Issues in Pakistan's Education System: A Focus on Higher Education
Scientia Potentia Est, or "For also knowledge itself is power", is a very popular Latin maxim that all of us will have heard or read quite a few times throughout our school days. In the fast-paced, rapidly growing information age, it could not be any truer.
The concept of knowledge economy hovers around the utilization of knowledge and information as a productive asset. All the sectors, be it services related or manufacturing related all rely on knowledge and information for productivity; be it a groundbreaking piece of code for a software, or the schematics of a new prototype car.
Knowledge is gained through two methods; one is experience, the other is formal education and training. Experience can only come with time; however, we still need to understand our experiences. That is where education comes in.
Education is a building block of life as we know it, without which, we would not have the world we see now. It is widely understood that a country with a good education infrastructure has everything it needs to become a successful, highly developed nation. Over the next few paragraphs, we'll try to see where Pakistan's education system stands, what challenges it faces, and what possible solutions we might have.
The Current System:
Pakistan's education system is split up into five levels. The first level starting from grade one and going up to grade five, is Primary Schooling. This education varies from school to school with some private schools offering exceptional schooling but at a very high price, and public schools often being termed mediocre; we'll talk about the issues later on through this article.
The second level, Middle Schooling, starts at grade six and continues up to the eighth grade. Again, the curriculum and schooling criteria varies from school to school, but the same conception applies here as well. Public schools are generally considered lackluster as compared to some private schools and the elitist schools offer the best schooling, at exorbitant fee structures.
The third level consists of grades nine and ten, and is called Highschooling. This level is followed by Matriculation or Secondary School Certification (SSC) Exams. These exams are conducted on a provincial or district level. Once again, the quality of schooling varies from school to school with some schools following the Cambridge system of education.
The fourth level consists of the eleventh and twelfth grades, and is called Intermediate Level Schooling. These two years of schooling are offered at several schools and also at several colleges, and are followed by Higher Secondary School Certification (HSSC) or Intermediate Exams. Like the SSC Exams, these are also conducted at the provincial level, as well as the federal level.
Though these two years are the foundation for students as they determine a direction that they take for their career, students often change their career paths after their intermediate education and certification. There seems to be a growing need for student career-path counseling.
The fifth level is composed of Undergraduate and Post-Graduate degree programs. The Undergraduate or Bachelors degree programs range from a Bachelors' in Arts to Bachelors' in Law, covering several different programs. The duration of these programs varies according to the nature of the specialization or course, from two to four years. There are several private and public universities spread out across the country that offer such bachelors degree programs.
The Undergraduate or Bachelors' programs are of two types; Pass and Honors. The Pass system comprises of twelve subjects, ranging from compulsory Language, History, and Religion based courses, to optional courses that cover specific areas with a duration of two years. The Honors system constitutes specialization courses in addition to select compulsory courses over three to four years.
The Post-Graduate degree programs consist of Masters and PhDs in various subjects, ranging from philosophy and education to business administration and engineering subjects. The Masters programs are of around 2 years, and consist of specialization courses in a chosen subject. The PhD programs are a further extension of specialization and are of around three to five years.
With several public and private universities and degree awarding institutes offering these programs, the quality of education varies profoundly, with select institutes given preference over others. The reason for such a vast difference in the quality of education is primarily the curriculum used, and the faculty of that institute. Once again, we'll talk about the issues in more detail a little later on through the story.
Though Pakistan has a very high number of private and public sector schools, the quality of education leaves a lot to be desired. Some private sector schools do offer excellent quality, but have such a high fee that the lower middle income group can hardly afford them. Additionally, most public sector schools lack enough competent teachers to cater to the high demands of this age group.
The most critical aspect of the earlier stages of formal education is the development of an inquisitive and active mind. If a child is encouraged to think out of the box from such an early age, not only would his learning experience be a lot more productive, he would grow into a prodigious professional.
Additionally, another common complaint of parents of public-sector school students is poor English vocational skill. This once again, falls under the umbrella of ineffective and unskilled teachers.
A very critical issue our intermediate level students face is a feeling of general mayhem and incertitude of their direction in life. Though some students have a fairly good idea of where they want to go, most do not, and this is why they end up changing their career paths during their higher education.
Analysts and critiques argue that the reason for this irresolution lies in the fact that our current education system does not seed curiosity nor does it encourage further research. The reason behind this, they point out, is an ill-planned examination system that is graded according to a student's ability to memorize selective topics in their curriculum, and to rewrite them onto paper. Our education system is in dire need of rejuvenation, and though it has already started, there is still indeed a long way to go.
Also, another reason for this uncertainty is a lack of guidance and counseling. Due to our social setup, most students need constant feedback and guidance to steer themselves into the right career. This can only be done if all schools set up student counselors who would help students decide a particular field they wish to enter.
At the university level, a major challenge is the lack of skilled and competent teachers. According to Pervez Hoodbhoy, "There are far too few qualified Pakistanis who can teach modern engineering subjects at an international professional level. There may be no more than two to three dozen suitable engineering professors in all of Pakistan's engineering universities." He further points out that the current number of engineering professors is minuscule if you look at the number of professors needed by the several international engineering universities being set up throughout the country.
Another very major concern is the development of a suitable curriculum and examination system. Though the Higher Education Commission is currently developing a standardized curriculum for all public and private sector universities and institutes, the development of existing and new faculty will take quite some time.
One possible solution to these problems is already under way. The restructuring of the entire system has already started and it is gradually being reworked into a more coherent and encouraging system for all. The system needs to be transformed so that it cultivates curiosity and research, instead of just going through a selection of notoriously irksome books.
Moreover, we need to train our teachers to be more receptive of their students, instead of just being receptive of the books of their curriculum. With formal training, teachers can improve their language skills, as well as their direction and teaching skills. In simple words, we need to train them to be more open-minded and curious, so they in turn pass on that trait to their students.
As for the lack of qualified Pakistani teachers and professors, one possible solution is to set up mandatory training courses for all teachers, as well as suitable experience and educational qualifications before allowing them to become teachers at higher education institutions. As for the immediate need, we need to hire foreign faculty for all our educational institutes while the currently employed teachers undergo mandatory training.
As said in the beginning of this story, education is a building block of life as we know it and it is the primary thing that makes us human. As a child grows, he learns, and what he learns, he must be given the freedom to practice, and to grow. Without this freedom, he will confine himself to a cocoon, yet he will not transcended beyond that stage, and he will not turn into a butterfly.