Education, Development, and Change
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Saturday, January 15, 2011

Review of Education, Inequalities, and Freedom



By
Dr. Azhar Hassan Nadeem
               It goes without saying that no society can make any progress without a vibrant, progressive, forward looking, research oriented, accountable and  dynamic system of education which not only disseminates knowledge but also helps create citizens who make a positive contribution in a developing and modernizing economy in various fields. Dr.Shahid Siddiqui, an expert on education, has in his recent book titled ‘Education, Inequalities and Reforms’  presented a socio-political critique of education in Pakistan with reference to politics, inequalities, stratification, development, teachers, control, freedom, language, power, educational reforms, hegemony myths, slogans and possible alternatives.
       Based on a critique of inequalities nourished and perpetuated by our system of education, Dr. Siddiqui’s book gives us food for thought and presents a strategy and design for reshaping education in Pakistan. The crux of the observations made and conclusions drawn by him are as under: -
           Based on a critique of inequalities nourished and perpetuated by our system of education, Dr. Siddiqui’s book gives us food for thought and presents a strategy and design for reshaping education in Pakistan

We need to strive for an assessment system which requires the students to think critically and apply knowledge in diverse contexts. For all these changes in learning, pedagogy, and assessment it is important that we revisit our ideology about the very aim of education. We need to challenge the transmission mode of education that supports the existing power structures and move to the transformation mode where the main objective of education is to reduce the socioeconomic gaps in society and empower the have-nots by maximizing their prospects in life.
The assessment system which encourages just memory has a direct impact on teaching and learning interaction in the classroom. In such a system, where competence and efficiency through recall-based assessment system, the teacher is encouraged to teach with the sole objective of facilitating the students to get better grades.
Education, which used to be considered a mission, has been conveniently turned into a money-making venture where the maximization of profit acts as the guiding principle. Emerging as a lucrative industry, education attracted the attention of businessmen who invested in this industry and found it to be profitable experience.
On the contrary, the state, which, according to the Constitution of Pakistan is responsible for provision of initial education, has given up on public sector education. A number of public sector schools were up for grabs by the NGOs. Using the corporate term, these schools were considered sick units which should either be closed down or handed over to the private sector. The state, which claims to have plans for the improvement of education, should realize that qualitative improvement cannot come unless public sector education is encouraged, empowered, and respected by the state.
 The other extreme is the mainstream public schools where physical facilities are lacking, curricula are outdated, textbooks are boring and are printed in an unattractive manner on poor quality paper. The faculty members are underpaid and thus lack motivation. Proper system of monitoring and accountability are lacking. The classes are overcrowded. Most of the students who come to public schools come from modest socioeconomic backgrounds. One can find a huge difference in the quality of education between public and elite schools. Thus our schools are engaged in not only preserving the sociopolitical power structure based on inequalities but they are further widening the chasm between the haves and have-nots.
The class difference, the boundaries, the categories are constructed and perpetuated by the educational system in an effective manner. The market value of ‘A’ level exam system students is far greater than the students from local intermediate exam system. Similarly, the private educational institutions are in more demand than the public sector institutions.
There is serious need to reduce the artificial differences which are being constructed and perpetuated by education and our social practices. This, however, is a challenging task. Every government announces that it would have a uniform system of education in Pakistan with identical curriculum. But, like many other political statements, this statement also fades away. The reason is that we cannot plan effective strategies in a small sphere of education unless we are cognizant of the sociopolitical practices taking place in society. Education cannot be improved in isolation unless there is support available from the sociopolitical set up of a country. This fact must be kept in view while planning projects for the qualitative improvement of education.