In 2013, I had urged the banks to take banking to the people to increase revenues, reduce costs, to create innovation and efficiency and to provide better service to the customers. In that write up, I had also asked them to take a leaf from cinema houses the world over and shift stand alone branches to shopping malls for service and security. Resort to mobile banking and reach out to customers to increase the customer base manifold. At that time, Pakistan was rocked by acts of terrorism, excessive load shedding, deteriorating law and order in cities large and small. Even the rural Pakistan was not safe anymore where everyone knew everyone. Increasingly, the culture of shopping malls and supermarkets was taking shape. So it made a lot of sense to start opening banks’ branches in these malls to make banking available to people where they go rather than ask them to come to stand alone branches where they usually do not like to go. Not only would it be several times more convenient for the customers (parking is a nightmare in busy branches), it would be more secure, efficient and almost free of the every five minutes brownouts.
Perhaps, I should have also urged the then government, the later government and the now government to use all its resources and innovate the spread of education like an education emergency all over the country. The Chinese like to say “the best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago, the next best time is now.” So we should look at ways and means to take education to people now, just like the banks and other organizations did by taking money matters to people in and around small shops on street corners. I understand taking education to people is not the same thing and not quite as simple. While money matters attract people, the state-run education system and educational institutions repel students and sometimes parents alike. The teacher quality is poor if not worse than poor, infrastructure is almost non-existent especially in rural Pakistan, provision of water, electricity, classroom essentials, computers, WiFi, and learning atmosphere all are missing. Students have to commute or walk long distances to get to school, braving the weather both on road and in schools, fearing the lawless society that we have become, the depravity of our culture, the shame that poverty brings and utter helplessness that it produces.
While money matters attract people, the state-run education system and educational institutions repel students and sometimes parents alike. The teacher quality is poor if not worse than poor, infrastructure is almost non-existent especially in rural Pakistan, provision of water, electricity, classroom essentials, computers, WiFi, and learning atmosphere all are missing.
We are a poor country and we have criminally neglected education to our people just like medical, government after government. Several friends who visit their ancestral villages every few years have told me that they see no change in either the village or the people living there. As if the train of hope and progress bypassed them. Even the so-called remittances from the workers in the Middle East have made little difference, if at all. The state must do something for them. At least the state can take education to the children of a lesser God. The Prime Minister keeps talking about the youth of this country but this youth is and shall be of no use if uneducated and thus unemployed. Some who are lucky to have gone to State-run institutions are still as good as uneducated youth and also unemployable when compared to the students who have attended private sector institutions. As if this was not enough, COVID-19 has changed our world unrecognizably and we need to rise to the occasion with whatever limited resources we have.
So how do we take education to the students in villages and remote areas so no child is left behind? In my view the least expensive and the most effective way to spread education is to deploy all the old and even new buses as roving air- conditioned free educational institutions. All fitted with WiFi, computers, one or two well paid and competent teachers and a driver, driven straight to villages and remote areas to impart the necessary education that really educates. Hubs or hot spots (activities that have low resource input but high potential performance gains) can be created around a cluster of villages and remote areas where teachers, buses and drivers can be stationed during the school year. Separate buses can be used for male and female students. I am certain that this mode of learning will be much less expensive than building and maintaining a school with all other paraphernalia and a host of expenses. This will be certainly more secure and attractive for the students. At the very minimum, primary and secondary education can be widely provided to the students. And if the state can afford it, it may also decide to provide a healthy and hearty lunch to students to make it more attractive for the students and the parents alike.
As we go along we can improve on this mode of education until we are able to build and maintain schools in buildings, hire real good teachers and provide students with learning tools. According to my understanding currently and for years the worst students opt to teach because of low pay, poor facilities and little or no opportunity to make additional money through corruption—bane of our society. The case for buses, reminds me of the New York Police Department (NYPD). In the mid-nineties NYPD decided to be innovative to combat crime in the crime capital of the world as the Big Apple was known then. Police found that on average it took sixteen hours for a policeman to take a criminal to a downtown police station to process even the pettiest crime. Instead of bringing criminals to the police stations, NYPD brought processing centers to the criminals by using “bust buses—roving old buses retrofitted into miniature police stations parked outside the subway stations”. This step cut processing time from sixteen hours to just one hour.
This is just one way of combatting illiteracy and the lack of facilities to provide education to our young ones. The current government has been working on one syllabus for all. From all accounts the syllabus leans towards the far right. Both, far right and far left are equally bad for the country and the future of the students. What students need to learn is critical thinking, creativity, innovation and civic sense without which we will still be planting a new tree twenty years down the road and lamenting the time lost and leaving millions of children behind.
Let’s leave no child behind this time!