Wednesday, February 24, 2010

The PBS Piece On Pakistan's Education System, Or Lack Thereof

Good stuff. Check it out.

Also,the full text of Mosharraf's interview is here. I highly recommend reading through it. Highly.


Butterscotch said...

i was expecting a piece on Sachin's double century:)

Ahsan said...

Blah. I've recently stopped following cricket, but even when I followed cricket, I thought ODIs were stupid. But, just for you, here's my comment on Sachin and his double hundred:

Congrats, Sachin. You'll never be as good as Brian, but congrats nonetheless.

Umair Javed said...

Ahsan, just a couple of points on the demand of education

1) The perpetuation of illiteracy by the 'feudal' elite cannot solely be put down to a conspiracy agenda on their part. If, for example, lower classes tend to mimic high-culture, then just the simple fact that landholding patrons are hardly ever educated themselves (especially the medium sized ones) is enough to perpetuate illiteracy. The value of education is low in a still primarily agrarian labor base. Even if its value is recognized as a potential source of social and economic mobility (as it is in large parts of Punjab) then this is negated with the fact that a stagnation in large-scale demand for skilled urban labor is simply limiting the option that a rural individual would have after gaining some form of formal education. Employment in agriculture has actually increased to about 45 percent over the last three years.

2) The middle class narrative that Mosharraf uses is again slightly misleading. He says that 30 million people now lie in the middle class income bracket. Very true, except for the fact that only 4 percent of our total population has access to higher education. The rest of the middle class is formed by people involved in non-formal services such as transportation, wholesale, retail, construction, real estate, informal credit, storage operations etc. The individuals involved in these services or small businesses do not need modern education for sustenance or growth. Hence by simply placing the tag of 'middle-class' as an engine for an increased demand in quality education is slightly misleading, as is the oft-quoted figure of cell phone subscribers (it doesnt prove anything with regards to the mind-set, values, and economic and normative positions of cell-phone users). Hence while urbanization is projected to grow in leaps and bounds, rural labor is currently being absorbed into small-scale services based businesses as opposed to manufacturing or formal skill-requiring environments. The ustaad-chota (senior-junior) pattern of handing out informal skills required in urban areas is still the preferred mode of imparting whatever 'education' is required.

I personally believe that while primary school enrollment can be increased by brute force, anything above that would require a fundamental change in the way that the economy is structured right now. In my opinion the current trend of informal services based urbanization is not going to solve the problem of education-demand.

Smci said...

I'm with Umair and Mosharaf Zaidi on this one.

Doubtless the problem is a clusterfudge of multiple factors, but it would be more accurate to portray the problem from an economic and societal-structure lense, without simply honing in on teaching kids not to be so paranoid about India or the "West."

There are plenty of 'well educated' people that are paranoid of these actors. And I think the whole-scale reform effort suffers ultimately when we try to frame the debate within the language of the 'xenophobic vs. liberal values' dialectic.

Instead it should be concentrated more on simply building functional infrastructure to house the massive numbers. And then on remedial skills that can prepare students to partake in and contribute to an evolving economy.

Socialization and imbibing values are perennial problems for countries that are constantly being fleshed out. Reform and development ought not suffer from useless debates. Economic development to move the country towards increased independence and strength are policies that appeal across the ideological spectrum.

As for the argument that impediments towards reform are being set up by feudal landlords. Whether that is true or not or to what extent, the problem is perception. It's a common human desire to want your children to live in better conditions than yourself. And when authorities are blundering so badly at providing the basic services required for your children to get a leg up in life, it's easy for the mind to turn against the 'more fortunate' and blame them for wanting to keep your progeny permanently subjugated.

But my question is, what is the tangible machinery of corruption used by the feudals to ensure this result? Short of an explanation, Umair is right, you can't simply blame things on a 'conspiracy agenda.'

greywolf said...

Sad. Depressing.

Anonymous said...

Can't we just outsource school building to Mortenson?

Pagal_Aadmi_for_debauchery said...

Bye Bye Anwar.....Jao Namaaz parho......

Smci said...

This isn't really related to this post directly, but the recent news of a coup plot in Turkey got me thinking.

Perhaps Islamists aren't the only fanatical ideologues that threaten the fate of Muslim Majority countries?

The secular elites of Turkey are so bazid to be seen as 'part of Europe' that they're willing to do anything to please the EU. Even if this means conceding control of the military to civilians.

This from a class that's spent eight decades violently supressing even benign forms of religious expression in public life.

So imagine their consternation when the very same concessions the cool-guy fraternity demands, lead to ceding control of the last vestage of secular control, the military, being surrendered to a democratically elected Muslim Party.

Yet amidst all the chaos, we envy Turkey.

Would that all Muslim countries had a fanatical secular elite that could be cajoled into genuine democratization.

And here's hypothetical: what would Pakistan look like had Kemalism or Pahlavism been imposed from its founding?

Ahsan said...


Yeah good points. I would only say that getting a functional and viable system of primary education started would be a massive step in and of itself. The expertise is there (clearly), the money is there (not just from abroad, but even's not as if Sri Lanka and Bangladesh are swimming in cash compared to us) and yet the education is not there. While I agree that it's not a "conspiracy" per se, it is quite obviously not an explicit priority for the political elite of the country, and a natural question is: why not? And, by the way, this is not a military/civilian issue; it's probably one of the few issue areas in which the army and the civilians agree i.e. it is not a priority.

I basically agree with everything you say except for the last bit, because theoretically, service-oriented urban economies are precisely what drive the demand for education. Or at least the need. Perhaps demand is too strong a word.


On the liberal/non-liberal thing, I agree completely. Like you, I'm not particularly impressed with the "liberal" credentials of our "liberal educated" classes. So let's not even bother trying to change the way people think, and just be satisfied with giving them an opportunity to earn an honest living. That will be enough for now, thanks.

And as I said to Umair, I don't think it's a conspiracy in the technical sense of the term, but a conspiracy of neglect. The well-being of people without opportunities is, simply put, not an important issue for the ruling elite (military or civilian). It's as simple as that.

anoop said...

ohhhhhooo.. scary video..