School education: Addressing the human dimension

By Zubeida Mustafa

Education has traditionally been a low priority sector in Pakistan. This is best illustrated by an incident, seemingly trivial but profoundly meaningful, that took place a long time ago.

After Governor-General Ghulam Mohammad had sworn in Mohamed Ali Bogra’s cabinet, he realised that no minister for education had taken the oath of office Hurriedly, one of the departing politicians was. recalled and the education portfolio was unceremoniously thrust upon him.

52-25-01-1991

Things might be slightly better today. Heads, of governments remember the education portfolio when forming their cabinets — but more because they do not want to let one opportunity for patronage go by default.

Otherwise the state of education in Pakistan is ample proof of the policy-makers’ apathy towards this important area of national life Their approach is positively anti-social. While their own children study in elitist private schools and foreign universities, they are not at all concerned about the education of the common man’s offspring.

A measure of our failure to make any headway in educating our people is the appalling rate of illiteracy (74 per cent) in the country. The poor primary school enrolment ratio (51 per cent for boys and 28 per cent for girls aged 5-9 years) is a clear indicator that the literacy rate will not register a radical improvement in the coming years.

What is worse, Pakistan has entered the nineties with no clear-cut education policy which could have given one hope that things will be better in the future. At present; there are only seven countries in the world which have a lower school enrolment ratio than Pakistan.

They are Afghanistan, Bhutan, Ethiopia, Mali, Guinea, Burkina Faso and Niger, all of, which have a lower per capita income than ours. Many others who are also poorer than Pakistan have managed to educate their children better.

What seems to be lacking is the political will in our leaders to promote education in the country. In a bid to draw the attention of the government to the need for action, Prof Anita Ghulam Ali presented a UNICEF-sponsored report on basic education in Sindh to the Prime Minister when he was in Karachi last month.

Anita, who is the Managing Director of the Sindh Government Teachers Foundation and was designated UNESCO’s honorary ambassador for the international literacy year in 1990, has been carrying on a one-woman crusade for the cause of education in Pakistan.

Her concern is primarily for the poor masses who cannot afford the high cost private schools that have sprouted in all major cities. Whether Anita will succeed is anybody’s guess. The report she has prepared underlines the enormity of the task before us.

Anita’s understanding of the problem is profound but her approach in some respects is too idealistic and Utopian for implementation. She places too much reliance on official initiatives in education. One has to be overly optimistic to expect far-reaching measures from the government.

Hence it would be more realistic to begin with smaller steps that do not require too radical a commitment from the government at the highest level, but would still leave room for the educationists lower down the scale to bring about a change that would make an impact. The UNICEF-sponsored report does offer some ideas in this respect.

Of course one hardly has to emphasise the need to expand primary education so that every child can find a place in school, as is his birthright.

Similarly, it is essential to create a general awareness about the importance of education for the well-being of the people and for national development. Without that parents would not be motivated enough to send their children to school. A special effort will have to be made in the case of female enrolment since social prejudices still handicap women enormously.

It is also stating the obvious that .educational standards need upgrading very badly. Already the ‘deteriorating quality of school teaching is taking a heavy toll in the employment sector, it being difficult to find properly qualified hands for various jobs.

While public opinion needs to be mobilised to bring pressure to bear on the government to step up the financial allocations for education at present, these amount to 3.5 percent of the GNP — availability of funds does not by itself offer a solution. It is a myth, that simply increasing the education budget will solve all problems. Anita’s report also succumbs to this myth.

It is more important that steps are taken to ensure cost-effective, optimum and honest utilisation of funds earmarked for education. It is not the total expenditure on education that makes all the difference. How the money is used that is decisive.

Hence the focus should be not on erecting massive structures with expensive facilities but on the academic aspects such as the teaching skills, instructional material and other supportive facilities such as libraries and laboratories.

Many of the private schools that have been set up have failed to realise the significance of this. Small wonder then that children studying in institutions charging Rs 700 per month still require private tuitions to bring them upto the mark.

Conversely, some private schools in Orangi charging only Rs 50 per month and a few government schools that take no fees have managed to provide relatively satisfactory education in spite of the serious constraints under which they operate. The Orangi schools have managed to set up box libraries, laboratories and rooms for arts and craft for students, hold workshops for teachers and organise science exhibitions.

Hence what emerges from this is that the key element in the education sector is the dedication and mobilisation of the human resources. Fortunately this requires no massive funds, but more public patronage and interest which would .motivate those working in this field to improve and expand their performance.
In this context, the UNICEF-sponsored report has two very interesting and innovative suggestions to offer. One is the “adoption of schools” programme and the other is the “chain school” programme.

The first would institute a system of monitoring of all government schools by groups of concerned citizens. This idea could be extended to private schools as well. If some public-spirited individuals were to ‘adopt’ a few schools in their neighbourhood, as some professionals, youngsters and senior citizens in Karachi have done, it could make a deep impact on their performance.

By keeping an eye on the working of the principals and teachers, these groups could make these functionaries more accountable and mindful of their responsibilities. The awareness that there is someone to appreciate their good performance and reprimand them for neglect of duties should serve as an incentive to the teachers to strive for better achievement.

Moreover, by addressing the problems their foster schools face, the citizen groups could help in resolving them. They could approach the . education authorities, public agencies and philanthropic organisations to spur them into action for the benefit of the school they have adopted. This approach has worked in other sectors.

The chain school programme is another experiment worth trying. Some of the well-run government schools would form the nucleus of this system. Their heads would choose two or three schools in their vicinity to oversee and advise on a regular basis. When these. ‘adopted’ schools are upgraded through this linking process, their heads would move on to ‘adopt’ other schools. Thus the chain would grow from year to year.

Another idea worth considering is that all schools should be required to have parents-teachers associations and governing boards. These would also serve as monitoring agencies to ensure that the interest of the students remains the primary concern of the school managements.

Collectively, these bodies could persuade the Directorate of Education, the Board of Education and, the Education Department to take the measures which are needed to improve the status of the existing schools and for opening new institutions.

It is the human dimension that must now be addressed. There are a number of groups which are working for the improvement of education in Karachi. Their focus is on the human dimension in the management of schools. .

The emphasis should now be on motivation and mobilisation of the valuable human resources on a self-help basis. The concept of reward and punishment the UNICEF-sponsored report speaks about need not necessarily be in monetary terms. A job well-done which is given public recognition is rewarding in itself.

Source: Dawn 25-01-1991