It is difficult to argue with the inference that the purpose behind the creation and development of human life is essentially the march of human society towards high pedestals of civilization, through a continuing process. Human history thus far testifies that knowledge is the key driver of human development, enabling it to add value to civilized life.
Knowledge is essentially the product of education, only a rare and few have been endowed in history with the capacity to gain knowledge through intuition. Societies that emphasize education have historically prospered in comparison with those who relish the comfort of ignorance, confining themselves to a cocoon of benign inactivity which retards growth.
Ever since societies developed into states, it has been the obligation of the independent State to recognize education as a right of the citizen. Therefore, States have always encouraged education and provided education directly, as far as possible. With the renaissance driven by the Muslim scholars of the early centuries of the second millennium, the world realized that human kind had to be the main focus of human enquiry and, thus, enquiry into human life and the environment concerning it has made it possible for humanity to reach the state of knowledge which it finds itself endowed with today. There is no possibility of societies and States, desiring to respond to the changing demands of growth not to invest individually, socially and materially in education to embark on a path of progress and realize their potential in the comity of nations. An unwillingness to respond to change through acquisition of knowledge degenerates society – faith degenerating into dogma, legacy degenerating into nostalgia and commitment to ideas degenerating into obduracy. Education therefore is the undeniable driver of the engine of progress.
The founding fathers of Pakistan realized early that the future of this nation depended on a productive pursuit of knowledge through education. In his message to the first Education Conference in November 1947, the Quaid-i-Azam said:
“If we are to make real, speedy and substantial progress, we must bring our educational policy and programme on the lines suited to the genius of our people, consonant with our history and culture and having regard to the modern conditions and vast developments that have taken place all over the world. The future of our State will and must accordingly depend upon the type of education we give to our children, and the way in which we bring them up as future citizens of Pakistan. We should try, by sound education, to instill into them the high sense of honor, integrity, responsibility and selfless service to the nation. There is an immediate and urgent need for giving scientific and technical education to our people in order to build up our future economic life and to see that our people take to science, commerce, trade and particularly well-planned industries. We should not forget that we have to compete with the world which is moving very fast in this direction.”
From the variety of policy articulations historically made in Pakistan, it can be seen that pursuit of education by itself has not always been the propeller of these policy statements. Dogma of one hue or the other has been the overall consideration rather than realizing education as the vehicle for social and economic development and as the means to provide individuals the capacity to realize their personal potentials. Barring the 1947 and 1959 interventions, the rest of the efforts were perhaps driven by politico-ideological considerations, other than education as a vehicle of person’s development as an individual, a citizen and a participant of an economic activity. So, almost alternately, it is education either for national integration or education for refinement of spiritual lives, albeit through perpetuation of religious belief.
Historically, we have failed to realize that education is both for development and for social justice and there is no choice between these two objectives. Because of lack of continuing research-based education, we have succumbed to the predators of our faith, which primarily drive their strength from the ambiguity that ignorance breeds; where knowledge is based on nostalgia. This has restrained people from pursuits of research and enlightenment through continuing and creative education. Hence, we see that the style and philosophical contents of our education policies have been based on one view or the other. The tangible goals articulated in these policies tended to recede into the background, being unrealistic and at times anti-progress.
The malaise of Muslim societies of the last several centuries continues to afflict us. It is impossible not to recall a couplet from Allama Iqbal in this context:
“Shining purity of conscience now lost,
A victim thou art to Imperialism,
Dogmatic clerics and mystics self-styled”
The ideological base, provided by Islam compels Muslim societies to treat individuals with compassion and respect including the minorities that co-exist in a Muslim State. The question of legitimacy of governments in power always encouraged thriving of a particular class of elite ever ready to acquiesce to the political demands of the day. Since the second half of the last millennium thorough scholarship was generally discouraged in the Muslim world and therefore the interpretation of Islam has suffered from the convenience of creed, depriving Islam of its dynamism. Islam encourages a continuing interpretation of the letter without disturbing the spirit of religion as a response to environmental changes.
Unfortunately, the dynamism that distinguishes Islam from static doctrines did not find true articulations in these education policies, So while the ideology of Islam, a vibrant religion, a gift of the Creator, is the overall provider of values to Pakistani society, it does not and should not impinge upon pursuit of knowledge both for individual and social development.
Governance of Education is the overarching framework that determines the policy of the State to meet its goals and targets; the responsibility to ensure that education of quality is available to all without distinction or discrimination. It cannot abdicate this responsibility to any other entity within or outside the country.
The State dispenses its responsibility in education through direct service delivery as well as regulating the non-state interventions in the sector; however, the largest proportion of service delivery in Pakistan remains with the public sector even as the private sector is growing. The current size of the private sector, including the propensity for continuous growth, calls for a more inclusive approach to dealing with education that considers the role of the private sector and its linkages with the rest and the possibilities of synergizing. Unfortunately, in previous public policy articulations, governance and management did not receive the specific attention it deserved in concretized terms, clearly delineating roles of various tiers of Government, in governance and management of education.
As a result, the implementation of goals set in different policy documents was not uniformly achieved due to unequal attention paid at various tiers of implementation or adversarial environment concerning governance of education. In the bargain, resources were either inequitably available or were wasted due to lack of ownership by the managers at the ground level. In Pakistan, the relations between the Federal and Provincial
Governments are defined by the Constitution; while those between the provinces and the local governments by the respective provincial local government ordinances.
The varieties of stakeholders demonstrate a clear lack of clarity on the perception of these rules. Hence, a clear delineation of inter-tier roles and relationships and defined demarcation of responsibility cannot be postponed if we are to achieve the targets that the State sets for itself for a uniform human development of quality throughout the country.
