By Anjum Altaf
I am writing directly to you because you care about your child more than anyone else. You, more than anyone else, want your child to be successful in life which is why you invest a lot of your hard-earned income in his or her education, not just in school but in private tuition as well.
You invest this money in your child’s education because you believe that for the majority of people a good education provides the best chance for success and upward mobility, for your child to have a better life than you have had. If you did not believe this you would have apprenticed your child to a tailor or a mechanic to learn a trade which would not only guarantee a steady income for life but also add to the households’ income during training. Real money would be coming into the house instead of going out in the hope of future gain.
But for this to happen, the education that your child gets in school must be a GOOD education. A poor education is not of much use. You can see this by observing what can happen to many individuals with ten to twelve years of education who are having a very difficult time finding jobs. Today, a job for a peon in an office receives thousands of applications from individuals with more than ten years of education.
A poor education is not just a waste of your hard-earned income, it is also a shattering of all the dreams you have for your child. In addition, it is source of immense frustration for the young adult who feels that he or she deserves better for the time and effort that he or she has put into going to school instead of learning a trade.
It is therefore important for you to know what is a GOOD education and to discriminate between GOOD and BAD education. Just as you know that you can get fresh or rotten meat from the butcher and have learnt to distinguish between them for the sake of your health, you have to realize that it is not enough to send your child to school without knowing whether the school is providing a good or a bad education. You have to do this for the sake of your child’s mental health and for the sake of his or her future. Both you and your child deserve to get value for the time and money you are investing.
Many of you reading this letter in English are probably sending your child to the leading private school in your city and might feel that the general quality of education in the country does not concern you or your child. This could be a deceptive perception. First, even the education in leading private schools charging tens of thousands of Rupees in monthly fees may not be at par with global standards. As an example, consider the fact that Pakistan participated in the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS), a globally recognized ranking of educational achievement of fourth and eighth grade students, for the first time in 2019. Out of the 64 countries participating, Pakistan was ranked second from last.
Second, even if your child is amongst the fortunate few getting a good education, his or her future is affected if the majority of the children in the country are getting a poor education. A poorly educated citizenry leads to frustration, unrest, and instability in the country which affects the welfare of everyone. Such unsettled conditions have led to foreign companies and financial institutions leaving the country, foreign airlines ceasing to operate, and international NGOS reducing their involvement. All of these have reduced job opportunities for the well-educated in addition to making their lives insecure. This is the reason why parents of even the best educated children want them to go and settle abroad instead of struggling in Pakistan.
Pakistan has become a unique country in which the not just the poorest of its young generation but also its most affluent wish to leave for places that offer a better and more secure future. This is big warning sign that suggests that the future of Pakistan may not get better — a place that people wish to leave can only deteriorate. Its governance is left in the hands of mediocre, poorly educated persons who cannot make good and sensible decisions in the general interest nor conceive of policies that would generate enough jobs for all those who are graduating from schools and colleges especially from rural areas and secondary cities.
For all these reasons, it is vital for the future of the country for everyone, whether they have children in school or not, whether their children go the best schools or not, to pay attention to the general state of education in Pakistan today.
In the next installment of this letter I will begin to lay out the issues that need your attention and consideration.
Dr. Anjum Altaf
Former Dean, School of Humanities and Social Sciences, Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS)