Federal Minister for Education and Professional Training, Shafqat Mahmood said that there is a need to work out creative solutions to solve the education emergency in Pakistan. The federal minister was speaking in a panel discussion, titled Education In Pakistan: A Roller Coaster Ride, on the first day of the recently held Karachi Literature Festival. Shafqat Mahmood was joined by Asad Ali Shah, Shahnaz Wazir Ali, Amjad Waheed, and Shahid Siddiqui. The session was moderated by Baela Raza Jamil.
Baela Jamil started the session by referring to the recently published Annual Status of Education Report (ASER) 2019. “The ASER report has just been launched for 2019, and the story is not as bleak, but for some reason there is a big push by the society that there needs to be a change in education.” She said that there has been improvement in the learning standards in schools and students have also moved from private to public schools. She then put the question to the education minister on how the sittuation can be further improved.
Shafqat Mahmood said “We [the government] have taken two or three very specific initiatives. We are trying to create a single national curriculum for all the schools in Pakistan, and may I say, all classes in Pakistan.” Mahmood also highlighted the fact that the education system in the country is “very class-based”. “Not only is it a class-based system, it is an unjust system because our whole society is configured around one language, which is the language of the government, of the courts, of the corporates, and it’s all English. So those who have not studied in English language schools, they have to play catch up all the time.”
The minister went on to say that having a single curriculum across the country would open new opportunities for students who were always left behind. “We are trying to change that by implementing a curriculum that is common to everybody. I think it’s a huge step forward, and something that has not been attempted in the last 70 years.”
The CEO of NBP Funds Amjad Waheed focused on the current status of education in the country. He pointed out that out of 50 million children in the country, 23 million are out of school. “Pakistan is ranked 167th in the world in school enrollment. On what the government spends on education, around 2%, we are ranked 169th in the world,” he stated, emphasizing Pakistan’s position on education in the world.
Amjad Waheed further said that “half of the government schools do not have electricity, boundary walls, furniture, toilets, clean drinking water, and many do not have quality teachers.” One solution that Amjad Waheed pointed out was that the government should pay vouchers to students and students should be free to study in any private school they want. This way, the government will not need to spend huge amount of money in maintaining public schools," he said.
Shahnaz Wazir Ali on the other hand said that although public-private partnerships bring about some improvement, they are not the ultimate solution. “The biggest issue is to return to public sector mass education. There is no country on the planet in which small, innovative, enterprise foundations have been used to provide mass education.”
Shahnaz, currently the president of SZABIST, also said that there is a problem in what the government has set as its priorities. “If you want to keep Pakistan a security state, and not invest on human development, then you’ll never have budgets for health, education, or housing,” she said. She also suggested that there needs to be a mechanism through which public schools are made accountable and are made to answer to the millions of parents whose kids are enrolled in government schools.
Asad Ali Shah was also critical of the government for not doing enough. "After the 18th amendment and the NFC awards, there has been a huge increase in provincial spending. Where has that money gone?” he questioned. He said that to improve education in the country, the education departments must be abolished. “You cannot improve them. You have to unlearn what you have previously learnt.”
Dr. Shahid Siddiqui, Dean-Faculty of Social Sciences at the National University of Modern Languages, said that the biggest issue according to him is that there is a socio-economic gap in accessing education. “There was a time when the kids of the rich and the poor attended the same private schools. Now there are different schools for the rich and the poor.” He further said that in the 21st century, the most important skill students need is critical thinking and our schools and their curriculum need to move in that direction.