A Critical Analysis of Education Systems in Pakistan

Sadly we are all only too well aware of the pathetic state of education in Pakistan. There is far too little of it for the common people. What there is of it is pitifully poor in quality. It is starved of funds and of talent. Like in so many other spheres of our national life our educational system is a political orphan, neglected by a corrupt and uncaring State. But that’s the lit of the poor. That is not much altered by the fact that there do exist some centers of excellence in the field of higher education and research in Pakistan and there are some most talented teachers to be found in some of our universities. That does not alter the poor state of education as a whole.

Children of the privileged and the powerful are well provided for. They receive an education of the highest standard. Education of the most excellent quality is provided by schools run by the various wings of the military. And look also at the products of the handful of elite schools where only the very rich and privileged can afford to send their children. This class divided system of education was initiated by the colonial regime. Given increasing needs and a limited supply of British officers, the colonial regime needed a higher level educated elite who would take up senior positions in the bureaucracy and the army. That aspect of the needs of colonial government became particularly pressing after the First World War. Special schools were created for the more privileged members of Indian society so that they could be trained to serve the colonial regime in positions of some responsibility. The Aitcheson College in Lahore is a typical example of this. There were many such. The products of these schools were the brown sahibs. We still produce them. But their numbers are relatively small. By virtue of the excellence of the privileged schools that cater for their children, the issue of national education is not one that directly affects the rich and the powerful in our country who make public policy. After excellent schooling locally they can send their children abroad for higher education. The deplorable state of our educational system is not their problem.

In a society where democracy is as yet only formal, our rulers are insensitive to the needs of the people at large. It is not that they are ignorant of our national educational needs. There is little to attract them to devote resources to this problem area. Expenditure on a progressive national education policy does not offer opportunities for rich pickings for those who drive our corrupt state machine. It is not surprising that education has such a low priority in the allocation of public funds and the making of public policy. The problem of education in Pakistan is therefore unlikely to be tackled in isolation from the wider problem of creating a genuinely democratic Pakistan where the needs of the people and not just the priorities of a small and corrupt ruling elite decide public policy.

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A Nation of Clerks! What kind of education do we want to provide for our children? What sort of roles in adult life should their education train them for? The issue is not just that of having more of the same kind of education that is provided now. It is not a question of numbers and size. The problem will not be solved merely by having more schools, more colleges and more universities of the same kind as we have now.Nor is it just a matter of having better textbooks and better-paid teachers, although these too are all serious questions that must also be addressed. But there is a prior question that must be answered. What kind of people is our educational system designed to produce? What are to be the social and economic functions of the educated in our society?

We can see this better if we look at the origins and purposes of our present system of education. It took shape under colonial rule in the nineteenth century to serve the purposes of the expanding colonial state and the new emergent needs of the colonial economy and society as it began to take shape in the early nineteenth century. That was more than one and a half centuries ago. The pity is that little has changed since then, except that the quality of education has become even more deplorable. We must begin by asking: what was the colonial educational system designed to produce? More than half a century ago Nehru got to the heart of the matter when he described it as an educational system that was designed to produce “a nation of clerks”.

When the colonial conquest began the East India Company functioned as a kind of feudal lord. It simply took over the pre-existing system of government as it was under the Mughals and also its existing legal system. Its objectives and its methods were not very different fram those of its feudal predecessors. It had two main objectives. One was, like any feudal lord, to extract a maximum tripute from the cultivator in the form of land revenue. The other was to foster international trade, notably the export of Indian textiles, which was the monopoly of the East India Company. In its early years the East India Company functioned just as another feudal ruler. Therefore the system of government remained basically the same, its needs were met by the traditional system of education in madrasas. Persian, the language of the Indian elite, both Hindu and Muslim, was retained by the British as the official language. The few British Officers who were sent to govern India had to learn Persian. The existing system of law also remained, largely unchanged. It was administered by munsifs and qazis trained in traditional faw and custom. But fundamental changes in the pattern of colonialism were soon to follow as it was extended over a larger territory and also, crucially, as the form of colonial exploitation changed and a new type of colonial economy was constructed. The old system could no longer work under the new conditions.

As the nineteenth century progressed, the pattern of the cotonial economy began to change, for india was no longer to be an exporter of textiles but rather an importer of British made textiles and other manufacturers and an exporter of raw material required by the burgeoning British Industry in the wake of the Industrial Revolution. To facilitate the production and export of the raw materials. needed by Britain, the colonial government became far more interventionist. It undertook large scale projects to secure its aims. Canals were built to produce cotton to cater for the insatiable appetite of the mills of Manchester and roads and railways constructed to carry the raw materials cheaply to the new portscities which were built to meet the needs of colonial trade, such as Karachi, Bombay, Calcutta. With such wide-ranging changes in its activities both the size and the functions of the colonial government were greatly extended. The old system of education and the old judicial system were no longer adequate for its needs.

