“Real education enhances the dignity of a human being and increases his self-respect. If only the real sense of education could be realized by each individual and carried forward in every field of education, the world will be so much a better place to live in.” ―APJ Abdul Kalam
Schooling has always played a vital role in the lives of people. Although, education is the fundamental right of every child born in this world, but in Pakistan despite article 25A of the 1973 Constitution, until a few decades back, it was a privilege enjoyed by a specific class. Resultantly, that class gained a natural superiority over the majority that remained illiterate and who were obviously denied opportunities to strike gold that were easily available to the educated elite and those who could afford. By virtue of higher qualities nurtured through sound education this class continued to dominate politics, commerce and trade, industries, media etc. and exert its influence over government policies keeping at bay, an overwhelming population, whose job it was to serve its masters or toil in labour in the fields and in the towns. However, this kind of inequality never stays permanently.
As communication lines improved, exposure to the outer world intensified and there came about political awakening with, people beginning to realize their rights. Socially driven and far-sighted thinkers eager to eradicate ignorance from the society, could foresee that it was just a matter of time that the down-trodden would rise to make demands from the affluent class to partake its fortunes chief among them, access to education. Apparently, the government was helpless in providing children free education up to the age of sixteen and besides, the outdated syllabi and incompetent instructors in government schools were and still are, no guarantee for prosperous career building. No child belonging to the families of the elite or the bureaucracy could be expected to attend these schools. However, whenever this happens the standard of public schools would far exceed the private but this remains a distant dream.
These ground realities have motivated the philanthropists to establish charitable institutions to educate the less fortunate while those interested in making money came up with the idea of opening chains of private schools throughout the length and breadth of the country that has converted them into billionaires. Frankly speaking, there is really no harm in benefitting financially from such ventures. If the people are willing to pay in return for good quality education of their children, there is no reason for pointing an accusing finger at owners of these institutions. They are merely filling in the wide gaps teft by imprudent and incompetent governments.
These days parents belonging to all strata of the society have become very conscious about sending their children to school. With growing awareness about education being an important basis for getting better employment and more income, even the financially weak parents go out of their way to admit their children to these high-end schools since they offer much better prospects in securing admissions into prestigious colleges as against government-run schools. So, one is bound to observe the rapidity with which enrolments take place the moment a new school or the branch of an established one crops up somewhere in the vicinity of different neighbourhoods. With population growth rate that exceeds growth rate of other Asian countries, Pakistan will always have to face a shortage of schools which of course would be taken care of by the private sector as the government never seems to be bothered about it.
Now as far as good, solid and modern education is concerned, there can be no cavil about the proficiency of these schools but it has long been understood that mere academics is insufficient because the main idea of sending children to educational academies is to mould them into well-groomed, compassionate human beings capable of serving their society and their country. Excelling not only in studies, they should learn to become useful and law-abiding citizens with morally sound characters. Regardless of their parents’ financial or family background, they must be taught to respect each other for who they are as human beings and not judge their fellow students on the basis of the amount of their family’s wealth or position in society.
Unfortunately, like all other deteriorating institutions, some private schools are also headed towards an atrocious form of decadence that is actually instilling very alarming characteristics in the personalities of their students. As young as first and second standards (average 6 to 8 years old) boys and girls are conscious about the vehicles they and their friends come to school in. They candidly talk and brag about their lifestyle and openly look down upon their less fortunate fellow students. Instead of correcting their outlook and improving their behavior, the teachers simply play along with them instructing fathers to drop their kids in cars instead of motorcycles as this could invoke inferiority complex in their child.
In the days bygone, teachers in private schools were forbidden to give private tuitions or receive any kind of gifts from their students. In fact, they had to either arrive early, stay late or provide extra time to anyone who needed more personal coaching, all within their existing salary package. Nowadays they not only encourage students to visit their homes for extra classes but gleefully accept ‘tokens’ of appreciation on special days sent by mothers belonging to nouveau riche families in a bid to earn favours for their children. Such display of disgusting ostentation can be detrimental to a child whose parents are already finding it difficult to manage with sending money or being forced to pay for the myriads of events that seem to turn up every month in addition to the high monthly fees.
No matter how hard one tries to establish equity within the society, private schools are actually engaged in stratifying students, not on account of their intellectual caliber but on the basis of their parents’ social standing. In one of the schools, probably because of complaints from ‘super sensitive’ parents, children were split into sections with the elite in one and the less privileged in another on the pretext that they would be more comfortable sitting with their likes. Seriously? For those with newly found wealth, it is unthinkable for them that their child is seated with that of their servants. Having been educated in a Convent in Karachi, we learnt never to discriminate between our rich fellow students and those hailing from poorer backgrounds. We all found ourselves on the same footing averse to showing an arrogant attitude and only those who outshone in academics, sports, extra-curricular activities and social work were honoured. Teachers not only took meticulous care in imparting education but were constantly alert to correcting any deviant behavior.
The manner in which private schools are functioning these days should be monitored by the regulators because they are responsible for character building of the nation. Indeed it is not a healthy sign to be over-awed by rich parents who are ready to empty their wallets so that they can hold their heads high in society because of their children’s ‘achievements.’ Such students should either be taught sense or asked to relocate to some other school. As for teachers, there must be laid down very strong ethical rules and anyone found violating them should be dismissed. In the words of Shakuntala Devi: “Education is not just about going to school and getting a degree. It’s about widening your knowledge and absorbing the truth about life.”
The writer, lawyer and author, is an Adjunct Faculty at Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS)