Wanted: More than a uniform education system

Published: January 2, 2012

Only good teachers can narrow the gap between the rich and poor students of Pakistan. PHOTO: AFP

Politicians agree that the education system in Pakistan has failed. When they are not arguing about whether or not a section on jihad is necessary, most agree that the country requires more schools and a unified curriculum. 

When it comes to education, politicians and bureaucrats love building schools and talking about reform. However, building schools is something tangible and easily achievable; they hang banners, pose for a photograph, pray before an inauguration plaque, and bask gloriously in the satisfaction of constructing a new school. Curriculum reform is also another talking point, but there doesn’t seem to be a lot of agreement on exactly what the end point needs to be after the reform process.

The O’ and A’ Level system is considered the pinnacle of learning for students in Pakistan. The Federal Directorate of Education (FDE) recently announced that it would begin offering O’ and A’ Level classes at some of its schools. It hopes that children from deprived backgrounds will be able to appear in the same examinations as their affluent peers and that this will help bridge the divide between them. Sounds good, but while they have good intentions, implementing such a policy will still not tackle the biggest inequality that children from deprived areas face: lack of equal opportunities.

Offering a different curriculum, as the FDE is proposing, is not going to bridge the gap between students from deprived backgrounds and those from affluent ones. Even if the government schools in Islamabad start offering O’ and A’ Level classes in their colleges, will they be able to attract the same quality of teachers as private schools? Will their labs, library, and computer rooms be well equipped in comparison? Will students from poorer backgrounds be able to afford all the variety of textbooks and guides that are required? Will the parents of such students be able to pay for the same private tutoring that the affluent children can afford? Will students from poorer backgrounds have a handy computer with a decent internet connection available at home to supplement their learning?

Consider this argument in another way- students from affluent backgrounds enjoy not only better access to schools, colleges, teachers and tutors, but also have access to a ready made network of contacts. These can help them in getting internships and job opportunities that students from poorer backgrounds are completely cut off from.

Coming back to our curriculum, there are many improvements that need to be made. The content needs an overhaul based on the needs of tomorrow’s students; not a paranoid security apparatus concerned with inculcating nationalism. However, rather than viewing curriculum reform as an end in itself, it is nothing more than an initial part of a long process.

Two factors that determine good learning and good examination results are the quality of teaching and parental interest. Recently, the example of Karrar Hussain Jaffar’s is one that comes to mind, where he attributes his success to his parents’ encouragement despite the lack of wider aspiration amongst his peers.

In terms of state policy, the government must make massive investments to support and train teachers. Good teaching can support learning even if the curriculum is poor. However, an excellent curriculum with a poor teacher adds little value to a students learning. We already see glimpses of this happening; a recent example is of the One Rupee School in Karachi, whose founder Parveen Rao, emphasises the importance of good teaching and supporting teachers from the local community.

No doubt that exams, certificates, and a foreign curriculum will make a difference, but what Pakistan really needs is good teachers. Students from deprived backgrounds should be able to make the most of their time in school and narrow the gap that exists between them and the children from affluent households. We must move beyond testing and grades.


Syed Nadir El Edroos

Nadir teaches Economics at Bellerbys College, London and 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.

  • Nomi

    Indeed. The difference is not of O and A level. It is of private and public.Recommend

  • Parvez

    An important subject nicely handled.
    A some-what level playing field in education would go a long way in bridging the divide between the 2% and the 98%. The fact is, the 2% do not want to bridge this divide, as such it will be a struggle for the 98%. Compare the percentage of our GDP spent on education and that spent on perks and privileges of our law makers ( I have deliberately not said the military).Recommend

  • shuja

    My friend there is a saying “ek clerk kay ghar clerk hi paida hota hai”Recommend

  • kzafar

    a very good article!!
    there’s need to make qualiuty of existing education better, rather than introducing O & A levels. the govt is not making the existing systme of education better, how can they make with O n A levels system.
    surely the level of teachers should be enhancedRecommend

  • http://NewYork Falcon

    Good article. It seems that there are 2 issues author has talked about: provide same enabling environment for all children and secondly, to reform the curriculum. I think the first one would be relatively easy and therefore should be taken as the first step. The second one requires a lot of work (because of re-evaluation, updates, phasing out of old text books) and may be even political backlash and therefore should be handled through a subsequent phase.Recommend

