Thursday, November 5, 2009

Education Deficit in South Asia

In a recently published guest post on Haq's Musings, the author and Teach For India Fellow Rakesh Mani talks about his experience of volunteering with India's primary and secondary schools during the last six months.

Mani argues that "there has to be something wrong with Indian society for it to allow its children to be among the most deprived and malnourished in the world".

Mani laments the fact that "young kids are forced to submit to rote learning" and "they lose the critical consciousness they will need to intervene and transform their country in the years to come."

The author questions the wisdom of focusing exclusively on producing more scientists, doctors and engineers at the expense of focus on primary and secondary education in India, and asks "how can we sustain these specialized programs without building sturdy foundations at school? Or rather, what quality of engineers and scientists must we be producing at these institutes of excellence? Excluding the IITs, what percentage of Indian graduates are able to compete effectively in the global economy?"

This article focuses on the state of India's children, and raises fundamental questions about society's values. However, I find Mr. Mani's thoughts to be equally, if not more, applicable to Pakistan as well.

Under former President Musharraf, Pakistan followed India's lead by focusing on tertiary education with the higher education budget rising 10-15 fold in a short period of time.

Unfortunately, there was no commensurate increase or focus on primary or secondary education, where the rates of return are known to be higher. As a result of the long neglect, Pakistan's primary and secondary public education is in shambles with insufficient funds, rampant corruption and ghost schools that exist only on paper with fictitious staff drawing salaries and perks.

Ranked at 141 on a list of 177 countries, Pakistan's human development ranking remains very low. Particularly alarming is the low primary school enrollment for girls which stands at about 30% in rural areas, where the majority of Pakistanis live. In fact, the South Asia average of primary school enrollment is pulled down by Pakistan, the only country in all of Asia and the Pacific with the lowest primary enrollment rate of 68 per cent in 2005. This is 12 percentage points lower than that of Maldives, which, at 80 per cent, has the second lowest rate in Asia and the Pacific. Low primary enrollment rate and poor health of children in Pakistan raise serious concerns about the future of the nation in terms of the continuing impact of low human development on its economic, social and political well-being.

This lack of focus on access and quality of children's education has resulted in the proliferation of madrassahs, some of which are highly radicalized, that fill the vacuum by offering a one-stop shop for poor children needing food, clothing, shelter, healthcare and basic education. Parents simply drop their children off at these madrassas, and essentially let these institutions raise their children, and brainwash the children in some cases.

As Pakistan now fights an existential battle against extremely violent radicals, many from the radical madrassas, the nation is now paying a heavy price for years of neglect.

Upon the urging of saner elements in Pakistan, and pressure from the alarmed world, a new education policy has recently been announced that will more than double education spending in Pakistan from about 3% of the GDP to 7%. If it is done correctly, instills proper values, and with transparency, then there can be hope for light at end of the tunnel for Pakistan's younger generation.

As a volunteer for "Teach For India", Mr. Mani is inspiring others by personal example. Teach For India is a nationwide movement of outstanding college graduates and young professionals who will commit two-years to teach full-time in under resourced schools and who will become lifelong leaders working from within various sectors toward the pursuit of equity in education.

While there is no Pakistani equivalent of "Teach For India", there are a number of organizations such Human Development Foundation (HDF), Development in Literacy (DIL), Greg Mortenson's Central Asia Institute, and The Citizens Foundation which are focusing on improving primary education and promoting literacy in Pakistan.

Here's a video report about Pakistan's decrepit public education:



Here is a video about global child slavery:



Related Links:

Teaching Facts Versus Reasoning

Regional Facts: South and Southwest Asia

Education, Society and Development

Pakistan's Children's Plight

South Asia Slipping in Human Development

Is Pakistan Too Big to Fail?

Food Clothing and Shelter in India and Pakistan

Can Slumdog's Success Improve Children's Lives?

Persistent Hunger in South Asia

Quality of Education in India and Pakistan

Pakistan's Education System and Links to Extremism

Developing Pakistan's Intellectual Capital

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4 Comments:

Blogger Riaz Haq said...

Here's a Wall Street Journal story titled "India Graduates Millions, But Too Few Are Fit to Hire":

BANGALORE, India—Call-center company 24/7 Customer Pvt. Ltd. is desperate to find new recruits who can answer questions by phone and email. It wants to hire 3,000 people this year. Yet in this country of 1.2 billion people, that is beginning to look like an impossible goal.

So few of the high school and college graduates who come through the door can communicate effectively in English, and so many lack a grasp of educational basics such as reading comprehension, that the company can hire just three out of every 100 applicants.

India projects an image of a nation churning out hundreds of thousands of students every year who are well educated, a looming threat to the better-paid middle-class workers of the West. Their abilities in math have been cited by President Barack Obama as a reason why the U.S. is facing competitive challenges.

Yet 24/7 Customer's experience tells a very different story. Its increasing difficulty finding competent employees in India has forced the company to expand its search to the Philippines and Nicaragua. Most of its 8,000 employees are now based outside of India.

In the nation that made offshoring a household word, 24/7 finds itself so short of talent that it is having to offshore.

"With India's population size, it should be so much easier to find employees," says S. Nagarajan, founder of the company. "Instead, we're scouring every nook and cranny."

India's economic expansion was supposed to create opportunities for millions to rise out of poverty, get an education and land good jobs. But as India liberalized its economy starting in 1991 after decades of socialism, it failed to reform its heavily regulated education system.

Business executives say schools are hampered by overbearing bureaucracy and a focus on rote learning rather than critical thinking and comprehension. Government keeps tuition low, which makes schools accessible to more students, but also keeps teacher salaries and budgets low. What's more, say educators and business leaders, the curriculum in most places is outdated and disconnected from the real world.

"If you pay peanuts, you get monkeys," says Vijay Thadani, chief executive of New Delhi-based NIIT Ltd. India, a recruitment firm that also runs job-training programs for college graduates lacking the skills to land good jobs.

Muddying the picture is that on the surface, India appears to have met the demand for more educated workers with a quantum leap in graduates. Engineering colleges in India now have seats for 1.5 million students, nearly four times the 390,000 available in 2000, according to the National Association of Software and Services Companies, a trade group.

But 75% of technical graduates and more than 85% of general graduates are unemployable by India's high-growth global industries, including information technology and call centers, according to results from assessment tests administered by the group.

Another survey, conducted annually by Pratham, a nongovernmental organization that aims to improve education for the poor, looked at grade-school performance at 13,000 schools across India. It found that about half of the country's fifth graders can't read at a second-grade level.

April 5, 2011 at 10:36 AM  
Blogger Riaz Haq said...

Whys is India not a scientific power, asks an Op Ed in The Hindu:

.....It is the robustness of scientific research and innovation that sets apart great powers from the mediocre ones.

We have good scientists, but why has India not produced outstanding scientists who make path-breaking discoveries that will make the world sit up and take notice? Should we continue to be satisfied with tweaking borrowed technologies? Is reverse engineering an innovative phenomenon?

All debates about scientific research inevitably end up zeroing in on the deficiencies of our educational system as the root cause of the abysmal record in scientific research. This is only part of the story.

A nation's culture — belief systems, values, attitudes — plays a significant role in determining the quality of scientific research. The Oriental attitudes differ from the Occidental values in many respects. Asian societies are basically collectivist, that is, the collective good of society ranks higher than individual happiness and achievements. People do not ask what they can do for their country; they are always asking what the country will do for them. They look up to the state for guidance, leadership and direction. There is no burning individual ambition to excel and achieve something new.

In the West, individuals try to achieve their potential through their own efforts, aided and facilitated by enabling laws and institutions. Self-reliance is the key objective of life. An independent life requires a free and questioning mindset that takes nothing for granted and constantly challenges conventional wisdom. Children are encouraged to push the frontiers of knowledge by self-examination and open-minded enquiry. It is only a sceptical and dissenting mind that often thinks out of the box to explore new vistas of knowledge.

Collectivism promotes conformism and deference to authority whether it is parents, elders, teachers or the government. It is heresy to question established values and customs.

We pass on our passivity and uncritical attitudes to our children. No wonder, the educational system encourages rote learning and unquestioning acceptance of what is taught in the classrooms and stated in the textbooks. How can we expect our children to suddenly develop an enquiring and inquisitive attitude when they have been brought up in a milieu that discourages ‘disruptive' thoughts?

India and China were once advanced nations before foreign rule drained their resources and sapped their willpower and scientific traditions. Cultures tend to become conservative and defensive when subjected to long spells of colonial exploitation.

Indians are great believers in destiny. But our tradition does not frown upon free will and individual excellence. We must realise that our ability for free action remains unhampered despite what destiny may hold in store for us.
Fear of failure

Another flaw in our culture that prevents individual excellence is the fear of failure. The stigma associated with failure makes our children risk-averse while choosing their courses and careers.

Scientific research is a long-drawn war on received wisdom that requires many battles before it can be won. Science was not built in a day. Some of the battles can end in defeat. In the West, they celebrate failure as a stepping stone to success.

Educational reforms must be preceded by mental deconditioning of parents, teachers, educationists and policymakers — throwing away the cobwebs of uncritical submissiveness to conventional knowledge. Let us bring up a generation that will not hesitate to ask inconvenient questions. This generation will be the torch-bearer of a scientific revolution that will unleash cutting-edge research to make the Nobel Prize committee sit up and take notice....


http://www.thehindu.com/opinion/open-page/article2704625.ece

December 10, 2011 at 9:54 PM  
Blogger Riaz Haq said...

Here's a story of informal evening schooling for children of Islamabad:

ISLAMABAD, 9 October 2012 (IRIN) - As evening approaches in the centre of Pakistan’s capital Islamabad, children gather at a small playground, chatting and laughing. It is a scene played out in countless parks across the country, but the children are not here to play after school - they are here to attend one.

