Foremost Priority

Top priority

Possibly the best applicability of the old English (actually Italian) adage that reads ‘It is never too late’ is in the field of acquisition of education and knowledge. Bertrand Russell, the famous philosopher, was once asked what is a good time to educate a child? He replied: ‘at least a hundred years before the child is born’. Was Russel being facetious? No, I don’t think so. By this remark he was merely trying to impress upon the value of planning in education.

Imparting of education must encompass a profound meaning, relevance and the related responsibility that devolves upon those interested with framing the education policy of any society/nation. The focus on planning to adopt a farsighted education policy is the need of our country. We have failed in this sphere badly. While nationalisation of schools, colleges and universities was meant to benefit all segments of society, it failed miserably in its objectives, and instead precipitated a nose dive of the educational standards.

Education must lead to a balanced set of competencies that must be developed for a creation of economically viable constituents of the society. Education for all is an incomplete slogan; it must address the issue of providing the same quality of education to all segments of the society.

It is undeniable and hence not difficult to admit that there is elitism also in the education sector, just as it is in other countries too – otherwise why would Harvard, Stanford, Cambridge, Oxford, Eton and Harrow stand out. We similarly have some elite schools and universities and that these must operate to the disadvantage of the less privileged is an area of concern.

The disparities and gaps in the curriculum make the opportunities more unequal. This ultimately leads to the domination by these elitist graduates upon the various institutions of the country. Be it the Executive, the judiciary or the Legislature (selectively and few only) the dominance of these products is preeminent.

In the last decade and a half there has been a proliferation of setting up of universities in the private sector. The over supply of anything regardless of what the commodity is leads to a decline in the standards (value).

So is the case with this mushroom growth of colleges and universities. While it is good to have more educational institutions, this growth should lead to improvement in the standards of the quality of teaching and not otherwise. Anything to the contrary inflicts long term damage upon the country. Most regrettably, we are today producing armies of graduates and post graduates who are mostly ‘unemployable’. They still need training for skill, aptitude and attitude.

The current era is a period of knowledge economy. All countries of the world are directing their student population towards acquisition of knowledge that is of current relevance and future usability. The economy of any country is intertwined with the standard of education; the need therefore is to have development of education policy that addresses the issue of creating an economy that is knowledge based.

As a developing country, Pakistan needs to have more institutes of technology established. Our neighbor has more than 20 such Institutes ( ITT’s). We have nothing formidable to quote.

In the 1960 edition of the Reader’s digest, Robert Frost is quoted to have remarked: “education is the ability to listen to almost anything without losing your temper”. Education is a process; it is a progressive cultivation of thought. It is not time bound.

It has to be continual, so that it leads towards effective policy making. In defining literacy it must be borne in mind that learning and understanding are not the same thing. We as a country must evaluate our literacy ratio based on the following verticals of seeking knowledge; reading, writing and both, with understanding.

Education initiatives must recognise the many advancements made in information technology. The massive influx of search engines in the pursuit of knowledge must undergo the test of upholding of truth. The avalanche, deluge and overload of information must not either distort or bury the facts.

Education must lead and contribute in uplifting the sense of morality and social responsibility. Knowledge in isolation can be deadly; it must be reigned and constricted by the walls of sound character. The dilemma of the uncouth behaviour of the educated challenges many times the value and therefore the need for better education. A cap and a gown worn at a convocation does not confer wisdom.

The quality of education gets reflected only when one opens the mouth – watch any TV talk shows between 7pm and midnight and the reader would know what I mean!In the dissemination of knowledge if distortions are presented as facts, it obviously will lead to an amazing sense of ignorance. Education is meant to polish good manners and correct the bad ones.

Even the ablest in the society needs education/teaching/training and coaching. There is no royal road to learning. The midnight lamp has to keep on burning. At no point of pursuit of knowledge can any afford to sniff it out.

Admittedly students must display and be bright; they need to have demonstrable focus; they must be interested in seeking knowledge and must be willing to work very hard for it. If this be the case the challenge shall still remain for having trained and well educated faculty.

If there has been a decline in the quality of students, it has regrettably been matched with double the impact, in the decline of the quality of the teachers and academicians. Have a conversation with the new doctoral awarded students and you will appreciate the need to be concerned.

Education is a medium that helps explore and manage one’s mind. Education is the distinguishing factor, otherwise all men are alike. It has been aptly put in the Devil’s Dictionary, education is that which discloses to the wise and disguises from the foolish, their lack of understanding.

Regardless of the state of prosperity or adversity, education is always handy; its fruits are always sweet. ‘Education makes a greater difference between man and man than nature has made between man and brute’ (John Adams).

Reading any literature imparts the quality to self evaluate the quality of inner self, relating to sensitivities, emotions and feelings. It is also a given factor of education that more is acquired through conversations with wise men. The need for wise old men to have sittings with the youth is an imperative need.

The standards of education have to be revisited. Let us not as a society churn out youth, who may have a degree, but not the talent and skill.

Our system must allow for the students to know and discover what their inherent strengths are – let us take them to excel in what they are good at; and not push them to be what they are not good at. The age-old parental desire for their offspring to be either a medical doctor or an engineer of any sorts must be pushed away to the realm and limbo of the forgotten.

In a message, the then federal minister for education and professional training, Baleegh Ur Rehman, who is himself an accomplished engineer with outstanding scholastic records from a US university, had this to say in his message on the launch of the UNESCO document for the minimum standards for quality education in Pakistan, ‘Education is the most important area which needs to achieve sustainable development and national cohesion…’; he further stated, ‘that the national education policy (2009) is the first national level document…

That recommends the quality of education provided in government owned institutions must be raised to setting of standards for educational inputs, processes, outputs and institutionalizing the process of monitoring and evaluating from the lowest to the highest levels’.

This national cohesion has acquired great importance following the devolution of the education sector to the provincial governments, after the 18th amendment to the constitution. In this context what must be recognised is that the federal government cannot abdicate responsibility for maintaining quality in education.

At the provincial level, political expediency must not prevail upon the education sector. The provincial government must produce patriotic citizens and not voters for themselves. The feudal attitude to deny education to the masses for fear of them putting a challenge to the system must be tackled with an iron hand.

Education must rank as the first priority. Why can’t there be rush of politicians to become education minister, instead of lobbying endlessly with enthusiasm for Foreign Affairs, Commerce, etc. When will Pakistan have a cabinet of the learned? I wait. Let’s frame today, what the quality should be of our twenty year old, on 14th August, 2047.-Courtesy: The News

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