By Anjum Altaf
So far, I have made the two following points:
- Education is like any other commodity that you buy for your child by paying money for it. It is up to you to find out if the quality of the education you are buying is good or bad. The future of your child, and collectively of the country, depends on the care parents’ exercise in this choice.
- In general, the quality of education being provided is poor and below an acceptable level. The evidence for this is the huge learning gap — students in grade 5 knowing only what a child in grade 2 should know. Add to this the very high number of children who are not even in school, and this amounts to a national crisis that no one is paying attention to — not parents, not teachers, and not governments. It can only end in the anarchy of frustrated ambitions — no country can develop with such a large waste of its most precious resource, its human capital.
At this point, we can proceed in a number of different directions but let us stay with the issue of the quality of education and ask why it is so poor. This is a question that many people have asked but in a unhelpful manner. Why may that be?
I believe a part of the answer lies in the lack of rigour in formulating this question. Most people, when thinking about it, come up with a long list of things that should be made better to improve the quality of education. These include the quality of teachers, the quality of textbooks, the quality of the management, the quality of infrastructure, etc., etc. This is the laundry-list approach to finding a solution — it is comprehensive but quite futile and beside the point.
The point to consider is that everyone knows this list of things that would improve education including the people who are running the schools — if they don’t they are not qualified to plan or manage education. It takes virtually no intelligence to state that better teachers can yield better education.
The real questions to ask are why, when everyone knows these truths, why, after 70 years, we do not have better teachers, better textbooks, better management, and better infrastructure? Why, in actual fact, the quality of many of these inputs into education is deteriorating instead of improving? That is the real question that requires our consideration.
I urge you to consider this question. I believe you will quickly realize that the answer moves away from simple issues of teaching and methods of teaching to those of economics and politics. Nevertheless, the attempt to think about the answer to this question is critical to finding out if there is really anyone who actually WANTS to improve the quality of education in Pakistan? Ask yourself, how difficult is it to improve the quality of education if someone really wanted to? Is it an insurmountable philosophical problem that no amount of money can resolve?
One clue I can offer is to think about the public provision of clean drinking water and safe sanitation. There is no rocket science involved in the provision of these services — all they involve is pipes under the grounds and filtration plants. And yet, five thousand years ago the provision of these services was better in Mohen-jo-Daro than it is in most places in Pakistan today. One can only conclude that the provision of these services to the majority of citizens is not a high priority of the rulers. Is it possible that the provision of better education is also not their priority? If that is the case, what can be expected if citizens remain passive and keep hoping for the government to provide better education for their children? Only that they will keep waiting for a very long time. In the meantime, the lives of many generations of children would be irrevocably impoverished.
But let us return to education for the moment and divide the issues that affect it into two categories. The first is the obvious one we have discussed above — it comprises all the factors that, if better, will improve education — more qualified or trained teachers, for example. These are all the things that should be done but are not being done well enough for reasons that you have to determine.
The other category is more complicated. It comprises all the things in education that we are doing, not poorly, but completely wrong and which actually hurt or impair the ability of students to learn. Unless we find out what all we are doing wrong there is no way we can correct them. And, most importantly, unless we correct what we are doing completely wrong and completely contrary to sound pedagogical theory and practice, no amount of improvement in the factors in the first list would yield meaningful results.
This week I would like you think if there are some aspects of education that we are doing completely wrong and, if so, what might be the right way of doing them. One approach to this might be to compare teaching in school to the methods you employed at home when you educated your child during the first five years of its life.
In my next letter I will elaborate on this dimension and share my own analysis with you. Till then, if you have any questions or clarifications for me, please forward them to the editor of Sindh Courier at email@example.com.
Dr. Anjum Altaf
Former Dean, School of Humanities and Social Sciences, Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS)
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