Zulfikar Ali Bhutto is the reason the state of education in Pakistan is so bad

Published: November 11, 2016
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Teachers no longer took their work seriously, knowing that being government employees, they could never be sacked. PHOTO: REUTERS

I recently came across an Urdu newspaper in which the date was stated to be October 32, 2016. Apparently the editor didn’t know that October has only 31 days, and it can’t ever have 32 days, not even if Imran Khan wants it and threatens to lock down the whole world if it is not done. Teachers of English in our schools are not qualified to teach, which is why most Pakistanis routinely add an apostrophe before an “s” even when it is not required.

Education standards have deteriorated drastically. I usually come across such phrases as “his” husband or “her” wife. At such times I wish that the writer would stick to his mother tongue instead of massacring the English language. One of the aims of a good education is to train students to express themselves (if not in English, at least in their mother language). Unfortunately, that is no longer the case.

It was undoubtedly Zulfikar Ali Bhutto who gave the death blow to quality education in the country. His rampant nationalisation of schools and colleges to provide jobs for his party workers (one of whom became the principal of a school despite not being able to sign his name) ensured that the common man would never be able to provide a decent education for his children. Teachers no longer took their work seriously, knowing that being government employees, they could never be sacked.

A couple of years ago (40 years after the reckless nationalisation of education), I interviewed a graduate of a prestigious business institution of the country. He didn’t even know basic math (including how to calculate percentage increase or decrease in prices). In fact, he could not even do simple addition or subtraction. When I asked him what he would do without a calculator, he said a modern cell phone can also be used as a calculator. I asked him what he’d do if he didn’t have a calculator or a cell phone and needed to do simple calculations like when paying for groceries.

“I’ll ask someone who knows how to do it”, he said.

When I asked him how he was able to get his current job, he smiled and said,

“My father is a senior government officer”.

Way back in 1972, in the first cabinet of Bhutto, the health minister, Sheikh Rasheed, announced that by introducing generic medicines in the country, prices had come down by up to “a 1000%”. And he said this at an international conference outside Pakistan, which made us the laughing stock of the whole world. One foreign reporter asked the minister how prices could be reduced by a 1000%, since a decrease of only 100% in the price of any item would mean that its price would now be zero. I don’t remember how the minister retrieved himself from this awkward situation. Someone should have told him that by reducing the price of something by a 1000%, the pharmacy selling that item would not only have to give it away for free, but would also have to pay Rs900 to the buyer.

So, even before Bhutto nationalised schools and colleges to provide jobs for his party activists, quality education was not available in some government schools (like the one in which Sheikh Rasheed studied and passed his matric exam). I was surprised that Bhutto didn’t replace him (perhaps because he was a senior member of the party and already beyond retirement age).

I, myself, was fortunate to have studied in a missionary school which is famous for having produced a president of the country, a prime minister as well as a provincial governor and chief minister, a senior Indian politician and some army generals (a couple of whom were my classmates). One of my class fellows is a well-known columnist writing for a leading English newspaper of the country.

Teachers were dedicated and strict. The school was run by Dutch Christian priests who spoke to us only in English. They were strict disciplinarians who didn’t hesitate to cane us if we didn’t do our homework. This school was among the two missionary schools in Karachi that were not nationalised, but when I had my son admitted there in 1980 I found that the former teachers had retired and had been replaced by those who were products of nationalised schools and were not as good as ours had been. Nowadays, of course, private schools have sprung up and children of the elite are being trained to get good jobs after they graduate. But even some private school teachers are not as good as the ones we had when we were kids. My teachers were so good that I didn’t need tuition, but most children nowadays need to avail private tuitions to be able to pass. Perhaps it’s because school teachers are not paid more than the minimum wage prescribed by the government.

It will be a long time before things improve, and I doubt it will happen in my lifetime.

Shakir Lakhani

Shakir Lakhani

Engineer, former visiting lecturer at NED Engineering College, industrialist, associated with petroleum/chemical industries for many years. Loves writing, and (in the opinion of most of those who know him), mentally unbalanced. He tweets @shakirlakhani (twitter.com/shakirlakhani)

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

  • Sharath Chandra

    Pakistan has nukes and that’s important.Recommend

  • Shah

    With respect, how does reducing the price by 1000% means the item would be given for free and Rs900 is additionally paid? You should have told your editor to first suppose a price of 100Rs for the item, may be :pRecommend

  • Ali

    As expected an Indian with his usual fail rants about Pakistan. Never fails. I am talking about Indian dude commenting.

