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Changing Priorities in Education

By U. K. Dar
The aim of writing of this article is to highlight an important factor where our Government is putting the cart before the horse. This is the field of education. Government is spending around Rs 80 Billion on Higher Education and mere Rs 84 Billion for rest of the Education. In turn, Higher Education Commission (HEC) is spending millions of dollars on few thousands scholars and trying to get them the degree of PhD from prestigious foreign institutes. The question is about the efficacy of this project by the HEC. By no means denying of higher education or  its importance in the development of a country. But in a country like Pakistan which has, according to UNESCO, merely around 55 percent literacy rate – anyone who can read simple text from a newspaper is considered literate. This makes us stand at 160th position in the world. This abysmal state tells us that spending on higher education is waste of resources and hence policy needs to be redefined for the education sector.
According to Pakistan Education Statistics 2015‐16 published by Ministry of Education, around 18 Million (45%) of the primary-school age children attend primary school, the percentage sharply drops to 18% where around 6.5 million students get enrolled in middle school. The statistics further drops and total enrolment at high school is 3.5 million (9%), 1.7 Million (4.5%) at higher secondary schools and mere 0.937 million (2.4%) are lucky to get themselves enrolled at degree college stage.
Let us see the definition of education before suggesting a way forward. The word education is derived from the Latin word “educare” which means “to bring out”. Education, thus, means bringing out of inherent potentials in an individual. Societies throughout have given education to their public according on their requirements. Spartans believed in strict discipline therefore we find gymnastic training among their curriculum. Socrates believed in restoring human values thus he proclaimed the aim of education was to discover truth for the society. Romans’ primary aim of education remained to produce statesmen and hence laid emphasis on eloquence and art of speech. In short, the aim of education has been changing form civilizations to civilization and moulded according to the requirement of that time.
The requirement of Pakistan, being an agrarian society, is in the field of agriculture, animal husbandry, agricultural engineering, livestock etc. But before innovating things in these fields we need to broaden our base of education and lay emphasis first on primary to secondary level education and then produce PhDs in these fields. Moreover, high-quality research is unattainable without sound basics, which are built at secondary and college level. Therefore, there is a need not only to change the priority but also to change the curriculum at school level so that thinking individuals are produced that can undertake substantial research latter on, rather than students who are expert in mugging things up.
Argument is simple. One needs to put his money where the mouth is. We need to first ensure that maximum number of children go to school where well defined and common curriculum is followed. Even if we have to pay the children for attending school, we should do that. These children should be sponsored by government till colleges. Only when the college graduates base is widened, say 40% (from present 2.4%), then we will have good raw material for universities and should select the brightest to undergo PhD at government expenses in the field dictated by the needs at that time.
Another anomaly which we did was that we over emphasized the importance of producing PhDs and research publications and gave undue importance to improving the ranking of our universities in the world. Moreover, HEC failed to define the problem areas where we need our scholars to offer us solutions. By offering scholarships in wide fields of Science and Technology or Engineering and IT and left it on the scholars to pursue their area of expertise make scholars select their research areas according to the requirement of host foreign University/ supervisor rather than keeping in view the needs of Pakistan. Many such scholars therefore, find themselves underutilized when they come back as they find that the only thing they can do is teach with no potential of research due to lack of environment/resources.
It is critical for our future as a nation that we ensure that our children have access to a quality education right from the beginning to the college level. We need to put in extra resources and fund in this sector, for at least a decade, and when we have achieved our goal in that sector, only then higher education sector should get our attention.
U.K. Dar is freelance columnist based in Manchester, UK.

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