Education Crisis

A CRISIS that has been several decades in the making, increasing in intensity while government after successive government was allowed to evade its responsibilities, appears to be reaching a head.

What started off as some protests by citizens against private educational institutions raising their fee, appears to be snowballing into a larger, countrywide debate — with growing criticism being directed against what is being seen as a sector that effectively operates as a cartel.

From the highest level of government, the Prime Minister’s Office, has come the assurance that ‘something will be done’ — though exactly what, remains uncertain, given that access to good education has for years been understood in this country as a commodity, the purchase of which is the privilege of those who can afford to pay.

That private institutions should be carefully regulated and be required to conform to standard requirements cannot be argued against.

Yet forgotten in all the hue and cry being raised by both the parents’ lobby and the government is the core issue: the shambolic state of affairs that prevails in the public education sector ie, the very ugly reality that led to the creation of the private institutions’ so-called cartel in the first place.

The argument being offered by various private school associations is correct to the extent that it is the duty of the state and the government of the day to make quality and affordable education available.

The incumbent administration entered into a thoroughly self-congratulatory mode when Article 25-A regarding universal education was inserted into the Constitution.

Yet it continued to ignore the fact that it is presiding over a public school system that may be largely affordable but is grossly insufficient for the needs of a burgeoning population, has severe quality and standards’ problems, and is plagued by issues such as faculty incapacities and absenteeism, corporal punishment, and the like.

The problems are well known but they have been entirely ignored because the middle and affluent classes — that ought to have been the lobby group for reform, as they are now for private institutions — chose instead to ‘buy’ themselves other options.

Now that matters have come to a head, the process of the repair and capacity-building of public-sector education must be initiated — a process that will be as long as it will be difficult, particularly since the stakeholders here do not include influential sections of the citizenry. That can fairly easily be remedied.

Would parliament be bold enough to, for example, debate legislation making it mandatory for all elected representatives and government servants to send their children to public-sector schools?

Such a move would immediately provide the reform project the galvanising shot in the arm it so desperately needs. And while this may seem too utopian a scenario, consider this: the government school system used to work well; it must be made to do so again.

Published in Dawn September 29th, 2015

About Nadeem Saleh

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