  • http://shemrez.wordpress.com Shemrez Nauman Afzal

    Finally I agree with the author. We need education, not indoctrination. We need to amalgamate the three societies (roughly formed of English-medium students, Urdu-medium students and madrassah students) that we have created into a singular, uniform, and ultimately pluralistic society. Our differences must unite us in our diversity, not divide us in our dissimilarities.
    And we need an education system that not only enlightens the mind and broadens horizons, but also prepares the future of Pakistan vocationally and intellectually.
    Our future needs our help today, and we need to become good citizens and good teachers.
    Its a sad state of affairs that we have been unable to teach our youth about civics, but still feed them enormous amounts of ill-designed nationalism and patriotism that actually makes them intolerant extremists (no matter how ‘liberal’ or ‘Westernized’ their home or initial outlook is supposed to be). Recommend

  • Raja Islam

    @Shemrez Nauman Afzal:
    Unfortunately this ill designed nationalism does not make our youths patriotic at all. Look at what the common man is doing to this country. Everyone is out to make a buck whatever way they can and this includes both the rich and the poor. There is much more honesty and civic sense in the West than in Pakistan.

    As far as the quality of education is concerned, introduction of the Cambridge system in government schools will do nothing. What needs to be done is exactly what you have suggested. We need to revise the curriculum and make teaching jobs attractive. Even in countries like the US, teachers are paid much less than their counterparts in industry, however, teaching is made attractive through benefits like pension plans and scholarships.

    There will always be some degree of difference in the quality of teaching that students living in poor areas get versus students living in wealthy neighborhoods. There is clearly a difference in the quality of education provided by inner city schools in New York and Chicago versus the quality of education provided by private schools or schools in rich suburbs.Recommend

  • Nadir

    @RajaIslam: That is why we look at wrong models. The UK and the US are the worst examples. If we look at the Finnish model or any of the Scandanavian models the provision of education is more egalitarian and teachers recruited from the top 20% of Masters graduates and obviously rewarded as such. Granted that they are other social and economic factors that help them do this, but alot of our problems is that we compare ourselves with educational systems which are badly failing themselves. Recommend

  • Buledi

    Dear Playwright,
    I really appreciate your words on this radical issue which is immensely prevailing in our country. Indeed, I altogether assent with your points reading curriculum and quality of teaching. While, I want to divert your attention on another aspect that is selection of teachers which is certainly 80 % on political bases. Therefore, the abilities of such teachers are question mark. As, this created a throng of such teachers who are himself even not able to read or write appropriately consequently how can they teach to pupils. Certainly, I can prove my words as I personally researched on matter. In fact, I am trying to persuade your words regarding teachers training that if one does not qualified enough then how numerous trainings we would impart to him or her all will go in vain. Hence, as per my view, the most imperative spot is the selection of teacher and it needs a comprehensive and strict policy on one end and replete devotion and adroit Planning on the other end.Recommend

  • KDP

    Hope any new approach to Education will include teaching true or unbiased History of the sub continent before M Bin KasimRecommend

  • Noor

    Our Education system needs a general overhauling, in that:
    1. Comprehension of Quran to be included at various levels of education starting with Montessori (oral education), and progressing on, so as to make sure that the Quranic teachings are understood by children by the time they pass their Matric or O levels.
    2. For above, we may resort to a 10 minute family discussion session within our homes on daily basis, in the language we’re comfortable with. While doing so we would be the best among all, as per Hadith, “the best among you are those who teach and learn Quran”.
    3. Another objection to education system is that of Rattafication by children. Teachers attribute this to the lengthy syllabus. Can’t we reduce the syllabus to have better understanding? kids securing 1st & 2nd position do produce the stuff for writing in exam, but actually donot understand the theme.
    4. As examples, the personal attributes of Tipu Sultan & Haider Ali of honesty, spirituality, etc played helpful role to make them win the fights, not concerned with physical majority. Similarly, Quran says, Charity increases your wealth, while Interest reduces; though physically opposite, if we understand the crux, we may become very successful for both here & hereafter.
    5. The schools are so much concerned about the result & profile of their campus, that they spent 70% of time rehearsing for exams, thus virtually the students study for just about 2 1/2 to 3 months a year. Taking it to 17 years of study, the students, in my opinion have wasted all these years for just Rattafication of 3 months stuff per year.
    6. I would rather like to take my kids out of school & make a syllabus by myself do that hidden dimensions of education are also explored.
    7. Moreover, the kids don’r get time for any other study due to thick syllabus books, thereby making their thinking restricted to the bookish knowledge only virtually, unable to think or invent differently.
    8. These systems are making us so much dependent on gadgets that even a hawker can’t make addition of 63 & 48 to sell his 2 kgs of fruit, and looks for a calculator for it.
    9. Is there a conspiracy going on to educate our kids through at least Graduation for social acceptability, thereby wasting their time & God gifted resources for initial 17 years of their lives?Recommend