    Anyhow, I agree with the author. it might shock you but state of education even in the US is abysmal. Ask any random person these questions and you will get shocking answers. Is that enough to judge the US educational institutions, I will leave that up to you.Recommend

  • SHAH S

    No doubt ZAB tore the fabric of good schooling and curriculum by nationalization of schools, colleges etc; As you did not directly address that issue but jumped out to comment on nukes; sure Pakistan has nukes ; to be used as and when necessary.. whether Pakistanis speak urdu, punjabi, sindhi, balochi, seraiki, hindko, pushto… Recommend

  • MP

    Wooooff… I guess English is a language only. As with diversity and inclusiveness, we tend to speak so many different languages with some tolerable proficiency and i don’t think there is a problem in speaking any language with some reasonable proficiency.
    It is however pertinent to note that the importance of speaking grammatically correct English cannot be over-emphasized, so far as communication is not hampered. Let our clarity define who we are! :)Recommend

  • aafat

    Why is it important?
    Just wondering …Recommend

  • MJ

    I went to a “Yellow walled” government school in Karachi. From 1973 to 1983, 1st grade through 10th. I had the best teachers one could imagine. We used to have position holders from our school way after nationalization was completed as it was one of the best schools and the forward momentum it had in terms of teaching excellence took a bit longer than others to subside. Towards the end of my stay in school I started to notice teachers who knew less than the students started to get hired. The seasoned teachers started opening their tuition centers and now not even an uneducated fruit seller is willing to send his kids to the same school. The school whose alumni comprises of countless PhD Scientists, Physicians, Nuclear physicists, Journalists, Sports Champions, Neurosurgeons, Engineers, Businessmen etc. all over the world, specially in the US is now a joke for the community that it is located at. The current standard of the school is so bad that none of the folks living in the middle class surrounding area would even think about sending their kids to the same school.
    Nationalization and nepotism has destroyed not just steel mills and airlines but education in our country as well.Recommend

  • Adil zahoor

    Sorry sir, but your article is highly exagerated. You are unaware of ground realities.

    Pakistan is producuing widely accepted doctors, bussiness graduates and enginners that has grown up in the same nationalised schools.Recommend

  • Fruck Off

    The reality is that there is enough higher education curriculum present in Farsi and Arabic and also Turkish to find ways to translate entire textbooks so that at least, the kids can understand what they’re studying and do something with that knowledge; whether its science, math, engineering or technology. The alternate is to hire graduates from western countries who all have English as their first language (like the missionary teachers mentioned in the article) as China does, but that’ll be very costly and hard to manage with such a huge population. Not all of them would want to stay there and teach kids in rural areas, for example, but it is definitely something that the elites would want done for their schools. A graduate from a western uni can teach upto high school levels and in some case, bachelor’s levels. Basically, the courses they would have studied in school and done good in (they would have to show their grades).

    Unfortunately, Pakistanis who are sent to study abroad don’t do anyone any good because they learn nothing for three reasons: 1) it doesn’t matter to the schools since they just want their international students’ fees and couldn’t possibly care if they succeed or not, 2) they haven’t made English their first language in their primary and secondary education to have a grasp on what they’re studying at a higher level and finally, 3) since what they had learned at the earlier levels wasn’t in their first language, they didn’t understand it then. So now, they couldn’t just translate what they were learning in their first language using google translate, for example, like Persian or Chinese students can. For the latter two, they learn everything in their first language, which helps them understand everything and as a result, they simply have to connect the term in their native language to the English terms in order to further their education and knowledge. Pakistanis on the other hand, like the Indians, don’t understand anything at home and its even worse when they’re abroad because there’s no tutor to help them make sense of wtf they just went to class for.

    Therefore, Pakistani graduates from abroad aren’t the right fit, either. What would be required is an actual, native speaker of the language but paying them in dollars would be hard. The Chinese, however, have found an easier way out; they advertise jobs at colleges where they’re bound to find college grads who aren’t likely to find a job because of the economy that just doesn’t seem like it’ll change. These kids are also in a great deal of student debt so they sign a one-year or two-year contract with the PRC, get some experience, earn some money, but also, help produce students like Mr. Lakhani, who have the luxury of talking down at the newer generation as if they brought all of this upon themselves.

    I still believe that the easiest and all-encompassing way is to translate the books; there’s only one required per course at any level. Also, it can be supplemented with podcasts that can be accessed off of cellphones that everyone seems to carry these days.