The government of india was now to be organised in a new way. English replaced Persian as the official language. English speaking British Officers, who did not speak a local language, were now to be assisted by a large number of English educated Indian clerks. They were mostly petty underlings who attended to the paper work. Some upper class Indians, the brown sahibs, were also inducted into the government, as subordinates of British officers. They were, nevertheless, invested with some authority as officers.

Under the elite at the top, the colonial regime created large armies of English educated clerks who were needed to ‘man’ government offices (few women, if any, were employed). They dealt with the bulk of the records and paperwork. Side by side with the ‘English Office’ were departments that dealt with government business in the vernacular, especially in the field of land and land revenue records, which were so important for extracting the colonial tribute.

These were to be found in the offices of the tehsildars and district ganungos along with the revenue employees in the field, the patwaris and circle ganungos. At provincial and central headquarters the secretariats expanded to a size that was unknown before. Large numbers of new government employees found a place in the expanding network of railways, public works departments, the irrigation departments and the multitude of new offices that were spawned by the expanding colonial regime. Armies of clerks multiplied. In a predominantly agrarian economy without much industry the government was the largest provider of jobs. ‘Right from the late nineteenth century Indian politics .were geared to the question of quotas in government jobs and promotion – to begin with a demand for ‘Indianisation’ and later with the ethnic shares of the available jobs and career opportunities.

As the nineteenth century advanced a new policy of ‘Anglo-Vernacular Education’ began to take shape. It was a policy that got its definitive stamp-under the ‘Committee ‘of Public Instruction’ presided over by Thomas Babington Macaulay. His celebrated Minute on Educational Policy, of 2 February 1835, is the classical starting point of accounts of the new colonial education policy in india. Generations of scholars have found the following. quotation from Macaulay’s Minute quite irresistible – though we must not allow ourselves ta be misled too much by its rhetoric. Macaulay wrote: “We must at present do our best to form a class who may be interpreters between us and the millions whom we govern – a class of persons Indian in blood and color but English in tastes, in opinions, in morals and in intellect”. The velvet rhetoric of this quotation is misleading. The British were not interested in the tastes or the morals of Indians whom they set out to educate, much fess in their intellect. That is just the decorative padding of Macaulay’s Victorian prose around the central point that was at issue. The key to the new education policy lay in the desire of the colonial government to create a class of people who were to act as intermediaries or links between the align government and the common people of India. The English burra sahibs, who no longer operated in Persian, needed a large army of English educated clerks. That was what the new Anglo-vernacular educational policy was all about.

Parallel with ‘educating’ large numbers of English speaking clerks and training a few persons from a privileged and ‘loyal’ background to join the White ruling elite, there was also a need for creating a new class of Indian professionals specialists who were to draw on English education and ‘know-how’. There was to be specialized training for doctors who would practice modern medicine and engineers who were needed in. the fields of transport and irrigation. Medical and Engineering colleges were set up. But the numbers involved in this were relatively very small. The specialist needs of professional training on a relatively small scale did not create a significant base for scientific and technical education.

There was one more profession which however was different. That was the legal profession. As the colonial economy took shape and colonial commerce expanded the old indigenous judicial system was no longer adequate for ‘modern’ needs. In the early days of colonial rule, the legal system had not been materially altered. Where parties in litigation were represented by vakils, the regulations prescribed no definite qualifications for them, no precise mode of proceedings, no rules of evidence. All that was to change. The creation of a new legal system on modern lines was set in motion with the setting up of Supreme Courts at the Presidency towns. The legal practice became increasingly professionalized, the more so with the growing complexity in the scope and size of statute law and regulations and rules of judicial procedure. The Charter Act of 1833 provided for the setting up of a law commission “to ascertain and codify” the laws of India. The new judicial system was based on statute law that was expressed in English. There emerged a new profession of English educated lawyers. It expanded rapidly and was to involve large numbers.

Today the field of legal studies is an overgrown branch of our – educational system. In its size it is wholly out of proportion to our needs. It is overgrown because it is cheap and, given the way in which it is taught, intellectually as undemanding as the education of clerks. Anyone who goes to district Butchery in Pakistan will realize that there are far too many lawyers around, few of whom can hope to earn a decent living from the profession itself. Few of them are educated well, Given the fact that language is the main instrument of the law, one wonders how some of them manage their professional work, for their knowledge of English is poor. Perhaps common-sense greased by bribery makes up for lack of proficiency in the law. There seems to be a good case for limiting their numbers and raising standards for those who do go in for law.

