Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Time to correct our priorities

Dr. Umar Khan
Dr. Khan heads a Lahore based Think Tank.

After getting elected the new PM Gillani freed the long detained judges ending Pakistan’s most dubious distinction of arresting the entire senior judiciary. He later enumerated investigation of BBs murder, apology for Bhutto’s judicial murder and empowerment of the parliament as his immediate priorities. He also mentioned power shortage, law and order, economy and other issues at different occasions. The issues and problems facing Pakistan are mostly gifted by a set of self proclaimed deliverers and are so numerous that one cannot help but feel sorry for the country and its new PM who would be battling them. Although we cannot argue with the importance of any of the issues or problems already mentioned, unfortunately observers find a serious omission, the mother of all problems is not mentioned which I hope was an unintentional slip. The mother of all problems or shall we say the core problem Pakistan faces is the criminal negligence of education of its people making it one of the most illiterate nations in the world, another awful distinction. One of the few nations in the world who’s standing in literacy tables went down after independence.

Success in the life of individuals and nations alike is dependant on correctness of priorities. Choosing them correctly and wisely is the most important and difficult part of solving problems. Foundation of every state is in the education of its youth and we are guilty of criminal negligence weakening its foundations. Pakistan is spending less than 2% of GDP on education whereas the average of third world is 8.8%. The first world is spending 18% on education and Israel, the country we have love hate relations, is spending 24% despite being in a constant state of war. This tells clearly about our extremely messed up priorities despite our rhetoric. This also explains why we are stuck with so many problems.

Education is the safest and most rewarding investment known and if we need to prosper and progress economically, we need to invest in educating our people. Among the few things more expensive than a decent education these days is the lack of it and we certainly can’t afford it. Education is to economy what fertilizer is to farming. As a farmer can’t think of farming without fertilizer, economic development without education would be as unlikely. To develop economy or control inflation, or create job opportunities investing in education is an unavoidable prerequisite.

Our sense of insecurity generated due to hostile neighbors and the local political dynamics have caused the major diversion of our resources towards defense. We do need a strong defense but not the kind dependant on imported arms and ammunition alone. Knowledge is power, and only nations having an educated citizenry and a knowledge based economy are considered strong. The days of bombs and tanks making nations strong are long over and the fate of Saddam’s republican guards brutally exposed the ineffectiveness of standing armies showing off their imported ammunitions. We must stop this catastrophic drain of our resources and divert them towards education. Opposition vowing not to allow reduction of defense budget might be convinced by categorizing education budget as a subhead of defense; something that should have been done long time back. To make our nation and its defense strong we must spend more on education and less on military hardware.

Empowerment of the parliament or the people also will be helped by educating our people. Educated citizenry is the best defense against the foreign enemies and also the local enemies of Pakistan’s sovereignty. Education is freedom and only educated are free. Education makes people easy to lead but difficult to drive, easy to govern but difficult to enslave. Educated citizenry would never allow individuals to hijack the constitution and would be difficult to persuade that generals are forced into taking over the country. We must free our people in the real sense by educating them.

Education also takes care of most other ills automatically like extremism, feudalism, intolerance and even apparently unrelated problems like overpopulation as many doctors believe education is the best known contraception. Fighting these problems with bombs and destruction might suit foreign powers but not countries like us killing our own people in our own land. We tried this strategy for too long with disastrous results and must change it.

Islam is the only religion in the world that repeatedly and categorically instructs its followers to seek knowledge. Despite Pakistan calling itself an Islamic country it has ignored this religious duty for 60 years. We must not restrict our "Deen" to a few rituals and apply it on all aspects of our lives. Beginning with diverting our attention and resources towards education might be a very appropriate and beneficial beginning.

After realizing the importance of education we must devise the appropriate steps needed to take full use of our resources educating our nation in the shortest possible time. We have a long way to go, catching up to do and must use our financial and other resources very prudently. And then we must never allow anyone to squander the meager resources allocated towards education for the personal glory ad campaigns as we saw recently. It is callous and cruel with the people. A few recommendations of respected think tanks might be worth considering. I would like to enumerate them for the convenience of the readers and the new government,

Suggested Policies for Educational Revolution

1. State of educational emergency should be proclaimed.
2. All the resources should be directed towards education.
3. Education should be declared an arm of “Defense” and given first priority.
4. Declare it a responsibility of the state to educate every child.
5. Big state institutions like Army, WAPDA and railways should be given targets to arrange for educating certain number of children.
6. Make it compulsory for every child to attend school.
7. Incentives should be arranged for the parents to send children to school. (Grains or cash every day)
8. A ten-year plan should be announced to make over 90% Pakistanis literate.
9. Simultaneous basic literacy, mid level and higher educational campaigns should be launched.
10. Bangladeshi model of BRAC can be followed for rural basic literacy.
11. Educational budget to be increased by 300% initially, to bring it at par with the developing world with target of 18.7% of the GDP (average of the developed countries).
12. Perks and status of educational workers should be brought at par with the administrative and defense workers (to attract the best people).
13. Best educational workers should be awarded medals on national days.
14. Religious community should be involved in the campaign as it is a religious duty (and will keep them away from violence).
15. The industrialists should be encouraged and given tax benefits for continuing education programs.
16. Vocational trainings should be arranged in the rural and urban areas.

The journey and the struggle towards educating our nation is long and without short cuts. Correcting the blunders of decades, if not centuries is difficult but there are no options but to start the journey with a single step. Progress has little to do with speed and much to do with direction and as long as we are heading towards the right direction we are progressing. Nations have worked wonders in short spans of time and poor countries like Nicaragua, Cuba and Vietnam educated their entire nations within a generation. We can also achieve this goal if we have our priorities straightened up and realize the gravity of the situation.

We should also beware of distractions and pitfalls we are likely to encounter in this struggle. The first of these might be settling of scores locally and internationally, and must be guarded against. Bees can’t make honey and sting at the same time and we should also focus on our problems postponing many issues for a more suitable time. The other even deadlier pitfall might be of political exigencies created by pressures of different local and international interests ready to go to any extent guarding them. Yielding to this pressure would actually accentuate their appetite again at the expense of the nation. Let us realize the fact that money saved this year on education will be spent on jails and fight against terror later and avoid this foolish trend. Let’s be kind to our people and the nation and start investing in our most valuable asset; our people. They have repeatedly shown their ability to work wonders and I am sure they will not disappoint if we invest in their abilities. The elected leadership and the public can achieve miracles working together. Mr. PM, please correct our historic blunders and start educating our people like the rest of the world; they will take care of their problems themselves. Give them a chance; the nation is with you.

Na samjho gey mit jao gey ae Hindustan waalo
Tumhari daastan bhi na rahe gi daastanon main

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