literature. There is a lot of talent in the country in this field and a great, high return international market for the products and services of skillful people in this area.
7- Similarly, a system of continual vocational training should also be introduced for workers in different fields.
8- Interesting and informative documentaries and activities should also be designed for the education of students. Similarly, institutions as museums, internet clubs, libraries, etc. should also be developed. Contributions from the public can also be sought for this purpose.
9- Various bodies of academic experts should also be formed to monitor, standardise and develop all the above mentioned programmes (1-8).
C. Eliminate multiplicity in education gradually
A uniform system of education should be introduced gradually to eradicate the problems multiplicity of systems creates as pointed out earlier. Two important things that the government should attempt in this regard are:
1- Introduce one medium of instruction. In the international environment of competition today, English has assumed unprecedented importance. Although Urdu will perhaps remain a language of our people for a long time to come, English has to be given preference if a choice is to be made (as too many languages undermine instruction in any one).
2- Religious education should be incorporated in the mainstream education. For this purpose, the most important thing is introduction of Arabic as a second language at the appropriate stage. This may not be as difficult as it seems. Some work may be required in forming the curricula and pedagogy, but the rest can be done just by including good level Arabic in Civil Services and Army entrance examinations. Similarly, good Arabic can be made a prerequisite for entrance into a number of other professions and for promotion. (For example in the judiciary it makes sense to have a judge who has a sound base in Arabic deciding about Islamic law). Demand will create its own supply, and it is expected that schools, institutions and parents will also be important contributing factors. (Other advantages of Arabic have already been pointed out; see B.5).
Every government leaves behind a legacy. May the legacy of this one be education.