It’s time for some fresh thinking

Prof Daron Acemoglu, Professor of Economics at MIT, spoke about changing technologies and their impact on the world in a recent online talk at the Lahore University of Management Sciences, and said that these changes would have a very large and significant impact on countries with large populations of less-educated and less-skilled people.
Pakistan most certainly meets the bill. Our population is still fast increasing, we have a youthful population with a high proportion of youth, and the majority of these young people are uneducated and unemployed. Prof. Acemoglu believes that these young people will have a difficult time finding employment that are both productive and gratifying in the economy. Anyone in Pakistan should not be surprised by this. This and other similar statements have been made by many people in regards to the demographic crisis we are facing.
What’s shocking is that we haven’t done anything to solve the problem. Around 20 million children aged five to sixteen are out of school. The majority of youngsters enrolled in public or low-cost private schools continue to get poor-quality education. Only a tiny number of our pupils are able to participate in vocational training programmes. And this isn’t a new scenario. For a long time, this has been the situation.
For decades, there has been a widespread belief that all children should have access to school. We even amended the Constitution in 2010 to include Article 25-A, which guarantees all children aged five to sixteen the right to an education. However, not much has changed in the previous 11 years. We still don’t have universal enrolment, and we don’t see many pupils finish elementary school. Because our dropout rates remain high, only a tiny percentage of enrolled pupils finish their secondary education. Even now, only around 7% to 8% of students enrolled in grade one is able to progress to a higher level of school.
We are still doing little to fix the school system’s problems. Furthermore, the educational system is inequitable. Despite the fact that the enrolment gap has shrunk slightly, girls continue to have lower enrolment and completion rates. Enrolment and completion rates vary significantly between provinces, including rural and urban areas. Parental income and wealth are more important than any other element in determining access to a decent education. The education system is further divided by language of instruction, book kinds, and assessment systems, as well as disparities in pedagogical approaches used in classes among schools. As a result, the country’s education system is highly fragmented, disorganised, and low-quality overall.
There has been a lot of focus on the education sector in Pakistan in the last two decades, probably the most we’ve seen historically, and there have been high-profile reform efforts in the country’s education sector accompanied by a lot of fanfare: Parha-Likha Punjab and then McKinsey and Michael Barber’s ‘deliver ology.’ Many of these reform attempts were supported by the World Bank, DFID, and USAID.
As a result, considerable changes in the education system have occurred in all provinces. Enrolment, completion, and learning outcomes, on the other hand, have not changed significantly. They’ve progressed just slightly at best, and in other situations, the numbers have remained static; in several provinces, we’ve even lost ground on some factors. This is despite efforts that have been lauded on a national and international level at various periods. So, where has all of the reform gone, and what must we do to effect change in the education sector?
The point isn’t that certain things haven’t changed for the better. They’ve done so. We have far better mechanisms in place for teacher recruitment, advancement, posting, transfer, and remuneration. The surveillance of schools and teachers has greatly improved. We now have better statistics on enrolments, attendance, and amenities, among other things.
Despite these accomplishments, enrolment and completion rates, as well as learning outcomes, have remained relatively unchanged. And, if the goal is to offer every child with at least 10 years of high-quality education, we are still a long way from achieving that goal. In fact, we don’t even have a plan in place to achieve that goal. The federal government, on the other hand, does not. Neither do any of the provinces. And, based on present federal and provincial policy measures, there do not appear to be any initiatives that will, even over time, lead to a recognition of the significance of providing high-quality education to all children.
We questioned a lot of young people about schooling three years ago while working on a UNDP national human development report on youth. The majority of them expressed a desire to have a second chance to complete their school or to return and obtain further education or skills. Our educational system, however, is designed in such a way that it does not enable or encourage second chances.
There are far too many limitations: Bachelor’s and Master’s programmes have age restrictions, there are numerous gender-related restrictions, and if you receive a third division on any exam, you should not pursue higher education. Even vocational training programmes have a lot of entry requirements.
Clearly, policy measures over the last two decades have failed to advance us in the direction we desire and at the rate we desire. Current federal and provincial policy measures, as well as the addition of the Single National Curriculum, will not suffice. Much more in-depth thought, more radical ideas, and considerably more effective execution are required. But how do we go about doing that? There does not appear to be any sense of urgency about the situation. If we do not focus on the education and skills of our children and young, the future is dark, but we appear to be content to walk in that path with our eyes open right now.

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