It is commonly perceived that education is the most powerful weapon in alleviating poverty, elevating economic growth, producing skilled human resource, creating a healthy and enlightened social environment and making self-sufficient nations. Poverty and education are paradoxically related to each other: if one is improved, the other is decreased.
In a socially, economically, religiously and culturally diverse state like Pakistan, higher education institutions and universities, imparting education and conducting cutting edge research, are the central mechanisms that can raise the declining social and economic infrastructure of the country. Since the 2000s, there has been rapid growth in these institutions and universities across Pakistan as is evident from the sharp rise in their numbers from just 32 in 2001 to 160 at present.
Pakistan, despite rapid growth in the education sector during the past decade, suffers from severe challenges in its educational development. These challenges include lack of access to higher education for the majority of its youth, results-oriented standards of pedagogical techniques, brain drain of qualified human resource and lack of adaptability to changing paradigms of academic research. Out of a population of 190 million, only five percent of them have access to university level education. It is worth mentioning that, by the end of 2022, Pakistan needs 36 million new jobs if the economy grows up to six percent annually. Therefore, it is the premier duty of all national universities to produce graduates who fulfill the criteria of the national, social and economic needs of the country. In this regard, the role of career counseling and placement offices at the university level becomes very important.
In the 21st century, the paradigm of universities has shifted from traditional aspects of teaching and learning towards building communities, economies, and patterns of leadership. Education, either basic or higher, play a key role in the development of human capital that subsequently brings about the establishment of sound economies and harmonious communities. There is an immediate need to initiate radical educational reforms so that these challenges can be addressed proactively. The following is an exercise in this regard.
To begin with, the ministry of education, ministry of finance, planning commission, standing committees on basic and technical education and the higher education commission of Pakistan should assist these universities, both public and private, in establishing on-campus university-community partnership centers. These centers should work on the pattern of think tanks and should devise mechanisms to address dominant social problems, prepare modules and schemes for the outreach of educational facilities and bridging linkages with communities for sharing of knowledge. Secondly, since Pakistan is a traditional society with different demographical characteristics, whereby more than 30 percent of the population lives below the poverty line, and more than 600,000 young graduates are adding to unemployment every year, these higher learning institutions and universities should develop terms of reference (ToRs) to provide financial assistance to talented individuals who otherwise cannot afford university education.
Thirdly, to streamline and ensure effective utilization of public funds allocated for development of higher education in Pakistan by the concerned commissions and universities, the concerned ministries and planning commissions should primarily focus on building grass-roots level education in primary schools, especially in Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. Fourth, universities should focus on creating an entrepreneurial culture among their graduates. They should produce job creators rather than producing job seekers. This can be attained through the establishment of effective business incubation centers, encouraging partnerships between industry and academia and placing career counseling offices that should work on intellectual and professional development of the graduates during the course of their studies in order to prepare them today for the challenges of tomorrow.
Fifth, education never means to earn; it means to spend. The best way to spend is spending on education and research that later on addresses the social, political, environmental and economic problems of Pakistan. Universities can play a vital role in this regard through fostering reciprocal partnerships with other educational organizations and community development centers to identify real-life problems. Community development participation should be made mandatory for teachers and students at the university level. If the prestigious Australian Endeavour Award can assign 35 percent of its total evaluation marks towards the contribution of individual applicants towards community services than why can students at our universities in Pakistan not be prepared on similar lines? Moreover, since Pakistan has always been a victim of natural calamities such as floods and earthquakes, it will be beneficial if various emergency training programmes and courses related to disaster management are incorporated in the curriculum.
Last but not least, the role of university managers and leaders is very crucial in steering our universities in the right direction. The Higher Education Commission of Pakistan (HECP) can, for example, initiate university leadership and administration programmes for capacity building of university administrators in collaboration with top-ranking educational schools around the world. Popenici rightly said that “an institution is not a sum of disciplined ‘soldiers’ working on the assembly line designed to deliver skills for a set of jobs (that may be gone when students graduate). A university is responsible to develop the whole thinking person, to expand horizons and instill the love for learning in individuals and build democratic citizenship with engaged and informed citizens who have the power to make democracy work. A university is also asked to cultivate imagination and creativity, defend civilisation and create new knowledge, act as a forum where free and responsible minds can ‘question the unquestionable’ for the benefit of our societies. Universities have the power to provide innovative solutions, but when tools of a successful army are used in this institution, results are equal to those imagined if we promote debate groups for soldiers when they are in the line of fire.”
In summary, it can safely be concluded that the development of societies and economies is interlinked with the growth of education. It is the order of the day that quality of education at every stage be improved to help lay a solid foundation for the advancement of studies in basic sciences, engineering disciplines, agriculture extension, medical and some other important areas that are needed for the economic growth and reconstruction of Pakistan. As
the report published by Credit Suisse in February 2013 indicates, “The rising trend of youth unemployment around the world threatens not just current economic growth but also political stability and the potential demographic dividend.” As a result, universities now have to re-think and re-design their policies for the uplift of the socio-economic situation in Pakistan. Without quality education that critically prepares a young mind to face and provide solutions to varied types of problems, Pakistan or any other developing state will only suffer socio-economically, politically and strategically.
Author: Samaa Noushed
Women University Mardan