Dr. A Q Khan
Mohsin e Pakistan

Pakistan’s defective education

Posted in English Articles  by draqkadmin
May 10th, 2010

Random thoughts
By A Q Khan

While the standard of education Pakistan has been going downhill, moral values have hit rock bottom. At a high school examination in Karachi, the nation was shocked to see not only teachers but also parents helping their children. Books were also being used.

Our Holy Prophet (PBUH) has advised us to “seek knowledge, even if you have to go all the way to China.” Dr Alfred North Whitehead declared more than a hundred years ago: “In the conditions of modern life the rule is absolute: the race which does not value trained intelligence is doomed. Not all your heroism, not all your social charm, not all your wit, not all your victories on land or at sea can move back the finger of fate. Today we maintain ourselves, tomorrow science will have moved over yet one more step and there will be no appeal from the judgment which will be pronounced on the uneducated.” Victor Hugo, said that when you open the gates of a school, you close the gates of a prison. US President Thomas Jefferson pointed out that if a nation expected to be ignorant, yet free and in a state of civilisation, it expected what never was and never would be. A Chinese philosopher advised that if someone wanted to plan for a year, he should sow a seed; for 10 years, plant a tree; for 100 years, teach people.
Over the last fifty years many concerned educational scholars have been warning against the rapidly deteriorating standards. Many educational institutions have sprung up – some of them providing good-quality education – but the overall standard is still dismal and what has been taught or learnt is not properly applied. We all know that school education is the most important foundation. Unfortunately, our school system is probably one of the worst in the world. We have thousands of ghost schools costing billions of rupees every year and some of our parliamentary representatives are themselves fake-degree holders. A lot of lip service is done about improving the system, but in the end it is more about cheating and looting public funds than about education.

The government education system has collapsed. The country is flooded with money-minting private institutions from which thousands of graduates have emerged without much prospect of finding reasonable employment. It is not uncommon for MBAs to apply for lower-division clerks’ jobs. Only the lucky and well-to-do manage to go abroad and they usually don’t return permanently. The Higher Education Commission spent billions of rupees in sending hundreds of students abroad for PhD degrees. Many remained abroad and of those who did return, only a few could find jobs, most of them in teaching. I had once strongly advised that industrial units should be planned to absorb this influx and give them challenging jobs, but nothing came of it. When the mobile phone culture started, I advised the government to set up a mobile phone manufacturing unit. This could have given thousands of engineers and technicians good employment. For many years now we have been spending almost a billion dollars per year on the import of these gadgets and allowing $250-300 million to leave the country in royalties. Is it not a shame that, whereas we are no more than beggars selling our national pride for $1.2 billion aid per year while at the same time spending almost $1.5 billion on the luxury of mobile phones?

It is very common on TV to see prize distribution/convocations of educational institutions. We also see gold medals being handed out. Then we see pictures of some lucky one selected by a foreign country under one fellowship or another. Once back, they will introduce themselves as gold medallists and X or Y scholars. However, in practical terms we do not hear of any important contribution towards the country’s progress.

Informed people know that our educational system is based on rote learning as opposed to problem-solving and application. Whether it is SSE, HSE, O or A levels, those students excel who have a good memory. Higher education is based on memorising the exam papers that have appeared over the past five years. No grasp or understanding of the material studied or original thinking is encouraged. We often see people introduced on TV as being an expert in one field or another without seeing anything practical that they have done for the betterment of the country. Writing books and publishing articles alone is of no practical value. Research should be practical, goal-oriented and should lead to some contribution of national interest.

I would like to give the example of Dr Abul Hussain, a young Bangladeshi chemist at George Mason University who invented a simple filter (and filtering technique) for removing poisonous arsenic metal from well water, which is a major problem in Bangladesh. These filters cost only $35 and one filter is enough to serve a whole village. In recognition of his important invention, the American Academy of Engineers awarded him a cash prize of one million dollars and a gold medal. Is there anyone in Pakistan who has done anything similar? Another example is oral rehydration salt (ORS). This was also invented by a Bangladeshi. It saves the lives of millions of people every year.

During the last three years many knowledgeable people have published a number of articles in national English language dailies on the subject of education. The ministry of education has also published its “National Education Policy” and there is mention of an education task force entrusted with the improvement of our educational system. There are many reports, proposals, policies, etc., available in bookshops, but the fact is that it needs more than a report or book to revise a system. What we need are competent people to implement and enforce a chosen, well-considered system.

I suggest that there should be a uniform syllabus for the whole of Pakistan with the provinces using discretion to include their respective language, cultures, etc., as added subjects. This will enable students from any part of the country to participate in competitive examinations (like CSP, PFS, PSP) without facing any disadvantage or hurdle. It would also ensure the easy migration of students from one province to another.

Let us not be under the illusion that only higher education or higher degrees can ensure prosperity and progress in the country. We have our “financial wizards” as examples. Despite many “wizards,” our economic situation is in a mess. As former American President Calvin Coolidge so aptly pointed out, the world is full of intellectual derelicts. Being able to apply what you learn is the essence of education. A former Harvard University president once said: “If you think that education is expensive, try ignorance.” However, this does not mean that money is the final guarantee of good work and research. I have seen many laboratories in China, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Russia which were poorly equipped compared to laboratories in the West, but the work produced by them was nonetheless not inferior.

Finally I would like to suggest that, in a similar manner to religious scholars advising us to recite Aayate Karima to prevail over all evils and worries, we should also recite Surah Shua’ra, Ayaat 83-84: “O Almighty Allah, give me knowledge and wisdom and let me join the pious people, and give me fame among posterity and make me the inheritor of the blessed garden of Paradise.” Ameen.

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