Karachi Council on Foreign Relations (KCFR) recently arranged a webinar on “Challenges in Education in Pakistan”.
The webinar, chaired by KCFR Chairman Ikram Sehgal, also had Education, Professional Training, National Heritage & Culture Minister in attendance. The event was moderated by KCFR CEO Cdre (r) Sadeed A. Malik.
Speaking on the occasion, the minister noted that over the last 73 years, the state did not invest in education the way it should have.
“Apart from the prevalent situation, we were suddenly faced with the coronavirus emergency, which we managed by making a functional and effective organisation wherein fundamental decisions were taken with regard to opening and closures of schools etc. Within 15 days of closure of schools in March, we were able to launch a ‘Tele School’ by taking an entire channel from Pakistan Television Corporation. In higher education, online learning was encouraged. Just a few days back, we took a decision to gradually open schools from the 18th to the 25th of Jan 2021, and by the 1st of next month, all education institutions will reopen.”
He said with on focus on distance learning, the government has put in place projects to develop new content. “We have started a blended learning project in Islamabad which is going to combine different kinds of technologies to determine which one is the appropriate technology and at which age.”
While the future is stressful because of Covid, it has created opportunities. “We have started ‘distance learning’ and we hope that within the next 6 months, we will be able to develop new content and new ways to give to the children.”
The minister opined that there is a huge problem with ‘learning poverty’, which according to World Bank is the amount of learning that a student has to attain over a certain period of time but unfortunately the figures for Pakistan at 75pc were very poor.
“There are other problems such as societal problems and we have a huge apartheid-like situation in education where you have the elite schools, then the low fee paying private schools, government schools and Madrassah schools. Each one is going in their own direction. Madrassa reform has been a huge effort… we held a number of meetings with Ittihad-e-Tanzeem Madaris and reached an agreement that all madrassa over the next 4 to 5 year period will also be teaching according to the national curriculum and that their students will be taking part in the national examinations, like Matriculation, FA or FSc.”
The minister then took some questions from participants after which KCFR Chairman Ikram Sehgal thanked the minister and said that he believed there was a problem with education because of the 18th Amendment.
“We do not want to go down the way of the Yugoslav model which suffered a racial and religious divide. I think we need to have a common minimum programme to address our problems. There are things counter-productive to the continuation of good education, for example, textbooks. The 18th Amendment must be modified to have at least a Common Minimum Programme as far as education is concerned.”
Continuing, Mr Sehgal said that having ‘mortar and brick’ schools in the pandemic is not enough. “We can do double shifts at schools, we can do stage wise alternate on-line classes, etc. The most important thing is the common minimum programme and also the textbook problem, I think you really need to revisit your policy about textbooks because if you hand over the textbooks to the provincial level you are going to have a problem of the highest order as is already happening as we see it.”