The Hierarchy of Education
Whenever we take a bird’s-eye view of Pakistan, we are forced to acknowledge that the quality of education has been constantly declining. This presents us with a dilemma that hinders us in the struggle to rise to the top of the ladder. Even the most urbanized cities, where so-called quality education is offered, present a bleak picture. Approximately 41 percent in Lahore, 45 percent in Karachi, 50 percent in Islamabad and 30 percent primary students in Rawalpindi are unable to read and write simple sentences.
Pakistan’s education system bears the distinction of the so-called private and public schools i.e. the rich and the poor, respectively. The presence of multiple education systems is an important evidence of our government’s lack of responsibility towards making quality education available to its citizens. Public schools are funded by the government yet lack even the most basic facilities. When I myself was looking for to study in a school for matriculation, I ended up staying a week at both, a private school and a public school. The difference could not have been more apparent. Everything was poles apart. I even discovered that the type of students one found in each school changed, but most of all I discovered a change in attitude. It was like being a part of two different worlds.
In the public school, it appeared to me that the parents, the government and most importantly the students deemed it acceptable for their schools to not have the best of the facilities. To them they were after all “public”. What more could expose this discrepancy than to say that the well-endowed taxpayers of our country refuse to send their own children to a public school fearing the quality of education offered. A working paper on education produced by USAID in 2011 highlighted that about 37 percent of the public schools in Pakistan have no hygienic restrooms, 85 percent have no electricity and almost 50 percent of these schools in rural areas lack clean drinking water. According to the data provided by UNESCO, Pakistan has the most crowded classrooms in South Asia with the ratio of 500 students per every three teachers.
On the other hand, the private schools that charge exorbitant sums of money are not accessible to the ordinary citizen. Despite the 2010-11 Article 25A stating that the “The State shall provide free and compulsory education to all children between ages 5-16 years in such a manner as may be determined by law”; no such thing has ever happened and it still remains a dream. This illiteracy that is being nurtured in our state has the unfortunate habit of reiterating itself in each generation for many parents still believe that not educating their children is nothing of a handicap and that education only serves to “ruin” their children.
Even without the classification of public and private, every school bears another internal system of taxonomy. This is a system of labelling by the teachers. Social class is something that matters in every society, however nobody has ever been able to escape its repercussions. It is a recorded fact that teachers assume that children belonging to the lower classes of society will flounder and be unsuccessful. It is true that these students have to face a material deprivation due to their situation but this is the very divergence that is in dire need to be eliminated. These children already grow up in harsh environments such as parental neglect, not having the room to study properly, not having the money to buy books allotted by the school, not being able to afford extra academic support such as tuitions and lack of parental support in terms of career counselling. On top of all this having to face inferior treatment at the hands of their fellow students and teachers is a major aspect that instigates higher rate of drop outs. This is something sociologists term as the ‘self-fulfilling prophecy’; that is to say that what the teacher predicts about the students, he/she fulfills that role and internalizes their negative feedback. The teachers end up not paying much attention to struggling students and dismiss any success on their parts to be a once in a blue moon occurrence.
The irony is that Pakistan’s developmental expenditure in budget of 2015-16 was Rs. 969,039 million for education, so it is only spending 2.3% of its GDP while war stricken Afghanistan is allocating 4 percent, India 7 percent, and Rwanda is spending 9 percent of GDP on education. Regardless, there is no egalitarianism practiced in the education system and no attempt to reform the current situation.
We need to even out these dynamics for our country to achieve even an ounce of success. Education has always been Pakistan’s Achilles’ heel and it is always a wise strategy to address one’s weaknesses.
By Amna Khan