Revisiting education at 75 | Political economics

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this year, Pakistan celebrates its seventy-five years. The average person of the same age today grew up three generations ago. Given the socio-economic divides, the diversity of this multigenerational population is still increasing. This begs the question whether Pakistan’s journey so far means the same for all of its citizens.

Crossing seven decades of its independent existence, Pakistan’s educational landscape needs a thorough overhaul. The country, pledging to provide education for all, echoes the mantra of socio-economic egalitarianism that ideally benefits the middle class. 75 years later, it is time to assess whether the education that underpins social mobility has enabled the desired social equity. The review can begin by reconsidering the approach to educational planning in Pakistan’s four-year primary and secondary education, which serve as stepping stones towards economic empowerment.

Considering the economic returns of investing in education, universities have assumed an important role in the development of society. They have the potential to build human capacity, improve employment, foster innovation and promote good governance. The early years of study serve as the preparatory ground for the tertiary level, which is ultimately linked to socio-economic participation. Considering the connection between several stages, it is important to determine if this stage sees what the feed stage should prepare and send.

Educational planning in Pakistan is disconnected at several stages from its education system. These stages are relatively more pronounced for public education, where primary education is distinguished from secondary education, followed by lower secondary and then higher education. In the case of private schools, there is no gap between the primary and secondary cycles since the transition is generally smooth. Discourses on education in the development sector often take into account important aspects of quality, access and equity. Unfortunately, the focus on education provision often remains divided between the stages, considering each in isolation. This divided approach does not take into account an interconnection and interdependence between different stages that can hinder the educational path of students by passing through multiple choke points.

According to its Vision 2025, Pakistan aims to achieve upper-middle-income country status by 2025. This requires building human capital, which in turn requires investing in higher education. Pakistan has pledged to increase spending on higher education from the current 0.2% of GDP to around 1.4% by 2025. The 2017 National Education Policy states that the state should providing access to vocational, vocational and higher education on merit. Unfortunately, according to the UNDP Human Development Report 2020, the gross enrollment rate in higher education in Pakistan remains at 9% compared to 10% in Afghanistan, 28% in India, 31% in the Maldives and 12% in Nepal. Moreover, the gross enrollment percentage is also lower for Pakistan than for Bhutan and Bangladesh.

Although the gross enrollment percentage in tertiary education has remained dismal, there has been a general increase in student enrolment, rising from 276,000 in 2001 to almost 1.29 million in 2014-15. The government aims to further increase this figure to 5 million by 2025. This apparent increase in enrollment in higher education is the perspective of equal access to higher education since the choice of the educational institution is defined by his financial situation. Admission to quality tertiary institutes remained not only a testing ground for merit, but also a stage of financial status assessment, leaving relatively lower quality options for the underserved. In many cases, the completion of higher education is also strongly influenced by a person’s socio-economic position. According to UNESCO, the completion rate of higher education in Pakistan between 2008 and 2015 was 32% for the richest and 1.5% for the poor.

Universities and governments often offer scholarships to demonstrate egalitarianism and to ensure that their student body remains diverse and that students’ education is not disrupted due to their financial background. This invites an academic discussion of the idea of ​​merit-based accessibility and the notion that the individual abilities tested in a meritocracy are the product of circumstantial advantage. This is where K-12 education comes in. Unfortunately, access to all levels of education is circumstantial. Therefore, the connecting string of these circumstances does not always result in an egalitarian outcome – that is, equitable access to the tiered education system in Pakistan.

A child born in an underserved community will most often attend a low-cost public or private school. On the other hand, a privileged child will most likely study at an expensive private school which will definitely rank higher in terms of quality education. These differences in the quality of education accumulate at each stage due to circumstantial choices and reflect differences in student competence and learning. Seventy percent of public school students drop out until they reach the baccalaureate. Those who survive must compete with private school students first for quality public colleges and later for private colleges if they are affordable. The same contestation eventually continues to secure admission into undergraduate education.

The idea of ​​merit certainly presents the most justifiable and pragmatic approach to educational justice. However, it dismisses the struggles of disadvantaged students and how they navigate their way through the multiple stages of education. For example, differences in the quality of teaching during matric education make disadvantaged children ill-prepared for upper secondary education. If they manage to get the required percentage and get into a college, their affordability leaves them with public colleges where the compromised quality is reinforced by coaching centers. If they manage to complete their upper secondary and if they are eligible for a quality higher institute, they do not pass the entrance exams which test the students’ skills in English, mathematics or other subjects depending of the desired field of study. These struggles reflect the fact that disadvantaged students need a booster or educational equalizer at each stage of transition to ensure they are fit to compete with those who have not had to do this. extra effort.

Educational planning in Pakistan therefore demands a renewed language and focus where the disparate emphasis on the constituent stage is also complemented by a systemic approach to encapsulate a multilevel educational trajectory. Holistic educational planning should take into account the requirements of each stage and the preparation needed for the preceding stages. Given the circumstantial differences, alternative learning pathways need to be put in place to ensure that the level playing field is level at all levels, regardless of one’s socio-economic position. Without this approach, no matter how many scholarships universities give, egalitarianism will remain a distant goal.

Economic prosperity underpins the development of quality human resources. The path to this human development should not be reserved for the privileged. Poor students have long suffered from poor quality education, but from school to college completion and on to higher education, the gap widens. With academic success defining one’s economic participation, future employability, and a way to cross class barriers; its inequitable access only serves as a system that perpetuates and fortifies class differences. To ensure that each passing year after independence means the same for everyone, we need a more just and egalitarian view of collective societal progress.

Nadeem Hussain is a researcher and strategist in economic and educational policy. He is co-author of The Economy of Modern Sindh (Oxford University Press, 2019) and Agents of Change (Oxford University Press, 2021)

Qazi Muhammad Zulqurnain Ul Haq is an education evaluation specialist and founding director of the Youth Center for Research (YCR).

Data overview by: data driver — an organization that helps companies extract meaningful insights from data.

The idea of ​​merit certainly presents the most justifiable and pragmatic approach to educational justice. However, he

sets aside the struggles of

disadvantaged students and how they navigate through the multiple stages of education.


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