Like almost everything in Pakistan, education, too, has become a controversial subject. One cannot have a decent roundtable or a talk show on education that does not end up being political.
Beyond revolutionary ideals, fixing education, I believe, needs a bit more realistic approach. Given the space constraint, I will focus on the following five areas that can set the education sector on the right track.
The first is to prioritise education in our country. And by prioritising, I don’t mean listing it as a priority for only those who are in power but also for the general public and the media at large. Every time I have written about education, the social media penetration is not even one-tenth of what it is when I write about dharnas or conspiracy theories.
Also, how many times have the top anchors of talk shows even remotely discussed education in their programmes? Or for that matter how many protests or sit-ins have we witnessed in Pakistan related to education? The pressure has to come from the public, and it is my firm belief that a dharna of 10,000 students for changes in the education system can get parliament to prioritise it as a key budget allocation sector, opening doors for an improved education system.
Secondly, and more importantly, as long as teaching and grading methods are not revamped, no matter how much money is spent, the students will never attain quality education. Being a lecturer at NUST and the Quaid-e-Azam University, I have for long been a strong advocate of changing the teaching and evaluation methods in the country across all levels of education.
A teacher has to be trained in innovative methods, interactive techniques and approaches to fascinate the students, to develop their interest in the subject and to arouse curiosity, which is the first step towards learning and acquiring good education.
Grading has to be very careful and holistic so that it truly gauges the intellect and aptitude of the students instead of pushing them towards a number oriented rat race of scoring an ‘A’. Pakistan needs truly learned people than mere degree holders.
The third and most important aspect for me is providing counselling across all levels of education. Education has to have a purpose: defining that purpose is something that the teachers, parents and each student must sit down and discuss.
Counselling is perhaps the key aspect of education reforms that must be taken into consideration at the high school and university levels. Unfortunately, in current schools and universities such a set-up doesn’t exist. Well over 90 per cent of my students studying political science, economics or pursuing business degrees were studying the course because that was what ‘everybody’ else in the market was doing.
Integrating the component of counselling, I stress, is the key to education sector reforms that will go a long way towards self actualisation of students and putting them in the right direction based on the their interests and job market trends.
Fourth, there is a need to integrate information and communication technology (ICT) in education. Technology is rapidly changing the education structure and infrastructure all over the world and the education system must adapt. Also, teachers’ attendance and monitoring could be established by integrating the ICT network in school systems tackling the culture of ghost schools.
From the students’ perspective, education is no more just about getting a degree. In today’s job market, education is synonymous with computer literacy. Programmes like the laptop scheme in that sense has really had a tremendous impact on making technology available to everyone by allowing kids from humble backgrounds to be on an equal footing in the job market.
Lastly, getting a degree is not all what education is about. It should be known that the world is now moving towards specialised certification and skill set trainings. Vocational trainings, hence, is a great alternative that can put our massive youth to high quality work and enable the government to extract value. Training in sectors that link the local economy with global economy (textile, sports goods, etc.) is what can create an excellent workforce that can be exported and also used internally.
Fixing education is no quantum physics — an integrated policy will bear fruit earlier than expected in a shape of accelerated GDP growth, better labour efficiency and eventual political stability for the government.
Published in The Express Tribune, November 29th, 2014.