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The sinking ship of education

The recent suicide committed by a teenage girl from Balochistan’s Killa Saifullah district reflects the inherent, yet neglected, issues plaguing our defective education system. It is quite sad that the ever-slumbering government has brushed aside such a shocking and heart-rending incident. If the incumbent government continues delaying the reforms that our education system needs, more such deaths and terrorism will be the result.

Seventeen-year-old Saqiba Kakar, who was a second-year intermediate student, and 12 other girls were barred from taking their intermediate final exams by Principal Abida Ghous of Government Girls Degree College, Muslim Bagh, allegedly for staging a demonstration outside the Quetta Press Club in June 2015 and demanding the resumption of classes at their institution.

What was Saqiba’s fault, for which the principal blatantly rejected her examination form and deprived her of taking the exams? She was a dynamic student, who was striving to end the teachers’ autocracy and monopoly in her college. To this end, she organised other students to raise a voice against the lethargic and irresponsible teaching staff of the college. Despite trying to control teacher absenteeism and sluggishness, the principle considered Saqiba a threat to her monopoly and, therefore, rejected her examination form.

When Saqiba found no hope for reforming the defective education system after her relentless struggle, she put an end to her life. Like thousands of other incidents, this murder by our education system has failed to awaken the aristocratic government to make the required reforms to save the youth of the country from becoming victims of its education system. Arguably, more students like Saqiba will end up committing suicide and joining militant and jihadi outfits because of ineffective education.

Saqiba has left her task unaccomplished because of the powerful mafia of education that always inhibits reforms in the sector. Like her, thousands of other students suffer from multifaceted issues – ranging from the irresponsibility of teachers to outdated syllabi – everyday. They hold their tongues because of the fear that the teachers could take harsh actions against them, such as failing them in examinations. How absurd is it that the government is busy with the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, Iran-Saudi Arabia reconciliation, metro buses etc, while systematically depriving the youth of quality, innovative and creative education. There can be no development without effective education.

Just as in the case of Saqiba, the majority of teachers arbitrarily misuse their powers while performing their duties. They arrive late for class, discourage students who ask questions, take bribes and allocate marks and positions to the powerful and influential students, rather than the hard working and intelligent ones. They sometimes intimidate female students into having sexual relations with them. Any students who protest against such behaviour are either dismissed or deliberately failed in the examinations. These practices do not educate the students but rather, ruin their future.

Student unions are aimed at promoting and facilitating education on campuses. The government has recently decided to lift the long-lasting ban on these groups. The government should be cognisant that these are not student unions but sub-branches of our corrupt political parties, created to cultivate political influence on campuses.

Most student unions in the country forcibly suspend classes, smash windows at universities and colleges during violent clashes, uproot plants and threaten teachers into giving extra marks to certain students. If full freedom is given to such politicised groups, there will be more bloodshed and suspension of classes.

Have we not realised that the current six-month semester system is defective? Due to a host of holidays, coupled with the unchecked absenteeism of incompetent teachers, students dismally fail to benefit from classes. Most teachers are unable to complete the essential topics before the final examinations, which badly impacts the knowledge of the students in the subjects. As a result, 7-10 questions are given to students on the eve of the examinations. We cannot blindly follow the American education system, while ignoring the intrinsic ground realities.

Those who are experts at memorising study materials are rewarded highest positions in final examinations. The culture of rote memorisation has greatly obstructed the students’ ability to utilise their potentials. When intelligent students find that hard work doesn’t pay, they also begin to rote-learnthe examination materials. Most students are bereft of innovative, creative and ideas, critical thinking and knowledge, thus failing to contribute to the socioeconomic prosperity of the country.

The knowledge of economics is unknown to us. Most graduates, and even those with PhDs, are unaware of market dynamics and the economy, which makes them unfit for all sorts of jobs. Most companies avoid employing the graduates of our public sector universities, because they would only increase their losses rather than their profits. Therefore, the unemployed youths either leave the country or join terrorist and militant organisations, like the killers of Sabeen Mahmud.

The country desperately lacks an effective and uniform education system, based on well-researched syllabi. The students of expensive private educational institutions outsmart those of the neglected public sector. The graduates of private universities easily find employment owing to their competence and expertise, thus increasing the gap between the poor and the rich in society.

This class-based education system has also led to divides amongst the provinces. Candidates from Punjab outwit those of the rest of the country, due to the better education system in that province. On account of this discrepancy, Punjabis have been dominating the national bureaucracy and armed forces.

There are more than 30,000 religious schools across the country. A large number of students from religious backgrounds or poor families are enrolled in these seminaries. These learning centres only focus on the religious education of the students. The majority of students lack practical knowledge of any field and thus fail to acquire jobs. As a result, a large number of these unemployed students end up joining militant and terrorist outfits.

The PML-N should keep in mind that without reforming and promoting education, all its plans of economic growth will fail in the foreseeable future. So, it is imperative for the government to prudently and urgently reform the education sector that compels students to commit suicide and join terrorist and militant outfits.

The writer is an independent researcher based in Karachi.

Email: ayazahmed6666@gmail.com

Twitter: @ayazahmed66665

Ayaz Ahmed, "The sinking ship of education," The News. 2016-02-28.
Keywords: Educational issues , Education system , Education-Pakistan , Educational planning , Educational development , Educational policy , Educational programmes , Decision making , Terrorism , Education , Saqiba Kakar , Abida Ghous , Iran , Saudi Arabia , Balochistan , PMLN