Public vs private: Educational divides and parallel worlds

"It seems that our education system has bifurcated our society into the advantaged rich and unprivileged poor who do not even know the parallel world in which the other lives"

Picture source - AFP

A 16-year-old Sadia – a resident of Lahore – makes breakfast and presses uniform as it is about to be eight and school starts soon. She puts books in the bag and packs lunch. It seems that she is ready to go to school but it is not Sadia who is going to school but Raza and Osama. Basically, she is packing lunch and making breakfast so they can attend school. Sadia is a house helper who every day gets up at 7:00am so she can send the children of her house owner to school. Three years earlier, she too would have been getting ready, making her breakfast, and leaving for school but things are different now as she dropped out of school.

“I loved going to school and wanted to learn. We used to just sit and waste time and I eventually quit my school. Now, I work at a home and at least make money for my family, as my brother did matriculation from a government-run school but he too is a mechanic so for poor people like us no ‘bright’ future or a ‘good job’ is waiting even if we study,” Sadia believes.

Children like Sadia, born in underprivileged localities go to ‘poor quality’ schools, study ‘outdated’ syllabus, receive little guidance or attention from teachers. Due to discouraging career possibilities, multiple students drop out from these schools every year as they are not learned enough to speak English or Urdu properly or master good writing skills which are necessary to compete in the current market and get quality jobs.

According to Aser Pakistan report in 2019, 41 percent of children in grade five at a government-run school cannot even read out simple stories in Urdu or speak basic English sentences. The students in public schools find it difficult to grasp new words or concepts as multiple grade students sit in the same room, classes are overcrowded and hence teachers who aren’t hired on merit cannot ensure the quality and on the top, the security of their job makes them least interested in teaching, they skip school, ask other students to teach their classfellows or share wrong concepts when they do teach occasionally. They insult students and do not appreciate their efforts which results in students having little confidence and no will to perform better.

Many students – disillusioned with the poor system – often miss school and wander in streets with no supervision from the management. The schools in rural areas – with a more disadvantaged student base – are extremely inefficient at imparting learning as the school has a shortage of teachers, broken furniture, and no books or copies that the students can study or write on. The teachers rarely show up and as a result, these students do not learn despite attending school. Consequently, poor parents who struggle to provide food for their children find it more convenient to send them to work than to schools. There is an increasing poverty and the government isn’t successful in reducing poverty or improving public sector schools that can ensure quality education.

We can observe that parents consider the government schools as a ‘golden chance’ for their children to change their unfortunate circumstances. On the contrary, children born to wealthy parents have multiple options and opportunities placed before them and they are privileged enough to attend private schools that provide quality education, through practical learning, skilled teachers, and better infrastructure. Besides Urdu, the students of these elite schools have good English speaking and creative writing skills. A student of the government-run school does not have anything in common, in terms of classroom experience, exposure, and even knowledge, with a child who goes to an English medium private school. Therefore, they are always undermined in different stages of life, they can’t attend good universities as instead of merit, many private universities give admission to students based on their schooling and communication skills.

The students who hail from private schools get admission in prestigious colleges and universities and even educational institutions outside Pakistan. No matter how intelligent or talented a government school student is, he is always bound to struggle and cannot escape the vicious cycle of poverty. Abbas Rashid, coordinator of the Campaign for Quality Education, said that the government-run schools must retain a basic minimum standard so they allow for quality of opportunity. Though a Single National Curriculum is introduced by the previous government to end the ‘educational apartheid’ in Pakistan and provide equal chances to all students to excel in their life by providing a level playing field. The government is likely to revert to the previous curriculum as according to a media report, the provincial authorities are publishing books of the previous syllabus.

This reflects that the idea of ‘discrimination-free’ education will remain a pipedream in Pakistan and even if a Single National Curriculum is enforced, the students in the government-run schools will still not get ‘quality education’ because the core problem is the teaching staff. Until and unless teachers are hired on merit, the government must monitor teachers through a monitoring system, ensuring they never miss their classes and report everyday activities at school. Only then, the ‘quality education’ can be ensured when teachers become more transparent in their actions and are afraid of the consequence if they do not deliver. Without this, the children will continue to stay locked out of life-changing opportunities for the rest of their lives.

The government must increase the standard of education and at the same time must teach vocational skills to students so it can guide them towards employment and increase their chances to get ‘good’ jobs in the future. Thus, there is no denial of the fact that our education system is in ‘crisis’ and continuously increasing a ‘divide’ between the poor and rich. Basically, education is supposed to bridge this class gap and ensure socioeconomic mobility and equality of opportunity for everyone. In Pakistan, it is creating a ‘class system’ where rich are entitled to ‘quality education’ and the privileges that come with it while the poor have to adjust to the poor system that the government school system has to offer. One can never expect a common future of the children graduating from a different school system. It seems that our education system has bifurcated our society into the advantaged rich and unprivileged poor who do not even know the parallel world in which the other lives.