The Pulse

Pakistan’s Broken Education System

C.J. Dubash believes that Pakistan needs to make some strategic policy level reforms to revamp its outdated and broken education system.

Pakistan’s Broken Education System
Credit: C.J. Dubash

Over the last decade, there has been a tremendous rise in the number of private educational institutions in Pakistan. However, the quality of education that these institutions offer has dropped significantly. A month ago, the Higher Education Commission (HEC), Pakistan’s education regulatory body, shut down dozens of PhD programs in a number of universities across the country. Reportedly, the universities failed to meet the minimum quality criteria required of higher education institutions.

At present, besides some basic regulatory measures, the government doesn’t control private education providers. The government in Pakistan has never quite seen education as a top priority besides where it was needed to suit various political agendas. Due to the government’s decades-old neglect, the standards of public universities in Pakistan have worsened with rote learning taking over the country’s education system. In the absence of a better public education system and rising demand for more universities, private institutions have virtually monopolized the education system. Pakistan’s broken education system is manifest in diminishing demand for its graduates internationally.

To understand the challenges and opportunities facing Pakistan’s education system, The Diplomat‘s Umair Jamal spoke with Dr. C.J. Dubash, a leading Pakistani education scholar and the Dean of the School of Education at the Forman Christian College University. Dubash holds a PhD in educational psychology and has taught in Pakistan and overseas for more than three decades. He is also part of the Higher Education Commission’s teacher training program. Today, he is working with a number of international and national educational bodies to reform the primary-level curriculum in Pakistan.

The Diplomat: What are the most immediate missing priorities in Pakistan’s education system?

Dr. C.J. Dubash: One of the pressing challenges in Pakistan regarding education is that the government has not shown any commitment to foster education at all levels and for everyone. Also, the problem exists on teacher’s part as well: there is a lack of commitment and dedication on teachers’ part to play their role with honesty and integrity. Moreover, schools lack the necessary infrastructure, which is essential in modern day education systems. Lastly, by and large, teachers in Pakistan are not trained to teach. It’s one of the reasons that teachers don’t always understand how to help a student. The government needs to focus on teacher training on priority basis.

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The federal government is planning an ambitious project to build one university in every district of the country. How wise is this approach and does it help resolve Pakistan’s education crisis?

I don’t think it is a good move because, you see, focusing on tertiary education is not going to solve Pakistan’s education problem. The government should start out strengthening primary education and the rest should take care of itself. Building more universities is not enough to resolve impending issues such as the quality of education, which is also a missing link in Pakistan’s education system. Besides building more universities, the government should also focus on improving the quality of education.

Do you think the state should formulate its educational policies with the help of the able educationists? In other words, how influential should experts be in the state’s policy designing process?

I think any policy should be penned keeping the key stakeholders in mind, be it education or any other area. However, as far as education is concerned, yes, prominent people with integrity should be involved and listened to in order to formulate better educational polices. Also, young scholars with current know-how should be involved too.

How important is the teacher training process in order to produce better teachers?

The teacher training process is absolutely critical. To improve education in Pakistan, we must improve the teacher training process. Because you see, trained teachers are a central component in the educational process for higher standards and teacher training means higher standards in teacher performance. However, I believe that teacher training does not need to be theoretical. Rather, it must be hands-on. A practical session with proper feedback is a must in this regard.

Generally, children from marginalized and underprivileged backgrounds do not excel when they get into higher education. Do you think the reasons are economic or due to a bad education system?

A bit of both. These children do not get a good quality basic education and therefore cannot perform well due to accumulated deficits. The education system as is promotes this divide. The government needs to work on narrowing the widening economic gap between rich and poor. If the government doesn’t focus on this issue, it will grow worse.

What do we need to do to put in place an environment where all children have equal opportunities to excel as far as education system is concerned?

To begin with, the government should make primary and secondary education free and accessible to all. Furthermore, the state needs to ensure quality education to all through the proper channels including appropriate curricula, teaching strategies and proper teacher training. There should be less focus on rote learning and memorization; rather the focus should be on developing student knowledge bases and discovering their talents.

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In general, universities or higher educational institutions in Pakistan do not focus on research-based learning. What are the factors behind this approach?

It is much easier and less time consuming. Research in itself is a time consuming task. How does anyone produce paper after paper? Besides, no one wants to learn from research findings and the current education system in Pakistan encourages this trend. Unfortunately, this is the reality in Pakistan today.

According to the Times Higher Education (THE) world university rankings, not a single university from Pakistan has been able to make it to the best 500 global universities. What does the country need to do to improve the standards of its universities?

The government should bring in accountability for all involved in the education system. The state should provide funds to stay abreast of current technological innovations that are taking place globally. Furthermore, the education system should be supportive of camaraderie, where all involved can learn from each other.

With the current educational system and policies, can Pakistan produce graduates that can complete globally?

With the current educational system and policies, I am afraid very few if any can compete. Internationally, skills are preferred and needed for today’s job market. Rote learning does not provide skills. The content being taught in our universities is most outdated as well. In order to compete on the international job market, content taught in Pakistan also needs to be contemporary and not from a decade or so ago.