Let the candles glow
Jean Piaget had famously said that “the goal of education is not to increase the amount of knowledge but to create the possibilities, for a child to invent and discover, to create men who are capable of doing new things”.
Pakistan is a nuclear power and of late an Emerging Market, but as they say no chain can be stronger than its weakest link, and that link in case of Pakistan is education. Not only is education bereft of government patronage, it is also a victim of tactless handling. No wonder then more than 40 percent Pakistanis are illiterate, a deficiency likely to persist given inability of the provincial governments to meet the challenge of enrolling some 24 million out-of-school children. A case in point is a recent decision of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government to close down all primary schools in the province with less than 50 pupils. The schools with poor enrolment were a “burden on the exchequer”, the concerned minister told the Provincial Assembly house. Is this then the part of ‘education emergency’ the provincial government so proudly declared some time back or some kind of camouflage? Who would own the buildings after closure of schools? This question was raised by Opposition member Aurangzeb Nalotha, who raised the issue through a calling-attention notice on Tuesday. These schools were built on lands whose possessions had yet to be transferred from their owners to the education department. But there is always an answer, based on facts or illusions, with the government, and it was there also. The schools with less than 50 students would be closed down only in areas where another primary school was available in a radius of two kilometres, the minister argued. As if 4-km journey is no big deal for the primary school age children. And never mind if journey of a child to the school is through a rough and inhospitable terrain. In all probability, the pupils of these closed schools would either give up further education or join private schools. They may also look for admissions in nearby ‘madrassahs or seminaries’.
As to the cost, the provincial government had to shell out to keep running such schools there is no figure in the public domain. But certainly it is not beyond the means of the provincial government, particularly of the one committed to ushering in a “New Pakistan”. The problem is fixing up the priorities, and in there, education sits in the last row. Frankly speaking, education as portfolio was never a high priority commitment of any government; not as much for paucity of funds as for paucity of its importance in Pakistan. And that apathy continues to prevail. Even today as against India’s 7 percent of GDP allocation for education and Rwanda’s 9 percent, Pakistan spends a paltry 2 percent of its GDP on education. No wonder then Pakistan has already missed the Millennium Development Goal of literacy rate. Let alone the quality of education imparted by our educational institutions – which is not salutary either - in Pakistan we haven’t been able even to send every child to school. This is a colossal failure on the part of the state. Given our enormous human capital our best option should be to nurture a knowledge-based economy, for which the principal input is nothing but the educated masses. That being our thinking we would like the KP government to rescind its decision of closing the schools with less than 50 pupils. Let the candles keep burning to dispel darkness of ignorance and backwardness.
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