Enlightenment encumbered  

Enlightenment encumbered   

The much-lamented abysmal state of education in Pakistan is a crisis that has been several decades in the making yet still appears to go unnoticed by the authorities. This time, the critical — even criminal — neglect towards investment in education has resulted in an acute shortage of as many as 7,000 lecturers as well as 5,000 PhDs in the higher education department in Punjab, as was recently pointed out by the provincial minister for higher education.

Such a significant shortage would, definitely, add to the woes of students currently enrolled in colleges and universities; a large number of which have already gained notoriety for producing a plethora of academic scholarship sans any quality research or even scholarly credibility — in most cases. Ghost teachers is not a phenomenon restricted to the country’s primary schools as an incessant absence of lecturers in institutions markedly impacts the learning potential of students. Only last year, the provincial government in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa finally decided to act against this perpetual absenteeism of teaching staff from its centres of learning by establishing biometric attendance systems. Over 200 lectures found to be negligent towards their responsibilities were also fired from colleges across the province. In cases where teachers are willing to carry out their duties, the deplorable state of their own credentials considerably facilitates in sustaining a self-defeating cycle where their half-baked ideas provide their students with degrees at the expense of quality education. These degree-holders then move on to take the place of their teachers in Pakistani universities; narrating the same set of ideas, which is deprived of any intellectual imagination.

It is to the country’s misfortune, however, that instead of striving to rectify the glaring loopholes identified by various reports over the years, the authorities are busy painting frescos of good governance, promising reforms not yet implemented. The very fact that none of Pakistan’s universities has ever secured a rank in the top hundred Asian let alone international universities while nine Indian and as many as 20 Chinese universities are featured in the list should have long rattled the authorities into devising a development prescription. A ranking agency, Quacquarelli Symonds, even went to the extent of placing Pakistan at the tail-end of a list that compared the higher education systems of over 50 countries last year. These key performance failures largely stem from the country’s chronically low education expenditure — around two percent — significantly less when compared to its South Asian peers, India and Nepal, which spend over 3.3 and 4.7 percent of their respective budgets on education. But even this small money is not spent entirely on development as infrastructural costs have eaten up more than 82 percent of the allocated funds in the past. The complacency, with which the government continues to look the other way in lieu of strengthening a culture of modernisation, as well as a spirit of scholarship in public institutions, is another problem that yet remains unresolved. If we aspire to actually restore education to its true efficacious form, it is high time that it is looked upon as a holistic character-building, not a mere mean to gain professional success. We have had more than our fair share of degree holders. Let us now hope for some real scholars whose academic contributions help equip both our economy and our society with the necessary tools to achieve sustainable glory. *

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