Education needs role models and attention
The idea of education needs to be reinvented in Pakistan and the role of school and teachers needs to change
Demography, talent, and natural resources make Pakistan an incredible country. It has a very hardworking population and a large and educated diaspora, willing to contribute back home. Its people are proud and resilient despite the hardships they have been through.
Unfortunately, despite impressive government initiatives and huge investments, the educational crisis in Pakistan refuses to end. This doesn't augur well for the country's future especially because 64 per cent of its population is under the age of 30.
During my last visit to Pakistan, I got the opportunity to speak to thousands of students gathered at an event. This was my window of opportunity to communicate directly with them.
This was also the first time I was speaking to a huge audience comprising Pakistani youth. It can be described as an encounter with the future of Pakistan. More importantly, I was face-to-face with Pakistan's education system.
No one has any doubt about the opportunities that exist in Pakistan today. The young men and women sitting in the front rows that day made me aware of this opportunity. There was a hint of a disappointment though.
They looked very disconnected even though they appeared to belong to a privileged education system. I got a small glimpse of what ails the country's education system. But it is the empirical evidence that does the talking at this scale. So here goes some telling statistics.
According to the latest UNDP figures, 64 per cent of Pakistan's population is younger than 30 while 29 per cent are between the age of 15 and 29. According to the National Youth data, 29 out of 100 young people in Pakistan are illiterate and only six per cent have more than 12 years of education.
As one can understand, the job situation is similar because it is the outcome of this education system. Only 39 out of every 100 youth are employed (32 of them males and 7 females) and 57 of every 100 youth (16 males and 41 females) are neither working nor seeking jobs.
Significant deficiencies are also found in terms of social engagement and connectivity. Only 15 per cent of youth have access to the Internet, 52 per cent own a cell phone, 94 per cent do not have access to a library, and 93 per cent lack access to a sports facility.
Almost four million youth enter the working-age population every year. If the current labou r force participation rate and unemployment levels remain constant, 0.9 million new jobs will be needed every year over the next five years.
The challenge will only get bigger if it is not immediately addressed. If the country aims to improve labour force participation rates, an additional 1.3 million jobs must be created each year for the next five years.
To make matters worse, the country bears the second largest number of primary age out-of-school children in the world, after Nigeria (UIS, 2017).
Steps have indeed been taken to arrest this steep decline. The 18th Amendment Act, 2010, was introduced to provide free and compulsory education to all children aged 5-16 (Government of Pakistan, 2012).
Yet the magnitude of the challenge cannot be addressed only at the policymaking level, for some very obvious reasons.
According to a 2013 report by the Academy of Educational Planning and Management, out of the total enrolment in Class 1 at age 5, only 63 per cent progress through primary stages 1-5, 40 percent progress through elementary school classes 6-8, and only 27 per cent to secondary level (AEPAM, 2013).
Student retention, or the lack of it, presents another dimension to this challenge. In total, 73 percent of children aged 5-16 (classes 1 to 10) drop out before reaching the final grade of secondary school. This is one of the highest school dropout rates in the world.
Because of this low completion rate, only 33.2 per cent of the Pakistani population has some sort of secondary education (United Nations Development Program, 2014).
These exhausting statistics point out in only one direction. The idea of education needs to be reinvented in Pakistan and the role of school and teachers needs to change.
Producing teachers of good quality isn't going to be enough. We need teachers as role models and as mentors. The sooner this is done, the better it will be.
Pakistan stands at a crossroads. How their youth are engaged in nation-building will decide whether they become the country's assets or liabilities.
Why should such a large talent pool continue to suffer as a result of inadequate education when their empowerment can do wonders.