Pakistan continues to face a problem of access because of low levels of public spending, literacy and enrolments, acute regional and gender inequalities, and inequalities in the distribution of budgetary allocations to education. The main factors that keep children out of education are: poverty combined with education not perceived to provide economic gains, low quality of education, traditional style of teaching and corporal punishment, long distances to schools and high student – teacher ratio.
A key casualty of accelerated access is quality and there is always a trade off and debate on this, the world over. Pakistan is confronted with this problem and it will not be easy to overcome it quickly. It is always a difficult trade off as poor quality of education in itself is a major cause of dropouts from the system, therefore excessive emphasis on access may prove counterproductive in the long run. The issue of access and its direct impact on equity cannot be postponed. We need to analyze all the factors responsible for keeping children out of education at the primary, secondary and tertiary levels on the supply side and on the demand side. While with financial investment in a phased and planned manner coupled with a strong political will, can respond to fill in the supply gaps but on the demand side an awareness campaign will need to be launched by the provincial and local governments demonstrating the social and economic advantages of compulsory education up to Class-X and the negative opportunity cost of not sending a child to school. The provision of planned technical and vocational education will help people realize that providing some education to a child will not only benefit the individual but the family, society and the country at large.
Educational planning is responsible for and responsive to a specific national environment –moral, social, physical and economic. It is not planned in a vacuum of abstractions. Hence, relevance of education is the underlying theme of all State and national efforts in providing the citizens fair and equitable opportunity to enrich their lives through education and fulfill their obligation in the social contract with the State and add value to nation building. Education, therefore, has to be relevant to life of a citizen (both as an individual and as member of a society), relevant to nation building and relevant to livelihood. It has to be mutually satisfying to the citizen and the State to ensure that education improves the economic condition of the individual and allows him to participate in the economic well being of the State.
When determining the relevance of education to a specific national condition, the current milieu of the society and its future aspirations determine how education is made relevant to life, livelihood and nation building.
The “education condition” in Pakistan is far from acceptable with deprivation being experienced by large sub-groups – from children to adults. The existing education system has failed to cater to the needs of the children. Resultantly, a large majority of children stay out of school; another significant majority goes to school but do not find education productive and therefore drop out. Those who continue school are not being equipped well for “life in the 21st century”. Though policies to promote quality education have been formulated and promulgated from time to time, successive failures of the promises and the practice of missing the well marked goal posts have created a credibility gap.
Vision as an abstract philosophical driver and Purpose as the intention of a nation, determine the outlook of any public policy. The vision and purpose of education, being a universal catalyst for individual and collective accomplishment of progress, are extremely important. While a solid vision has not been lacking in the past policies, it has always been the governance, management, delivery and implementation that have fallen short. Also, vision in the past has been politically driven and hence there has been a lack of consistency in Education Policies, shrouding unclear objectives under the weight of the political canon of the day. This policy articulation recognizes that vision of education is not to be driven by the Government of the day, but has to be based on the aspirations of the people and responded to by the State. Since education is meant to address the imperative of the long term, a short-term vision of Education is bound to lead to failure and dissatisfaction. Based on the voices of the stakeholders, a vision statement is attempted as follows:
“Recognizing education as a right of the citizen, it is the aim of the State of Pakistan to provide equal and ample opportunity to all its citizens to realize their full potential as individuals and citizens through an education that enriches the individual with values/skills preparing him/her for life, livelihood and nation building.”
Therefore, the education system should raise highly knowledgeable, skillful, productive, creative and confident individuals who have advanced reasoning and perception of problem solving skills; are committed to democratic values and human rights; are open to new ideas; have a sense of personal responsibility; are committed to moral values; have assimilated the national culture; are able to tolerate and value differences in opinion, faith and culture; have empathy towards all of humanity; and can participate in the productive activities in society for the common good, using social and physical sciences and technology.
The purpose of education is not just to provide comfort to individual citizens but to sustain society and that can only happen if education supports a just society and teaches students to believe in the possibility of a better future. Therefore, education must create a spirit of enquiry, teaching our children to challenge the status quo through education that imparts values but does not indoctrinate.
An important purpose of education is to enable an individual to honestly earn his/her livelihood through skills that contribute to the national economy. Education should help improve skills, raise aspirations and enable individuals to make informed choices in life.
The demagogues of religion should not condemn the demands of modern day needs of education, merely to protect their own turf and influence. The State must be responsive to the compulsions of individual life, development, social justice and economic betterment. Dogma should not be allowed to malign the minds of the learners and the citizens of Pakistan must be provided full opportunity to realize their individual potentials, more importantly contributing to a knowledge-based economy and civilization. The lethal combination of autocracy, dogmatism and misguided spirituality has destroyed the Muslim world’s capacity to enquire, acquire knowledge and move forward into a new era of advancement. For far too long, we have languished in irrelevant legacy, to the extent of paralyzing our energies. The only answer is to proactively pursue knowledge, without fear or prejudice.
A time has therefore come to shed our personal prejudices, treat Pakistan as an independent, sovereign State and not hang on to the coattails of one foreign ideology or the other, free ourselves of tenets and to chart a path where the entire citizenry of Pakistan will be prompted, through a sensible education system, to realize personal and collective goals of individual and social empowerment. We cannot continue to postpone common sense and for political considerations pursue one motive or the other, leading the people into a slumber of inactivity and leaving the State entirely in the hands of self-styled elite.
This does not guarantee the greatest good of the largest number. It is against this background that we feel that a realization and articulation of national goals in the field of education cannot be postponed. The State must invest intensively and extensively in the future of Pakistan’s nation, by setting goals and standards in education that will facilitate the outstanding raw human resource of this country to chisel and refine itself into the finest exponents of social and economic power that they can be.