    But even after all of that is done, the people will remain largely jaahil because the women of this society have to be most jaahil women on the entire planet. As the Prophet said, educate a woman, and so you shall educate an entire community. Some say this is an African proverb when on social media to apparently make the saying more palatable. While the kids are educated, the women must be too. Pakistani women are the most corrupt, mentally deficient and ignorant on Earth. This needs to be reversed so that the kids who do end up getting an education don’t go back to jahalat all over again to reverse whatever gains had been made with a proper education. No education reform can fix the actual issue of this society: its unbearably jaahil women. Uneducated, they’re educated, this Pakistani ‘community’ cannot be.Recommend

  • Ibnul Hasan Rizvi

    Mr. Bhutto was the architect of Pakistan’s break up. He destroyed the economy and education in the remaining portion of Pakistan.Drycleaning services brings back, Benazir to carry on the Bhutto legacy, Nawaz Sharif created to loot and destroy, replaced by Zardari to speed up the looting, destruction of the economy,another dry cleaning brings back Nawaz Sharif to continue where he left. I refer every one to the speech of Qaide Azam to the Constituent Assembly on 12th August 1947, where he warned the new nation of Pakistan against the bad practices prevailing in un-divided India on corruption, adulteration of food items and nepotism, warning that this will not be allowed in Pakistan.Recommend

  • faizan

    Sindhi people would not agree to this, just because lack of education or poor education system.Recommend

  • Shakir Lakhani

    You’re right, the price of the item should have been stated to be Rs. 100. Thanks for pointing it out.Recommend

  • Shakir Lakhani

    The state of education in India is equally bad. I once saw a medical college girl in “Kon banay ga crorepati” who didn’t know how many lungs there are in the human body. She had to phone her mother (a doctor) to find out.Recommend

  • sher khan

    Yes mr modi also aware of that.Recommend

  • Zainab Khan

    Spot on. KudosRecommend

  • Fahim

    Great piece of writing and a recommended article. Russia was a super power before communism revolt of 1915 and eventually it slowly collapsed. Usually people like money, power and woman of others. Communism is a mental disease.Recommend

  • nhiuw
  • Ammar

    Hats off to the comparision …article is based on false assumption…just look at the hieght of comparison…a uni grad failed to answer a maths question blame the president…does it make an senseRecommend

  • Fahim

    These are those doctors, business graduates and engineers who are working very hard. They are finding world’s best state of the art technology contents from internet via top MOOC and giving international papers after preparing for it specifically. Where is the state ?Recommend

  • Shakir Lakhani

    ZAB nationalized schools and colleges only to provide jobs for his party activists (and for the same reason, he nationalized industries, banks, insurance companies, petroleum refineries, oil marketing companies, even very small flour and rice mills). He did not have any love for the country, which he had previously helped to dismember.Recommend

  • SP

    I am a Sindhi and I agree.
    Don’t be so judgmental.Recommend

  • Shakir Lakhani

    “….the easiest and all-encompassing way is to translate the books”. Really? Translate into which language? There are many languages in Pakistan, besides Urdu (which is spoken by only 10% of Pakistanis). I can tell you that no Pakistani or Indian language is suitable for teaching science. As for English, the only Pakistani Nobel Prize winner was from Pakistan’s Punjab who studied in English, which is probably the easiest language to learn.Recommend

  • Shakir Lakhani

    “Pakistani women are the most corrupt, mentally deficient and ignorant on Earth”. Are you serious? Have you any evidence for it?Recommend

  • Fruck Off

    You seem like an elderly and experienced gentleman so you don’t need me to tell you how the “begumaat” incite their husbands to indulge in funds’ embezzlement and accepting bribes so they may make new dresses every year. in fact, it’s not even every year but rather for each and every new wedding event or occasion so they can show up their competitor who is a wife of another ufsur (officer). Let’s not forget their visits to the so-called parlors, Botox and surgeries. All of this, would’ve been a good use of taxpayer money had it added to their beauty or even helped create it but it rarely ever does. Sure, you pay reference Shillary and say her husband and she accepted donations from the Indians in the billions through the CGI, or even wall Street money but lets be honest, was any of it stealing from the poor and their taxes? She took money from foreign donors (not her own people) and also, wall street; but what did she spend that money on? Her election campaign. What do the women in Pakistan do? Tell their husbands to steal from the national exchequer and compromise on their integrity by taking bribes so that they may buy new lawn dresses (whatever the hell lawn is). You may correlate your experiences with others but empirically, I can tell you that no other country has this “begumaat” phenomenon. Even the most corrupt nation on the planet, india doesn’t have this concept of their wives inciting their husbands to be corrupt so that they may buy new saaris. They may buy gold but they hoard it and bury it in their temples. White folks have wall street guys or people like Trump. Nowhere in the world are women so corrupt. Maybe middle Eastern women are like that but when you see what kind of cars and buildings their men spend their money on, you will give their women a free pass on being shallow.Recommend

