Schooling - an ignored orphan
President Asif Ali Zardari recently signed, “The Right to Free and Compulsory Education Bill-2012” in a ceremony held at the Chief Minister House in Karachi, which has now become a law. Through this bill, the right to free and compulsory education for all children aged 5 to 16 years has been recognized. The law puts the responsibility on the government of paying all education-related costs including stationery, schoolbags and transport for children aged 5 to 16. It is indeed a step towards implementation of Article 25A of the Constitution (Eighteenth Amendment) Act, 2010. But to implement the law in real earnest, some ground work is required e.g. allocation of funds for this task, as millions of students have to be given admission in state sector schools. Secondly, there is need to evolve a reasonable service structure for teachers’ cadre, and guarantee handsome salaries to attract qualified and competent teachers, which so far has not been done and may not be possible because of financial crunch.
At the present, most schools in rural areas do not have buildings and students have to take lessons sitting under trees or in the open. The schooling of the nation’s children is essential base of the educational pyramid in this century of knowledge-based polities and knowledge-driven economies that even advanced nations try to give a further uplift to their already very strong schooling systems. In Pakistan, schooling is just an orphan, at once neglected and ignored. At best, it gets lip service; at worst, it gets a slice of idiotic populism. While schooling in private sector has plainly become a commercial proposition, the state-run system has run into intractable rot, requiring enormous effort to redeem. As the system caters to the educational needs of the nation’s huge children populace, mostly coming from poor and lower middle classes that are unable to afford expensive private schooling, it necessarily demands an urgent redemption.
Today, hundreds and thousands of state-run schools, particularly in the countryside, have no science teachers and no science laboratories. If primarily for pecuniary factor, science graduates are loath of teaching in government schools, wherefrom will come expensive IT specialists with enormous fabulous opportunities outside to teach in schools? When very hard, realistic and robust initiatives are required to reverse the rot, a silly pretentious dawdling is being put forth. In Pakistan more than 40 per cent of population lives below the poverty line. For poor people, son is a sort of life support and works with father to eke out a living. The government should think of ways and means to inspire or induce the poor people to send children to schools instead of going to farms or workshops, as is being done in neighboring India. In several Indian states they have embarked upon the midday school lunch provision to attract pupils from humble homes to schools. In Bangladesh, government provides rice to students and a small ghee-tin once a month.
Unfortunately, educating the citizenry has not been the pursuit of any government since our independence. The worst hit is the schooling, which in any educational pyramid makes up the base. In the 1990s, the crumbling public sector education system deteriorated further, as an unregulated growth of private sector education led to a system of education apartheid sending the majority of the wretched of the earth to the perpetual ignorance and impoverishment. The poor had no choice but to send their kids to madarassas because they could not afford to pay exorbitant private schools’ fees. It is true that even the most developed countries with top-class educational systems have fanatical fringes, but their mainstreams stay uninfluenced, robust, decisive and domineering largely because of the mass of their citizenry being educated with broad outlook and worldview. The main reason why our mainstream is under such a grave assailment of extremism is arguably the raw deal that education has got from the state throughout.
It is an established fact that education is the prime factor in economic and social well being of any nation. It is a strategic tool in nation building through skill development and vision enhancement, which directly contributes towards economic growth. But here, despite unprecedented increase in population, the ratio of students attending government primary schools has declined. Surveys showed that the drop in enrolment proportion in government schools was due to substandard education, inadequate teachers and other facilities. Therefore, a cost effective model was needed to raise the level of education across the massive schools network. However, it is imperative that educational goals be defined afresh, and the purpose of education should be to prepare younger generations not merely to understand the universe but to alter it.