There is a two-tier system in the legal profession also as it is in other spheres of our life. Here too we see a sharp contrast between hacks at the lower end of the profession and brilliant minds at the upper end, both amongst the judiciary and among practicing lawyers. In this sphere, as in others, we remain a class divided society where sound knowledge is the property of the privileged and ignorance is shared out among those from more modest backgrounds.

The primary objective of the colonial education policy (which we continue today) was to produce clerks, the class of tower level class of penpushers who were needed to do the hack-work in government offices. Government was the largest provider of jobs for the ‘educated’, The term ‘educated’ was to have a special meaning for it referred not to those who had acquired substantive knowledge but to those who had received no more than just formal ‘education’ and obtained the relevant diplomas certifying that they had passed examinations for the requisite degrees. Demand for ‘education’ was, and it still is, driven not by a desire to acquire knowledge but by the need to acquire ‘qualifications’ or labels that qualifies people for government jobs.It is the label that matters, not the actual education content of the course of studies. The degree, the paper qualification, are passports to jobs. Our educational system has thus become geared to the production of half-educated sanad bearers, whose diplomas as B. As or M. As or M. Sc.s are intrinsically worthless but have value as ‘qualifications’ when they apply for jobs. In the absence of a diversified industrial economy, Pakistan is among the more backward societies in the world today in which the government still remains the major employer. Dependence on government jobs is a measure of our backwardness.

Access to government jobs is, therefore, the prime objective of a very large and influential section of our population, the white collar jobs seeking section of the educated urban middle class. | have labeled this class the salaries. The term “middle class” is too wide, for that includes various groups of self-employed people whose interests are different from those of the salariat. Likewise, the term ‘petite bourgeoisie’ also has wider connotations. Hence the need for a new more precise term to refer to this class.

The raison d’etre of the salariat is to get salaried government jobs. Students are also included in the term the salariat for they are in the stage of preparing themselves to get such jobs. They belong structurally and ideologically to the salariat. Indeed students are the most militant vanguard of the salariat. This social class is salient particularly in colonized societies with a predominantly agrarian production base, in which the urban society is dominated by seekers after government jobs.

Given the relative scarcity of government jobs, the salariat tends to fracture along ethnic lines, in the drive of different sections of it get better access to the jobs. They fight for ethnic quotas in the allocation of jobs. Where members of an ethnic group are ‘better educated’ than their rivals, ie. where the group has relatively more sanad-bearing members, they will fight for allocation.of jobs by‘merit’ as against ‘quotas’. But if a quota system is in being, they will fight for a large quota for their own group. They will fight rival ethnic groups also for a larger share of places in institutions of higher education which dispense the diplomas that qualify them for jobs.

Students are the militant arm of the different sections of the salariat. good They education. know that politics of quotas has more to offer them than the substance of They are therefore not interested in the quality of education that they receive. They are only interested in the grades that they will be given. They prefer the gun to the pen. In the unfolding of the dialectics of our government-job dominated society and the diploma disease, true pursuit of education has no Place. The safariat dominates political debate in Pakistan though not state power. The unique role of the salariat is special to colonized societies with a predominately agrarian production base namely countries such as Pakistan.

Politics of the safariat and the narrow outlook and aims of our students has put its indelible stamp on our educational system as well as on our ethnic Politics. The students go to colleges and universities, but not to get an education. What they want is ‘degrees’ mere paper qualifications. They have little positive make interest in education as such. Than can produce angry reactions for fear that will examinations more difficult. All that they want are encapsulated notes that can be memorized at examination time

It is a miracle that our universities do manage, despite all odds to the contrary, to keep a few brilliant teachers and also, thanks to them, to produce a few brilliant students too. For reasons that | do not understand it seems our women perform better in acquiring a good education than men. Anyhow, all credit to such young men and women and their teachers. But, alas, there are far too few of them. On the whole the scene is pitiful. We cannot begin to tackle the Problem of education in Pakistan without first treating the diploma disease and changing the purposes for which education is sought.

In the long run the answeres in building a technologically advanced competence. and thriving industrial economy in which jobs would be available according to No businessman would wish to employ half-educated persons no industrialization matter what degrees they claim to have. But high technology based cannot come into existence without the prior availability of a pool of scientifically trained ‘manpower (both men ‘and women). No one is likely to abundance invest in high technology industries in a country where there is not already an of well qualified, scientifically trained personnel. As we stand today Pakistan does not offer an attractive base for such high technology operations. for The the only way to break through this barrier to a Prosperous future for all would be state to invest in an ambitious programme of scientific and technological education.

