Why sending bureaucrats’ kids to govt schools won’t work

Published: May 28, 2012

Children who have good teachers will all do well, regardless of whether they belong to poor or affluent backgrounds. PHOTO: FARAH J KHAN

Would forcing government servants to send their children to public schools help improve the quality of education? While such a populist measure seems well intentioned and simple enough, it betrays our continued ignorance of how education works or at least how it should work.

Now don’t get me wrong. I strongly believe that state schools need to be expanded and improved. I believe that schools should be palaces. However, the factors that contribute most to improving the quality of education, measured in terms of examination performance include, the quality of teachers, supportive parents and the financial standing of the student’s household.

In short, a good teacher coupled with parents who support their children’s learning via encouragement and raising aspirations, enable academic success regardless of whether the ‘school’ is under a tree or a brand new building.

Forcing bureaucrats to send their children to public schools would do little to alter the status quo of the factors above.

Second, it would actually contribute to making things worse. If our government servants are as corrupt, inefficient and ineffective as we are led to believe, they would find ways to insure that their kids are preferred over their peers.

Third, they are hundreds of thousands of government employees across the country. Who amongst them would be forced to send their children to public schools? Those at the top or those at the bottom of the pay scale?

Fourth, a long term effect of such a policy would be to discourage new entrants to the state bureaucracy.

Fifth, how would such rules be enforced?

In a country with many ghost schools, we would see the proliferation of ‘phantom students’. Names would appear on the school’s register for legal purposes, but students would simultaneously attend their parent’s preferred educational institution.

Sixth, it is questionable whether parents, who are not employed by the state, would be influenced by such laws.

Seventh, not all bureaucrats are equal. Resources will flow to the more powerful and trickle down to those who are at lower pay scales. Then what of all the public schools where no government servant sends his children? And what of the tens of millions of children who are not enrolled at school at all?

Finally, perhaps the biggest limitation of such a policy is that it would limit parental choice. Parents who are involved in their child’s education take an active interest and contribute to their child’s academic success. Any policy that could potentially harm parental involvement would do more damage than good.

Setting aside these shortcomings for a moment, let’s assume that such a policy is implemented, and all government employees are forced to send their children to public schools.

It’s the start of a new academic year, the sons and daughters of government clerks, army officers, police officials, municipal workers and so on arrive at their local state school. They are all exposed to the same teachers, the same environment, and the same infrastructure. Let’s also assume that the budget available for the coming academic year has been enhanced because the local Grade 21 officer’s children have also landed at this state school.

So would we now see improvements in academic performance?

Not likely.

Children who have good teachers will all do well, regardless of whether they belong to poor or affluent backgrounds. Poor teachers will remain poor educators, regardless of how much money is thrown their way. Once school ends, the children of the rich will go home and enjoy hearty nutritious meals. Their less affluent counterparts will go home to find that their dinner leaves them malnourished. Poor nourishment to a child child at age ten leaves him or her four years behind their well-nourished peers.

Children of affluent parents enjoy a more enabling home environment and over time, exposure to a variety of different experiences help build their aspirations. They have access to a range of leisure activities and the social connections that their parents enjoy help them secure internships and jobs once the time comes. For those from less affluent backgrounds, financial stress and limited social capital inhibit their ability to access opportunities from the onset.

My argument is simple.

We need a better understanding of the different factors that contribute to academic success. Enforced uniformity does not raise academic performance in isolation. If we want to address the sorry state of education in Pakistan, we must look at the process of learning both within and beyond the classroom.

Forcing government employees to send their children to public schools is a populist gesture; it would still fail to address many of the factors that contribute towards academic success. I would rather see limited financial resources and political capital allocated to widen access to opportunities for all, than implementing a populist measure, open to exploitation and abuse.

Read more by Nadir here or follow him on Twitter @needroos 

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Should it be mandatory for government officials' children to study in public schools?

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Syed Nadir El Edroos

Nadir teaches Economics at Bellerbys College, London ans is interested in Pakistani politics and current affairs. He tweets @needroos (twitter.com/needroos)

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • Vaqas uddin

    Definitely Yes ! But unforgivably they don’t because they prefer their children stay away from the poor kids! But these poor kids are in this situation for the Govt Ministers. Even you can also confirm education minister children never gone in to this Govt schools. Recommend

  • Parvez

    You sir have taken this rhetorical suggestion seriously. This idea is not new, it pops up every few years in order to try shame the shameless who claim to govern. Recommend

  • Ali Manzer

    Where would you get good teachers… when MPAs fill the setas with their constituents and supporters. Once they will have to send their children to schools they will make sure that they get good education. Off course it’s not that simple as it sounds there will be some steps to be taken… like ensuring meritocracy first. Same should be done with transport and health facilities. I think MPAs, MNAs and Senators should also be forced to travel by trains to attend the parliament sessions. We can afford the delays in sessions and we also know the quality of legislation they do.

    The first step would be to force all decision makers (ministry officials) of education, health and transport to utilize their relevant departments facilities only for the purpose.Recommend

  • Aisha

    my father’s a bureaucrat. i go to a government college (i’m doing inter). most of the teachers here don’t like to teach so i have to study almost everything by myself. and i don’t go to a coaching center. my dad teaches me chemistry.Recommend

  • Ghassan Khan

    Yes, only when people see each others problems can they understand each other. A similar school would not have an immediate effect on the current generation of students but it would slowly change their ideals for the better.Recommend

  • Bruce

    Pakistan should adopt the American school system, and get rid of the matric and cambridge systems.

    Public schools should also get rid of uniforms and hire foreign publishers to make books in Pakistan.Recommend

  • Imad Uddin

    Improving education system is way different from forcing people to send their kids to government schools.Here universities are unclear as to the purpose of their curriculum..I kno several universities who provide their students tiny notes to learn rather than reading and understanding those thick books My brother, studying in University of Bremen admits education there is nothing like he saw in sir syed university The MEANING of education is different from what is perceived in Pakistan. We need “educationalists” not just teachers!Recommend

  • Atta

    atleast some one has finally written about education on ET, although i partially agree with author but i believe there should be one education system for all, one sallybus for all, all government schools must be given to 1 internation or local organization to take care of and private schools must be under same authority, tuition deep must be equall, anything extra must be paid by government, admissions must be on merit as well as there must be reserved seats for students from backward areas.Recommend