For three hours every evening, free classes run here for anyone who wants to attend, with the idea being that some of the many children who live on Islamabad’s streets, or work in its markets and houses, might benefit.

Mohammad Ayub, who runs the unofficial school, began teaching children whose parents could not afford to send them to school in 1988.

Despite the fact that state-run primary schools do not charge fees and many provide free textbooks, other expenses (such as stationery, uniforms and transportation) mean that for many poor families, schools are unaffordable.

“It became quite popular and many parents who couldn’t afford a meal - forget education - would send their children to my little school in the evenings,” Ayub said.

The school, which relies on volunteers and donations, is one of dozens of informal institutions in the capital which are helping to educate children.

Pakistan has made limited progress in improving the quality and reach of its education system, and millions of children are missing out on schooling altogether in what the governments of Pakistan and the UK have termed an “education emergency”.

Despite making education a fundamental constitutional right in 2010, Pakistan has no chance of fulfilling its Millennium Development Goal of achieving universal education by 2015.
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Many of those who have finished Ayub’s informal school in Islamabad have gone on to complete high school and college, and today have jobs they could never have dreamed of. Ayub estimates that 20 percent of the students finish grade 10, with around 10 percent going on to complete degrees at colleges.

Many, like Yasmin Nawaz, a 30-year-old mother of three who graduated from the school in 1994, became teachers themselves.

“I finished middle school, grade 8. My parents couldn’t afford to send me to high school, but Master Ayub said I must,” Nawaz said. “He paid for my textbooks and my exam registration fee, and in return, I taught here at the school. I then taught elsewhere as well.”

Despite the clear return on this investment and Pakistan’s pledge to spend at least 4 percent of its GDP on education, that figure has been decreasing. Education spending today stands at less than 1.5 percent of Pakistan’s GDP, according PETF (Page 67).
-------------
There is the issue of governance, there are no accountability mechanisms. For example, even if you do have sufficient teachers - which we don’t - if they are not in school, it is not possible to achieve anything.”

The LEAPS (Learning and Educational Achievement in Pakistan Schools) project and PETF estimate that teachers in government schools, despite being paid more than their private sector counterparts and having greater job security, are not present one-fifth of the time. Government school teachers often use political connections and union action to protect themselves.

“Even if a senior officer reports a teacher that is not performing or not even attending school, it is very difficult to take action because they will involve the unions or go to an MNA [member of the National Assembly],” said Zafar.

“Even if you get that [teacher accountability], the quality of education, of textbooks, is an issue. So all of this needs to be considered, not just what is spent on education, but how.”


http://www.irinnews.org/Report/96497/PAKISTAN-Quality-education-still-a-long-way-off

October 9, 2012 at 2:16 PM  
Blogger Riaz Haq said...

Here's a piece on Shehzad Roy's "Chal Parha" GeoTV series to improve education in Pakistan:

Last month, well-known Pakistani pop star, Shehzad Roy made an appearance at Harvard to talk about music, activism and his new documentary series, Chal Parha (Urdu for: Come, Teach), which highlights the extensive issues plaguing Pakistan’s education system.

Having visited over 200 schools across the country, in an interview with DAWN, Roy stated: “In each episode we highlight an issue from public schools, for example, corporal punishment, medium of instruction, population, textbooks, curriculum, teachers.”

He added, “I want to share the lessons that we have learnt; both good and ugly. We want people to know the obstacles standing in the way of improving the structure of education in government schools while also highlighting the remarkable individuals committed to the teaching profession. These people prove the power of individual efforts.”

Broadcast on a local television channel, GEO TV, the show has gained immense popularity, fast making an impact in a country where, according to the non-profit Alif Ailaan, the government spends just 2.4 percent of its national GDP on education and where just over half of children enroll in primary school.

Mariam Chughtai, the founder of Harvard’s Pakistan Student Group told The Diplomat that the singer was invited primarily because the student group “is committed to changing the discourse on Pakistan at Harvard from one of terrorism and challenges, to that of resilience, art and social change.”

“[Roy] embodied for us an activist who is using music to make an impact on the ground, which is why his discussants, Professor Ali Asani and I were able to have a conversation with him in light of how artists have historically played a key role in keeping governments and rulers accountable,” Chughtai said.

“Roy himself spoke of the main learnings he has had in his journey of Chal Parha, including clippings from his show which illustrated these learnings. They represented both strengths and weaknesses of society in being ready for change on education.”

Alongside his music career, which, over the past couple of years, has veered sharply into the direction of socio-political commentary, Roy has managed to rather successfully integrate both his music and humanitarian work
----------
Roy told Dawn, “We have installed thumb-printing attendance machines in the five provinces to bring transparency to the issue of teacher absenteeism. We are now collecting this data and are happy to report that teacher attendance has increased considerably in these schools. Similarly, in the episode on corporal punishment, we are proposing a law banning physical abuse in schools and we plan to diligently pursue this issue in the media.”
....


http://thediplomat.com/the-pulse/2013/05/16/shehzad-roy-fighting-for-change-in-pakistani-education/

May 16, 2013 at 10:59 AM  

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