  • Fruck Off

    Unfortunately, the statistic you referenced is of the UP-Bihar migrants of which you also might not be a part because your last name suggests your first language is Kutchi or Gujarati. You have conveniently ignored that statistics suggest that Urdu is spoken and understood by 80% of Pakistanis while 10% claim to be ‘Urdu-speaking’ immigrants. If you cared to notice, the most famous Urdu poets were Punjabi like Iqbal or Faiz or Jalib or Pathan like Faraz and Niazi (popular last name in Afghanistan). Urdu is learned in the chaks of Punjab, and villages of all other provinces since that is the medium of the government-backed syllabus. I take it that you have never communicated with anyone from any village or chak and also, I believe you may also lack the required exposure to ascertain what proper scientific knowledge and education entails. Given these drawbacks, I will help you understand that the second most published scientific research articles are in Mandarin, a country that makes cancer drugs that are used in all western hospitals and it is also this language that used NCBI to come up with the cure of ebola. Iranians, who learn everything in Persian happen to be the only country in the region to have cloned a goat while everything they learned was in Farsi. I won’t bother mentioning the Latin Americans and their Portuguese and Spanish or the French, or even the Germans who happened to have created all of modern-day science. Being a science major, I can help you understand these things in far more detail, if you so wish.

    Pakistanis have a habit of throwing around unresearched, irrelevant and obsolete references to draw inapplicable inferences. Had anyone read what you wrote, they would’ve thought you couldn’t get by with Urdu in Pakistan and the only way to learn science is through English because one dude won a Nobel Prize while having studied in that medium. Education is an art, and also a science that requires an understanding of psychology, communication, etc. The scope of teaching and learning is far more vast than a handful of missionaries the colonizers left behind to remain influential on the savages of the third world. Ironically, the colonists have accepted Mandarin, Farsi, Portuguese (Brazilian), French and German speakers and their knowledge in science and other subjects (learned in their native language) but their leftovers are still trying to shove English down our throats. God help us all. Had folks like Mr. Lakhani been around Einstein and Madame Curie, none of us would’ve even had science because their native German and French wouldn’t have been good enough. He would’ve also stopped all research on cancer drugs being made in China and animal farming in Iran. Good thing those countries don’t have such folks and such a mindset; at least, they can progress in peace and bring mankind forward alongside themselves.

    Pakistanis are an accursed people so I am not surprised they think like this. If they were open-minded, had a greater vision, exposure and outlook, who would’ve bothered discussing what medium to use, to teach a largely illiterate population, 70 years later.

    I stand by Urdu being the medium of education because I actually know and I can debate anyone on this matter. But I won’t, these people deserve ignorance and illiteracy. Recommend

  • abhi

    primary education should be provided by government to all. Private school can suppliment this but not the oly source of education.Recommend

  • Zaheer sufi

    Seems like a typical Bhutto hater, I came thru the same government run schools and colleges and did not see any of such hirings . Students graduating from such schools and colleges from that era were better off in their future being prosperous than graduated from today. ZAB sent thousands of such students and labour force overseas for jobs and foreign exchange . Ask their offsprings who are still enjoying the fruits of that era in foreign countries ! Come off the band wagon of Bhutto hate and appreciate his gift of security you have today instead of being a resident of India if not his visionary atomic program. Recommend

  • IBN E ASHFAQ

    Zulfiqar destroyed DJ College in karachi and other such similar institutions with his disastrous educational policies…..Recommend

  • Enkay

    Shakir Lakhani Esq. : The Late Zulfikar Ali Bhutto was Hung to Death on 4th April 1979.
    Over 37 Years have passed by since the Hanging of Mr. Z. A. Bhutto. It is high time that you now blame the Pakistani Leadership for the last 37 Years for the present state of Education in Pakistan and let Z. A. Bhutto’s SOUL REST IN PEACE.Recommend

  • Enkay

    Shakir Lakhani Esq : St. Patrick’a is a Jesuits School.Recommend

  • Tariq Habib

    The authenticity of facts provided in the article are quiet doubtful and questionable. Specially event about Sheikh Rasheed. Who was first elected as MNA in 1985. How he can be in cabinet in 1972. He born in 1950 He received his early education in from Polytechnic College and graduated from Gordon College.and completed his Bachelor of Laws at the University of Punjab most probably much after 1972 being a very good student who takes several years in every class, from class 1 to the end of his education career as student leader.Recommend