Pakistan: The great divide

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at
Sun Nov 23 17:33:20 UTC 2008

 The great divide
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November 22, 2008 |
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NO one would dispute the assertions made by speakers at a seminar in
Rawalpindi: the literacy rate in Pakistan is dismally low and to be blamed
for this malaise is the lack of vision in devising and implementing
education policies. In a country where only 50 per cent of the people above
15 years of age can read and write (according to Unesco's data) one would be
hard put to defend its education policy. All the more, when it is admitted
that a big chunk of the so called literates are really not functionally
literate. Gone are the days when society was held responsible for not
recognising the importance of literacy and education in the social, mental
and intellectual development of people and thus not providing motivation to
many parents to send their children to school. Adults also failed to take
advantage of facilities such as literacy classes for their self-improvement.
Now the advantages of literacy and education are widely acknowledged.

But the problem is that this awareness has not translated itself into
political commitment in the government to reform and expand the school
system to meet the fundamental need of educating the youth. In fact over the
last decade or so the trend has been for the government to absolve itself of
this responsibility. The load has been shifted to the private sector to
undertake this task โ€” albeit at a high cost that makes pri vate institutions
beyond the reach of the common man. Apart from the cost factor, the
government has failed to address the quality of education in its own
institutions which are in a shambles. In the absence of a clear cut policy โ€”
the authorities still have not decided the language policy for instance โ€”
there is no efficient monitoring infrastructure, pedagogic methodology,
textbook production programme and curricula planning system in place. This
is apart from the teaching sector that calls for a major revamping. There is
no denying that the education system in Pakistan is in crisis.

This has not only affected the literacy rate and the economic productivity
of the labour force. It has also increased the disparity between the rich
and the poor in the country when education is supposed to bridge the gap
between the different classes. With high quality education being provided
only by private institutions which only the rich can afford and the poor
consigned to the rot that the public school system has to offer, can one
ever expect the poor to compete on an equal footing with the rich for highly
paid jobs and the privileges that come so easily to the rich. It perpetuates
inequality and has led to the bifurcation of society into the privileged
rich and the disadvantaged poor. This is a dangerous phenomenon that could
destroy the country if left unchecked.

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