A YouTube video detailing the many problems that beset Pakistan, went on to shed light on how our education system is producing graduates who are inherently different in the way they make sense of the world. At one end of the spectrum are the religious madrassas that in the recent past have become a byword for religious extremism and breeding grounds for suicide bombers. These rigid institutions are designed to ensure conformity to the twisted brand of Islam that they vociferously endorse, one that not only enjoins the use of violence to counter the infidels but in the process also defiles a religion that advocates peace and tolerance.
When I was young, I was sent to such a madrassa, for the purpose of seeking religious education. What struck me back then was the sheer amount of control that the teacher could exert on the students. The inability of these institutions to foster a climate of debate and active engagement serves to explain the rigid outlook that is the culmination of such learning. Any deviance from an already prescribed path was met with stringent punishment, often leading to physically and more importantly, long term psychological harm. One could sense the way in which young children were molded, how their young unsuspecting minds could not uncover how their mindset was being altered irrevocably. These are not educational centers committed to equipping their graduates to compete in an increasingly globalised world but instead are ideological factories that manufacture radicalism and intolerance.
Somewhat comparable but definitely below par, are the government schools that are plagued by an acute shortage of qualified staff and even greater dearth of financial resources. Media reports often highlight how most of these institutions don’t have proper classrooms, with some even lacking walls and furniture. Government spending on this vital sector is next to nothing, and the little that filters through a corrupt system is eaten up by the wages of the teachers and staff. Small wonder then at the abysmally low literacy rate of Pakistan, although closer examination reveals that even the educated do not make a strong case for themselves. This shocking picture is the consequence of decades of government neglect of the education sector, an egregious disregard that finds expression in the amount of money devoted to it in the annual budget.
Then we have the private, English medium schools that serve the elite and affluent of the country. It bears telling that although these institutions only cater to a small percentage of the nation’s youth, they account for the bulk of its future doctors, politicians and economists. Admission into these schools is out of question for the majority of Pakistani people, as more often than not, the monthly tuition fee is more than the combined family income. A conspicuous feature of the students of such schools is their fluency in the English language, which in many ways serves as a mark of distinction, Children of the elite often pursue their university education in foreign universities, as they feel that the local universities are inadequate and thus do not merit entry.
My purpose of exploring the broad spectrum that constitutes our education system, is to elucidate the future divisions that this system is brewing. Three different mindsets, which translate into three contrasting individuals, cannot help ensure harmony in our country. The blend of liberal and radical graduates will only cause tension and conflict in the future, as they would find each other’s arguments and views incompatible and even divergent. The need of the hour is to have a uniform system of education that does not discriminate between the rich and the poor. We may not realize this at present, but if this trend continues, we run the risk of having a society that only agrees to disagree.