An able, educated and technology-savvy workforce can bring Pakistan out of its dire straits
The world our children will inherit will be a world fundamentally different from the one we live in. The only question is, are we prepared for it, most importantly are we preparing our children for it? The answer, I fear we all know, is a resounding no.
The challenges facing education in Pakistan are many. A lack of centralisation of data which hinders decision-making and compromises efficiency is one problem. Also, the capabilities of school leadership and education management remain weak. All this and more have been pointed out in Punjab Education Policy, 2018 that had recently been promulgated.
The report points out that key leadership (e.g. school heads) positions are vacant and the personnel capacity to make use of data for decision-making is limited. Also the absence of a coordination framework for private sector organisations reflects adversely on the education sector.
The report made a long list of recommendations some of which included the launch of Insaf Afternoon School Programme to provide middle and secondary schooling as medium-term solutions to low post-primary enrolment, and inadequate schools/classrooms. Use double-shift (afternoon schools) at the primary level in select districts to address overcrowding. Using existing infrastructure, both these models will help utilise public funds efficiently in the early stages of term by saving on development and recurrent budgets, as well as time required to construct new classrooms/schools. Create additional schooling opportunity by incentivising private partners to develop educational institutions in underserved parts of the Punjab. These steps will be taken following revisions to the governance framework regulating public-private partnerships.
Also engaging the community and strengthening school councils to provide school level solutions such as classroom construction, enrolment drives and supervision of minor repairs in school facilities can help. School Education Department (SED) will provide financial and administrative support. A programme will be launched where construction responsibilities will be decentralized to school councils while SED will provide financial and quality control support.
To reduce out-of-school children there is a need to amend the Free and Compulsory Education Act 2014: where the state has already taken every measure possible to ensure schooling is accessible, this amendment will place legal obligations on parents to send school-aged children to school. Restructure subsidies by evaluating the Conditional Cash Transfer (CCT) programme in the Punjab for operational efficiency and sustainability. Funds will be partially redirected towards localised access solutions, such as classroom provision or transportation.
The raw facts paint a sorry portrait of education scenario in Punjab alone. There are 4.8 million children estimated to be out of school in the Punjab. In 5 years, less than 5000 classrooms were constructed against a target of more than 20,000 classrooms. 50% of 3-4-year-olds in rural Punjab are not enrolled in any form of early childhood education/schooling. The most startling fact is that the Government schools failed to retain half of its enrolled students
Teachers lack effective implementation strategies for their domain and pedagogic knowledge.
Less than 50% of children aged 5-16 are unable to read in English. 50% of children aged 5-16 are unable to perform basic arithmetic or read in Urdu. Teachers and students rely on rote learning rather than application of concepts. Lack of consistency, with each successive government formulating a set of educational policies from scratch is responsible for the present dire straits.
We made progress in many avenues, however, in population growth we’ve marveled even beyond our dreams and nightmares put together
As I’ve written in these pages before, dear folks, and must dare to reiterate it. The quandaries that await our children are not some fiction or doomsday scenario imagined by some deluded looney. The world ahead is a world much different from the one we have right now. The cute, little ones of today- when they’ll be neither cute nor little-will breathe and battle in a world no one has any idea or inkling about right now..
The more, the merrier mindset with which their parents expanded their progeny will ultimately become the more, the messier real world scenario they’ll have to put up with. From 33.7 million people back in 1951 we are now 220 million souls dwelling on the same tract of land. We made progress in many avenues, however, in population growth we’ve marveled even beyond our dreams and nightmares put together.
The ultimate question we shy away from is who’ll employ our genius, accomplished kids when they graduate a decade or two or three down the line? Won’t the skills they will require to land a job would be inherently different from what we teach them at schools, colleges and universities.
About time to prepare them in present for a future that is neither utterly bleak nor totally uncertain but very hard to predict.