Reimagining Pakistan’s Education System

Author: Maria Ali

In the words of Allama Iqbal, “Power is more divine than the truth.” Yet, for Pakistan, the struggle for power seems very difficult due to a landscape grappling with economic fragility, democratic challenges, and social disparities. Against the backdrop of an economic landscape characterized by fragility and volatility, a series of adverse events—including the COVID-19 pandemic, the catastrophic floods of 2022, and political instability in 2023—has confronted Pakistan with a harsh reality marked by sluggish growth, an alarming increase in poverty, and imminent debt crises.

Central to Pakistan’s journey towards empowerment is another hurdle: the human capital crisis. Shocking statistics reveal a bitter reality: seven percent of children do not live to see their fifth birthday, while nearly half suffer from stunted growth, reflecting the nation’s neglect of its most precious resource. Yet, amidst this adversity, there is hope in education, as access to quality education is fundamental in addressing these challenges. Although the federal government’s declaration of a four-year education emergency is a commendable step towards addressing critical issues in the education sector, such as the alarming number of out-of-school children, its effectiveness hinges on more than just policy pronouncements. Without addressing the limitations of traditional teaching methods, the success of this emergency may be compromised. Simply opening more schools or increasing enrollment numbers won’t suffice if the educational approach remains rigid and outdated.

While education for economic prosperity is undoubtedly a crucial stepping stone, a more destructive challenge lies in the realm of ideology. Extremist narratives, fueled by rigid interpretations and societal polarization, cast a long shadow over the nation’s future. For Pakistan, the path to empowerment necessitates a fundamental shift—a rejection of divisive ideologies in favor of cultivating a culture of inclusivity and pluralism. To truly make a difference, we must embrace innovative teaching techniques that prioritize critical thinking, creativity, and problem-solving skills. Compounding the issue of extremist narratives is the disastrous influence of the internet and television, particularly on young minds. Unfiltered exposure to negativity, violence, and intolerance easily distorts a child’s worldview, fostering extremism and a rejection of anything different. This constant barrage of “useless content,” as it were, has badly stifled curiosity and the natural human desire to explore and understand.

As the nation struggles with a myriad of issues—from a stagnant economy and human capital crisis to the threat of ideologies—the question arises: How can Pakistan be cohesive as a nation?

The answer lies not only in economic prowess or geopolitical maneuvering but also in nurturing a generation of visionary leaders from the grassroots up. In the pursuit of becoming a cohesive nation, Pakistan needs to recalibrate its approach to education, shifting away from the traditional emphasis on degrees and specialization towards a more holistic model that fosters creativity, critical thinking, and innovation. Rather than pushing children into the relentless pursuit of qualifications, there is an urgent need to provide them with an environment where curiosity is nurtured, questions are encouraged, and the exploration of knowledge is readily accessible to every child.

It is difficult but not impossible to leverage the tools that spread extremism—the internet and television—to ignite a fire of curiosity in young minds. By curating engaging educational content, documentaries celebrating diversity, and interactive platforms that promote critical thinking, we can empower young minds to use these technologies for positive exploration. Imagine a curious Pakistani student researching different cultures online, fueled by a thirst for knowledge that naturally pushes them away from negativity and towards a more tolerant worldview.

However, this paradigm shift towards an “inclusive will to attain power and knowledge” demands a comprehensive strategy. Fostering an inclusive educational ecosystem is essential to ensure that every child, regardless of background or circumstance, has the opportunity to realize their full potential. This requires not only investment in infrastructure and resources but also a commitment to removing all barriers to access and promoting equality of opportunity for all. By equipping the next generation with the tools to think critically, collaborate effectively, and lead with integrity, Pakistan can cultivate a cadre of leaders who are not merely adept at navigating the complexities of the modern world but are also driven by a sense of purpose and a commitment to the common good.

Moreover, Pakistan’s rich pool of ethnicities, religions, and cultural expressions represents a potential wellspring of strength. By fostering a climate conducive to constructive discourse and mutual respect, the nation can unlock the transformative potential of diversity. Open dialogue that transcends ideological divides is crucial. Educational reforms that promote critical thinking and tolerance are essential. This nurturing of inclusivity will not only foster national cohesion but also generate a spirit of innovation and collaboration—hallmarks of powerful nations in the 21st century. By prioritizing a unique approach to education rather than the traditional one, Pakistan can lay the foundation for a future where power is not just wielded but also shared, where leaders emerge not from privilege but from potential, and where the promise of a brighter tomorrow becomes a reality for all.

The declaration of a four-year education emergency in Pakistan can provide a critical platform to address urgent challenges such as the alarming number of out-of-school children. This emergency can underscore the need for a paradigm shift in education. Rather than adhering to traditional paradigms focused solely on degrees and specialization, this emergency can demand a holistic approach that fosters creativity, critical thinking, and innovation. Alongside this, embracing smart schooling methods and leveraging technology to curate engaging educational content can become imperative. Moreover, the emphasis on fostering inclusivity can resonate deeply with the emergency’s call to remove barriers to access and promote equality of opportunity for all. By aligning this vision with the goals of the education emergency, Pakistan can create an educational ecosystem that empowers young minds, fosters inclusivity, and lays the foundation for a brighter future.

The author is currently working as a Research Associate at the Shaoor Foundation for Education and Awareness.

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