100 years. Yes, this is how long it is likely to take the developing world to bridge the education gap between itself and the developed world, according to a research by The Brookings Institution. What does this mean for Pakistan? A significant majority of our 4 next generations will not have access to the same education skills as a child in New York or Singapore have for the next hundred years. Should it matter to us or should we simply accept this as a natural course of evolution?
Some of us might be thinking how this large divide is even possible in this day and age. Maybe it was a possibility in the medieval era when it took 200 years for Europe to talk about calculus, when Arabs and Indians had already accomplished significant headway on it in the fourteen-century. But in this age, when we are living in a connected grid and where information has become a commodity, should we not be concerned? Transforming that information to tangible outcome is critical to solve issues, face challenges, generate employment, and bring innovation to under-developed pockets of the global village.
In Pakistan, we haven’t achieved mass education targets as yet. Literacy rates are not only low but the definition of literacy is ambiguous. Whereas, in the developed world the focus is altogether different. They are contemplating on how to change their way of teaching, how to ultra-modernize their curriculum and how to focus on individual needs of a student. For instance, over the next few years, Finland, that has the finest education systems in the world, plans to gradually replace the classic school subjects such as History, English, and Science with “topics”. Children at school will not have subject lesson but they will work through phenomenon-based learning. For example, in this multi-disciplinary approach, the class will work on topic of European Union where History, Economics, Language, Mathematics and Geography, would be learnt collectively. The aim is to provide children education that is pertinent to the modern era where they can actually use it, rather than just learn it.
The perennial question remains, what should a country like Pakistan do? Before answering that question, we need to assess what is our current situation and how are we reacting to it. There are multiple systems running in parallel. On one extreme of the multi-system spectrum are the elite private, and on the other end is the poor condition of our government schools and Madrasahs. Within government schools, we are seeing another parallel system; recently created in Punjab under the name of ‘Danish Schools’ adding yet another layer i.e. bright vs. normal students. Private educators, on the other hand, though their motive may be primarily financial, have tried over the years to bring more value for students by offering different curriculums based on Matriculation, Cambridge and now trending towards International Baccalaureate in major cities. In many posh educational institutes, experiments are underway to introduce project based learning similar to International Baccalaureate or Reggio Emilia (learning based on hundred languages) that is a radical shift from the traditional rote based school system.
Some of the private education sector has its tap on the nerve of education sector in the developed world and are trying to impart at least some degree of change in the local education sector. Unfortunately the private schools in question do not even cater to 1% of the children in Pakistan. Not to mention, these private education institutes are currently under pressure from the regulatory authorities to control their fee increases.
How will Pakistan bridge the gap of 100 years with such conditions? The government must allow private educational sector to flourish, as it would allow any other industry. Let the market decide the fee. Let the government facilitate more and more entrants to come as they see potential in the market. Let the public private partnerships be formed. If some schools are charging exorbitantly high then there will be a demand for lower price points where new entrants can fill in the vacuum. Let the market create more and more avenues for learning and compete on innovative ways of education. This will not only will be helpful in providing such education to people who can pay that higher price, but the cluster effect and healthy competition will benefit everyone including government schools and other low tier schools. Let the government schools take inspiration and learn from the better ones. Otherwise, if the government puts its step down and cap the growth of private schools or their revenues, the education system is likely to suffer. Shortage of funds and low returns for the private sector would mean less risk taking, restricted experimentation with new ideas of teaching, limited investment in new school units, low staff salaries and thus the market not attractive enough for high caliber people to pursue teaching as a career. Government doesn’t have the logistics and capacity to upgrade the government schools just by introducing a 2020 or 2030 educational plans that target student enrollment and basic literacy rate. We are missing out on the quality of education here. If we allow market forces in the education sector to work, the country would automatically move ultimately towards a much better education system than we have currently. Having said that, the government should keep on ensuring that cartels are not formed where students and parents are exploited.
Pakistan spends two percentage of its budget on education which is very low especially when you have to catch up. Educational emergency has to be declared at the national level where we have our best minds and think tanks tackling the issue. Our policemen earn more than our teachers. A system needs to be in place where teaching job becomes highly sought after. Let’s have good university grads wanting to work for government schools rather than the private education sector or even a comparable private corporate jobs. We want our next generations to be taught from those who value education and know how to deliver it. Take the example of Korea where only the top five percent of university graduates are allowed to enter the teaching profession.
The aim here is not to enlist all the measures that we can do to bridge the gap but to create awareness in the society, that some evolutionary steps should be skipped.
Who has a 100 years? We do not have that much time if we want economic prosperity that is an offshoot of a good education system. We want to see quantum changes within our life spans to leave a superior education system to our children.