Pakistan remains in a state of confusion when it comes to devising solutions for its most serious issues like dispensation of justice and promotion of equality, peaceful coexistence, and tolerance, alongwith provision of health and education.The persistence of these issues is weakening not only the state but also the cultural values of the centuries-old social fabric — that had used to strengthen relations among diverse communities living in the territory.
Unfortunately, a weak political structure and inconsistency in public policies including foreign policy has left the state with little focus on the most important sector of public education. Although, a recent constitutional amendment has made education a right of every Pakistani child of age five to 16 years (Article 25-A of the Constitution unequivocally stipulates that the state shall provide free and compulsory education to all children between age five and 16 years).
These include state-run schools, religious seminaries, private schools following the Cambridge GCE/IGCSE system and private mushroom schools growing on a daily-basis in residential areas.
The standard National Education System is a continuation of the colonial-era British system. Religious seminaries are regulated by the Wifaqul Madaris; schools preparing pupils for Ordinary-and Advanced-level (O and A level exams) are affiliated with the CIE and Cambridge Assessment Board. The syllabus taught at mushroom schools is a blend of that taught at these schools, prepared keeping in consideration the need of that particular area or vicinity.
The first factor about these multiple systems of schooling is that they cater to different classes, and contribute to further stratification along class lines. The second most important factor is that curricula taught at these multiple systems varies, and the third key factor is regarding human resources involved in these systems. Let us explain now look into these factors.
The state-run institutions follow the national curriculum. Being a living document, curriculum needs to be revised and updated every five years, as per international standards. Our national curriculum has been in the process of reforms including those that may promote tolerance and cohesion. Unfortunately, the core issue in this regard has remained provision of appropriate training for text book writers to ensure that their products reflect the required reforms. Besides, critical thinking and inquisitiveness is prohibited, intentionally or unintentionally, at all levels of education, ending up making machines out of pupils who’re taught rote learning and memorisation.
The content and scheme of studies imparted at seminaries is approved by the Wifaqul Madaris. Pakistan Studies curriculum of respective education boards up till grade-VIII is taught at seminaries.
The CIE has its own scheme of studies and recommended books. Since CIE emphasises conceptual learning and critical thinking, the students studying in this stream are far ahead in learning, and they get a totally neutral version of our history. But it is also a fact that these students have to come back to compulsory subjects of Pakistan Studies and Islamiat if they opt for admissions in Pakistani colleges/universities.
Let us now turn to human resources in all three systems of schooling. The state-run institutions have a set criteria and proper procedure of hiring teaching staff (though the widespread perception is that candidates unable to get recruited into other government departments opt for teaching). The kind of trainings offered at times are insufficient and do not practically support the teaching staff in actual class room situation where they may need to deal with a large number of students. Secondly, the teaching staff may transfer their personal biases and unauthentic information on faiths, sects, religions, norms, values and culture, to the students, resulting in situations where religious/regional/ethnic identities may become more important for students than a Pakistani identity.
Though most seminaries have proper criteria for selection of teaching staff, there are instances where those recruited as teachers have completed schooling only up till the primary-level or have dropped out of school. These teachers uncritically promote among their pupil the school of thought they have been taught.
The facts about private schools mushrooming in residential areas are more serious. Teachers at these schools are meant to just run the show. They are paid extremely low salaries. We can very well understand what would be the quality of education given to students at these schools.
Once we look at the overall scenario, it’s evident that the state needs to take the most critical component of education more seriously to control growing intolerance and extremism in the society. The current multiple systems of schooling are creating different socio-economic classes and pushing us towards a more segregated and frustrated society, rather than a cohesive and a tolerant one. At provincial level, governments are taking initiatives to cope up with the areas highlighted here yet we still need a comprehensive and focused plan along with a well-unified system including capacity building of text book writers and teachers.
The writer has experience in the field of education and is currently working as a resource person in the development sector