Pakistan needs a charter of education now

Girls continue to stand out as larger percentage of millions of out-of-school children; this requires girl student specific policy and action

Taimur K Bandey
Refugee schoolchildren receive their new books on the first day of the new school year at one of the UNRWA schools at a Palestinian refugee camp al Wehdat, in Amman, Jordan, September 1, 2016.—Reuters
Refugee schoolchildren receive their new books on the first day of the new school year at one of the UNRWA schools at a Palestinian refugee camp al Wehdat, in Amman, Jordan, September 1, 2016.—Reuters

We are living in 2022 – in fact, almost at the halfway mark of 2022. Back in the 1980s or even 1990s people would perhaps do anything to somehow have a glance at 2022 and see what the world would be like then.

I assume the fascination of most Pakistanis would mostly circle around what kind of technology would exist, what fashion would be like then, or how would our lives be towards the end of the first quarter of the 21st century. 

Few, I assume, would think about the state of education in Pakistan. Fewer would hope for things to go from bad to worse. In reality, it has not just gone from bad to worse, it has, as a matter of fact, gone from bad to berserk.

Yet, instead of gazing at the spiral route downwards and just talking about it, it is time to step back and come out with a policy direction that can act as a road map for all and any government to be obligated to implement as a signatory to a Charter of Education. 

Since education is a provincial subject, all the political parties across the divide need to come on board and pledge to implement in their respective provinces.

The most important goal of the charter must be the focus on the almost 23 million out-of-school children. This is by no means a small number. This means a catastrophic future. 

Girls continue to stand out as the larger percentage of the millions of out-of-school children. This requires a girl student specific policy and action. I recommend a ‘Bilquees Edhi Beti Parhao Programme’ across Pakistan that is designed to encourage, retain, and popularise women’s education on a war footing. Special girl schools, aggressive media campaigns promoting female education, and benefits of female education to the girl herself, the family, household, country etc.

This campaign has to be done in regional languages and the state apparatus needs to be used to drive this thought into the houses and minds of the land. The curriculum too needs to manifest the importance of female education. 

Special funds need to be kept aside and a vibrant public-private sector partnership, involvement of international donor agencies, governments, and overseas Pakistanis can be part of the effort to raise funds. Local and multinational companies too can be on board to perhaps fund parts of the campaigns that suit them and allow funds to be raised for this campaign.

Pakistan’s official education statistics 2018-19 clearly show a high dropout rate of students after grade five which follows till matriculation that has a pass rate of just 70% compared to more than 85% in India. 

The main reasons for the dropout and declining pass rate have been attributed to a substandard education system, deficiency of well-trained teaching staff, cultural and religious causes, issue of affordability, and other reasons such as the unfortunate lack of schools.

Pakistan lacks the physical infrastructure, equipment, and abilities to retain students and high-quality teachers in public schools. 

More than that, with the coronavirus, we saw the fragility of Pakistan’s education system. This presents us with a unique opportunity of implementing a hybrid model of education by balancing online and face-to-face education. 

‘If kids can’t come to school, let’s bring the school to them’ – this initiative will increase access to education and make it easier for families to educate their children in an affordable manner. This is a great time to initiate this project because there are currently over 160 million smartphone users in Pakistan and by partnering up with telecom providers for free internet data, we can make online education a reality.

To initiate this programme, we can start by targeting tier-1 and tier-2 cities where tele-density is higher and students have access to smartphones and the internet. 

To further encourage students to adopt online education, we can run instructional videos on PTV explaining the benefits of this initiative while demonstrating how students can get started with the application. A whole presentation and in-depth study for this paradigm shift exists and can be presented to the provincial governments to study.

While school facilities, teacher-training, school resources, basic amenities and other factors are largely missing facets of our deprived education system, what is more important is: what are we teaching our children?

This is where it is important to focus on local history, language, culture, arts, music, and various ethnicities and religions that populate a province.

Without going into the details, the key element for making any curriculum or designing classroom practices is to understand that the attention spans are not shrinking, but rather evolving to be more selective, according to a new research study from audience presentation platform Prezi.

The firm’s 2018 State of Attention report measures the effectiveness of content and presentations and how they resonate with business professionals across demographics, including Millennials, Generation X, and Boomers. 

It reveals that the key to engaging content is a compelling narrative combined with stimulating visuals and dialogue. This suggests that the attention of this generation of students can be captured for long periods of time with compelling content that includes great stories and interesting, gripping visuals. 

Debate, discussion, engagement, and open-ended assessments and classroom talks are now the key to success.

While we may deliberate upon what subjects are to be added, I feel we now need to focus on skills. 

The new world demands emotional intelligence, problem-solving skills, research skills, and presentation skills for our students to compete globally and become lifelong learners. 

Critical thinking and analytical skills can not be created on their own. An overt and dedicated effort has to be made to institutionalize it in our classrooms and curricula.

The sacred nature of a constitution, democracy, parliamentary system, women’s rights, minority rights, civic duties like paying taxes and voting, civil rights, acceptance and realization of transgender, diversity, enlightened thought, beauty and necessity of dissent and disagreement now need to be littered across the curriculum across the various years of schooling.

My suggestion is perhaps not to force private schools to introduce quotas for underprivileged children and instead negotiate with them to share their best practices, training, content, delivery mechanisms, management skills, and more with the public sector.

Let us try to get the best of the private school system and try to implement them in other school systems in a sustainable manner that benefits all. Again, there are various models around the world to study and select for Pakistan.

Exams and assessments are at the core of any education reform. We also need to consider the stages at which we hold large-scale assessments which are heavy on content, rely on reproduction rather than analysis, and are grade fixated. We need to rethink how these help students transition to higher levels of school, college, and university for regular and technical learning opportunities within and outside the country.

As stated before, revisiting the education sector, creating more budget for it, a modern-day focus on it, and other factors are not a choice anymore but a necessity. 

Like climate change, we ignored education as well. 

While we are hit back crudely by nature for our lack of action to deal with climate change, our negligible and poor attention to the issues of education will attack us more unsparingly and dangerously.

The scary proportions of population growth, the fast depletion of natural resources, an intolerant, bigoted, and misogynist local population which is overwhelmingly young are scary seeds for a future Pakistan.

A Charter of Education is perhaps the need of the hour and there are many out there to help other than the government.

The writer is an educationist and International Baccalaureate (IB) consultant.

Twitter: @TBandey

Originally published in The News