We are falling behind in today’s world with alarming rapidity. If we wish forward in the modern world we cannot avoid heavy investment in science and technology-based education at various levels. This is an expensive option. Schools, as well as colleges and universities, will need well-equipped laboratories and workshops. This will also call for investment in scientifically trained teaching technology Staff. If on the basis of what we manage to attract investment is science and based industries, there will be much less incentive for our highly educated and well-trained people who want to go abroad. We can see this from the experience of Southeast Asian and Pacific Rim countries which are forging can ahead learn in the field of high technology industries. There are a few lessons. that we from them. India too has done well in this respect by restricting its Concentrating military expenditure in the critical early years after independence {until 1960) and development its available resources instead on an ambitious programme of we initiated of an industrial base by building heavy industries, a programme that by its Second Five Year. Plan. That policy is now paying them dividends. {t is quite remarkable how some of the best brains from India, who have international standing, prefer to serve in their own country. That is not only because they are more patriotic. They also get more back-up than academics in Pakistan to do and they are better valued and get a lot more respect than we do in our society of bureaucratic and feudal values. They are proud and happy to serve their country. Why can we not also provide sufficient incentives to keep our best brains at home?

Educational development, therefore, should not mean for us a simple multiplication of schools, colleges, and universities on their present lines. Merely replicating such educational institutions will fail to solve anything. Providing more of the same will actually be counter-productive. That will merely pour out even larger numbers of badly educated and unemployable graduates for whom the country has little use and for whom there can be no jobs. That can only result in large scale educated unemployment which in turn will result in greater frustration and even more violent ethnic strife.

if we forego the option of heavy investment in science and technology-based education, we will not safe resources. Money that is not spent on that will, inevitably, be swallowed up by larger expenditures on police and military operations that will be needed to contain civic strife. Equally we must take account, in that equation, the loss of the benefits that will accrue from the training of a large body of scientifically and technologically trained ‘man-power (men and women) that can attract and support investment in high technology-based education in Pakistan, for it is such education that holds out a promise of future prosperity of our nation.

Virtually the same arguments apply in rural education. Traditionally the kind of education that has been on offer has provided young people in rural areas with the means to get out of the village to take up an urban job. In central and southern Punjab and in Sindh there was hostility towards such education because of the fear that educated sons would be lost to the family. Of course one must add to this the role of big feudal lords in backward areas and their hostility towards the education of peasants. But that was not the sole cause of low levels of education in those regions.

The picture has been very different in the Potohar area. There the vast majority of farm holdings are too small to provide a livelihood for the family. Therefore, traditionally, there has been an incentive to educate children. Education has been ‘functional’ for the family economy by facilitating the migration of sons and daughters to outside jobs. They are then able to send some money home to subsidize the bankrupt farm economy. Past census figures have shown a higher level of education in the poor and technologically backward region of the Potoharthan in the far richer central and southern Punjab, where agriculture is technologically far more advanced since the “Green Revolution” that got underway in the sixties and the seventies.

A change in attitudes towards education was already noticeable in central and southern Punjab. The education that is provided by schools and colleges, which is designed to produce more members of the salariat was of no use to them and they said so. They did not want to tose sons who would migrate to towns. But there was another kind of education which they were then just beginning to ask for. The Green Revolution and farm mechanization had just got underway. They wanted knowledge that would tell them how to cope with the new technology. They wanted to know how to maintain and repair their new farm machinery including tractors. The ordinary kind of education, even an ordinary science degree, was quite useless for that. They needed something different. They wanted technological education that would help them cope with the new scientific inputs in agriculture. So in the rural areas too there is a case for revolutionizing education and to move towards science and technology-based training.

Science based education should help us, to prepare the ground to build a new industrial base. It should also help our people to snap out of their primitive superstitious beliefs and supernaturalism that is so characteristic of our ideological make up. We might learn to look at the world with scientific and rational minds, in new and more meaningful ways. Standing as we are on the 15th century Catholic Fundamentalism and the Spanish Inquisition that persecuted Muslims and Jews and rational scientific minds. Our own zealots, the mullahs, are not far behind their record. The Spanish Inquisition sought to stamp out the new learning that was brought to Europe by Muslims and Jewish scholars by way of Andalusia. These scholars were the main targets of the bigots who feared the light of reason. But even the extreme brutality of the Spanish inquisition could not stop the new learning from spreading across Europe, ending its ‘Dark Ages’ and giving birth to the European ‘Renaissance and the centuries of progress that followed that. We too need a renaissance to liberate ourselves from our own homegrown brand of bigotry, and our own brand of Inquisition. One would hope that the expansion of science and technology based education would contribute to the inauguration of such a new era of enlightenment for us.

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