By M Alam Brohi
Education plays the most crucial role in the development of a society and a nation. The pivotal role of education in nation-building can hardly be overemphasized. The Muslims had always been in search of knowledge by teaching and learning. The western nations were groping in the dark alleys of ignorance when a Muslim society in the South of Spain and Portugal located deep in the European continent was having accolades in education, research, knowledge and enlightenment and creating scholars of the calibre of Ibne Rushd, Al-Razi, Ibne Khaldun, and Avecena etc. While the libraries of Cordova, and Granada were replenished with books and the court of the Caliph was swarming with scholars, researchers, philosophers, theologists, topologists, historians, and cartographers, the Mughal courts in this part of the world were not lagging in patronizing scholars and promoting knowledge and enlightenment. This was the heyday of the Muslims from Spain to the Damascus, Baghdad and the farthest shores of the Arabian Sea in our Sub-continent.
When the Muslims lost power in Spain, their libraries were burnt as bonfire for over two months. However, their work on geography, mathematics, medicinal herbs etc. was preserved for the benefit of their scholars and educational institutes which were in the stage of infancy at that point in human history. The Muslim debacle in Spain and the destruction of Baghdad along with its libraries and research work by ferocious Mongols heralded the decline of the Muslim civilization while the Europeans directed all their endeavours towards the promotion of education and the development of their higher educational institutes. With the dissemination of education and expansion of literacy, the western nations started climbing the ladder of power, prosperity and development.
In recent history too, education has played the fundamental role in nation-building. South Koreans were embroiled in active war for pretty three years which destroyed their social, economic and communication infrastructure. They proved to be resilient people. They skipped one meal a day to spend on their children’s education. Today, they are counted among developed nations. Sri Lanka, in our region, with fewer resources than Pakistan, achieved the mark of 100 per cent literacy. The ruling aristocrats in our country, self-indulgent as they are, could not fully comprehend the significance of education and literacy in nation-building.
The Headmasters were the linchpin of the schooling system and shared the responsibility of managing the administrative and financial affairs of their schools
Though with the inception of the new country, we also started giving importance to education particularly the primary schooling, we strayed from the right path somehow when the ruling elite thought of capturing the state resources instead of making a nation. Primary education was compulsory. The teachers had the power to visit surrounding villages to see if parents were not deliberately keeping their children away from the school. They were authorized to report the cases of the defaulting parents for prosecution. The teachers were well behaved. There was a bondage of respect and affection between the students, parents and teachers.
With the manageable population and fewer schools, there were not huge layers of administrative structures to supervise or monitor schools. There were separate Inspectors of Schools for male and female sections at the divisional level who inspected the schools within their jurisdiction twice a year. The Headmasters were the linchpin of the schooling system and shared the responsibility of managing the administrative and financial affairs of their schools; communicating with the local community, resolving issues if any, coordinating with the superior officers to keep them abreast of the developments.
The communication was not so developed. The official correspondence took time to reach its destination. Even then, the system was delivering well mainly because of a sense of commitment and professional honesty of teachers. With the growth of population and the corresponding increase in the number of schools at all tiers, the hierarchical structure of controllers in the education also witnessed a tremendous expansion. The bureaucracy in any department has the tendency to grow, expand and acquire new hierarchical positions to accommodate their members without any regard for the expenditures involved.
The education bureaucracy was exceptional. It also expanded vertically and horizontally so much so that it was difficult for the administrative hierarchy sitting in the provincial secretariat or at the divisional level to monitor the performance of the layers of supervisors, controllers and managers or keep abreast of the output of the primary and secondary schools. This was the beginning of the deterioration in the education.
The cult-like culture, the esprit de corps, the clientele way of management, the unionist mentality, the weakening sense of professional commitment, inertia, the demonstrative effect of the illegitimately acquired affluence, and the tempting acquisitive means for wealth all played a cumulative role in degrading the role of teacher and gradually pushing the education into steep decline.
The decline was precipitous and the efforts to stop the downhill slide of the education were sporadic, meager, weak and halfhearted drowned in the noise of unionists and agitating teaching community. When the nation took notice of this deteriorating situation, it was too late. The malignancy had spread and poisoned the entire swamp. The primary and secondary schools were lagging far behind in delivering quality education.
According to a report presented to the National Assembly in 2014, over 24 million children between the ages of five to 16 years were out of school in Pakistan. The report also revealed that Pakistan had the highest number of children out of school after Nigeria. There is a child workforce of 10 million doing menial jobs in the country. All the crimes of man begin with the vagabondage of the child. “A child left to fend for himself is abandoned to fatal immersion to public vices that devour in him honesty and conscience. An ignorant child is the lost man,” says Victor Hugo.
There are over six million children out of school in Sindh. We can well imagine what a society we shall be leaving behind for our posterity. Isn’t it a moment of reckoning for us?.
The author was a member of the Foreign Service of Pakistan and he has authored two books.