By Syeda Ghazal Qadri
In the 18th Session of Learners Republic Policy Fellowship 2021, Abdus Sami focused on the Education Policy in Pakistan. After his quick overview of the key issues of education policy, planning, implementation, and results, coupled with the identification of some of the macro-level causes, I found myself asking the same question I have been asking myself repeatedly:
Why haven’t policy makers focused more on Education in Pakistan?
Here is where I stand: whether it is empowering women, or uplifting communities, it is a given that education serves as a significant tool. Granted, this tool will not bring out any change at a personal, or macro-economic level overnight, but it is the first step for any progress to occur. For a nation that is already 10 steps behind, this step is needed now, and it was needed yesterday.
It is not as if policy makers have not tried. If we go through some education policies, suggestions, and Op-Ed’s on the subject, we will notice that we have had competent policy makers and members of the community working towards education policies. However, the implementation of these policies, keeping in mind the socio-economic status quo in Pakistan, has been grossly misjudged, and the power of those that benefit from a poorly implemented education policy.
But who could have a problem with children studying? Top of my head (and probably yours), feudal lords. The landlord culture has existed in the subcontinent far longer than this country, and it will continue to exist far longer after you and I are done reading this piece. It probably would have been easier if we could just blame landlords (like we do with dynasty politicians), but it is every single person, corporation or entity that benefits from oppressing those that do not know any better. It is the owner of the factory that makes a child work for 18 hours a day until the child’s fingers are numb, or the person running a household that does not let their house help take a week off each year to visit their village. Oppression runs in all shapes and forms, and the lack of literacy of those oppressed only makes it easier for those that hold authority, in any shape or form.
Suppose policy makers find a way around this, and bring forward a legislation that protects each person, and helps educate them. Déjà vu? Then another key hindrance comes into place: implementation. For a policy maker, it should not just be that a policy exists, but what should matter is that this policy is correctly implemented. Furthermore, for this implementation, significant checks and balances need to take place. While Pakistan has changed what determined its population literate to a better standard, it is not enough to actually empower the nation and help it move forward. Furthermore, discrepancies in data collection does not help provide the real picture of education in Pakistan, so even while the situation seems bad enough with the current data collected and statistics to evaluate it, in reality, it is far worse than what you and I, or any policy maker, can imagine.
Of course, this is not an issue that does not have a solution. It is just something policy makers in the future (hopefully me too) will have to work on. While we have our work cut out, there is a few things that should be kept in mind. For starters, education policies should be different for urban and rural areas. The current status quo determines the same for both, and this gap is probably why the 2018-2019 literacy rate for the rural sector was at 51%, and urban was at 74%. Secondly, the male and female divide, especially given the social stigmas that come into mind, should be catered to. Less women than men are educated in each province, whether it is in the rural or urban sector, or whether it was from data as recent as 2018-2019 or data from 10 years ago.
But again, what do I know? From the eye of a professional, this might just be an overly critical and optimistic perspective of a student who is interested in the development sector. One thing is for certain, we have found ourselves with a serious problem, but it is not too late to focus on bridging this gap, and never too late to try.