An independent think-tank

The thirst for knowledge lacks in Pakistani education system

Pakistan’s education system has inadequate capacity and substance to promote the spirit of inquiry, thirst for knowledge and critical thinking among the students. Education provided by different public and private educational institutions and madrassas lacks quality and diversity. It is imperative for the government to set some standard principles of education, bridge the existing gaps between religious and mainstream education systems and allocate ample funds for education. These were some points of consensus evolved by Pakistan’s leading religious scholars and educationists during a seminar, “Education System in Pakistan: Challenges and Opportunities,” arranged by Pak Institute for Peace Studies (PIPS) on July 9, 2012.

The speakers were critical of the role of Pakistani state in delivery and reformation of education. They said the state had completely surrendered to private sector and was not even willing to play the role of a regulatory authority. They urged the provinces to play a proactive role in reforming the education system as after the 18th Constitutional Amendment the provincial governments are fully empowered to plan, legislate and administer the key areas of education relating to policy, planning, curriculum and standards of education etc. The speakers, who were representing different segments of education sector, public, private and religious educational institutions showed their concerns that the increasing emphasis over higher education, while ignoring the primary and secondary level education widened the socio-cultural gaps in the society.

The seminar was the first in a series of four dialogues between religious scholars and educationists intended to develop consensus on key challenges facing education in Pakistan. It was divided into two sessions which were further divided into four broader themes of discussion to cover different aspects of the subject.

Chaired by Dr. Khalid Masood (director, Islamic Research Institute, International Islamic University, Islamabad), the first session focused on different education systems in Pakistan. Prominent religious scholars and educationists discussed the challenges facing the religious and mainstream education in Pakistan, respectively, and the required responses to cope with these challenges.

Maulana Ammar Khan Nasir (vice principal, Al-Sharia Academy, Gujranwala) argued that the contemporary religious education system had failed to educate the students on the basis of the true principles of Islam and hence build their character. In his view, the solution demanded a strong commitment from religious scholars, civil society and government for their positive contribution to improve different aspects of religious education.

Syed Nadeem Farhat (research coordinator, Institute of Policy Studies) said education system of a country reflects its ideology, and aims and goals, and curricula are designed according to that country’s history, geography and present and future challenges.

Maulana Gulzar Naeemi (principal, Jamia Naeemia, Islamabad) said around 1.5 million students were currently getting education from madrassas. He said only 8,000 of these madrassas were registered while a large number of them was working unregistered. He argued that the madrassa curricula require reform and renewal in light of contemporary needs and realities.

Dr Shahid Siddique (head, Centre of Humanities and Social Sciences, Lahore School of Economics) highlighted the class-based divisions corresponding to Pakistan’s different education systems. He said commercialization was affecting the education system to a greater extent and socio-economic condition of a student was now a key determining factor of his/her future.

Dr. Saeed Shafqat (director, Centre for Public Policy and Governance, Forman Christian University, Lahore) said much was being expected from the resource-poor government. He emphasized that the role of individuals and institutions was equally important and scholars and educationists from federal and provincial domains could come up with some basic principles of education system.

The focus of second session of the seminar was on the most critical challenges facing education and prospects for establishing a uniform education system in Pakistan. The scholars largely discussed the prospects for educational reforms after the 18th Amendment. The chairperson of the session, Dr. Saeed Shafqat drew the attention of the participants towards the missing link between knowledge and education in Pakistan, which he said was resulting in promotion of anti-intellectual attitudes in the society.

Professor Najibullah Tariq (Jamia Salafia, Faisalabad) said the 18th Amendment was of no use if it had not defined the basic principles for running the education system. Government’s failure to do so would further divide the society, he noted. He also asserted that the government was discouraging and undermining the Urdu language which was a basic unit of Pakistan’s nationalism.

Dr. Syed Najfi (principal, Jamia Madeenatul Ilm, Islamabad) said that the Shia educational board for madrassas (Wafaqul Madaaris al-Shia) was administering Shia madrassas in all the provinces, which had the same education system. He said students were inducted in madrassas after they had already completed their matriculation and that MA degree provided by the Wafaqul Madaaris al-Shia was approved by the Higher Education Commission.

Dr. Khadim Hussain (director, Bacha Khan Education Trust, Peshawar) said that the 18th Amendment was not approved by the government but the parliament. As religious parties are part of the parliament, there should not be opposition from either side. He said uniformity and homogeneity could not be created with coercion, and it is ideal situation that the 18th Amendment provides chance to the provinces to improve their quality of education and promote their culture.

Mufti Muhammad Zahid (principal, Jamia Imdadia, Faisalabad) said a specific mindset controlled Pakistan’s education system. Government divided madrassas into five sects which promoted sectarian gap and differences among religious circles and also people. He noted Pakistan needed a strong and revised social contract to lead the process of change in education system and also to change the common notions of ‘madrassas verses government’ and ‘civil society verses madrassas’.

Professor Dr. Syed Jaffar Ahmad (director, Pakistan Study Center, University of Karachi) said the government had failed to provide a comprehensive and effective system of education to its people. He said while madrassas on the one hand were playing a great role by providing education to the students, they were on the other hand dividing the society on sectarian basis. He also argued that primary education should be in mother language and to bring unity in education system we will have to build national consensus.

Dr. Ayesha Saddiqa (political analyst) said that the role of the government as a regulator is completely absent. She said communication was very important to bridge the gap between religious education system and mainstream public and private education systems. For comprehensive and better education system there should be partnership between the two systems.

The seminar resolved that the communication gap between the mainstream education system and religious schools be filled by arranging more interaction, discussion and dialogues in near future.