Education is viewed as the key to the development of any society in the contemporary world. Having its distinct geographical, economic and social dynamics,Gilgit-Baltistan(GB)cannot overlook the need of quality education for its meaningful and sustainable development.
The history of education is not much longer in GB however;the available data/information related to education reveal ssome interesting points (strengths and challenges) about education in the region. For example, according to the Pakistan Education Statistics (2010-11)around 2918 educational institutions are working in the region, out of which 1715 are public and 1203 are private institutions. It means that around 58 percent public and 42 percent private institution are engaged in providing the facilities of education in the region. Furthermore, the statistics also shows that almost 47 percent of the students are enrolled inthe private educational institutions. The trends indicate that the number of the private institutions is growing rapidly with the passage of time.
The above given figures tells some interesting stories.The increasing number of private institutions may indicate that the people of area particularly parents are becoming increasingly conscious about their children’s education particularly quality education. Hence they are ready to pay for education despite their financial challenges. On the other hand it may be interpreted that parents are less satisfied with the current performance of the public intuitions hence they prefer private institutions.
Secondly, the number of educational institutions in GB are comparatively very low than other provinces and Azad Jamu Kashmir.Even in some districts in other provinces, the number of schools is higher than the total number of educational intuitions in GB. This shows that the size of the educational institutions in GB is quite manageable for planning and execution.
Thirdly, it is also interesting to know that according to a survey conducted by ASER the students from the schools of GB have performed better in some subjects compare to the students from other parts of Pakistan. This indicates the potential of students in the region which can be realized through serious efforts in education.
However, with some brighter sides there are gloomy areas which need serous reflection and action to improve. For example, despite the increasing awareness about education in the area the overall literacy is rate is still 52 percent and it means that almost half of the population is illiterate. A large number of the children are still out of the school and it seems challenging to fulfill our commitment of Millennium Development Goal (MDG) to provide primary education to all children by 2015.
The data also reveals that there is a wide gap in the enrollment between the boys and girls in the educational institutions. The gender disparity can be observed at different level such as number of institutions, enrollment of students, number of teachers/head teachers and other facilities.
It is also evident that a large number of the public schools lack basic facilities such as washrooms, water, electricity, teaching learning material, space and furniture etc.
Furthermore, for last the couple of months the education department has been, unfortunately, much highlighted in the media for the accusation of irregularities in teachers’ appointment. Such news related to education is really a matter of concern for the people of GB. The allegation is right or wrong we cannot give any judgment, however, this kind of allegation has a big implication for the public educational institutions. Such news may further deteriorate the credibility of the public education system.
We must understand that corruption and negative political influence has devastated the education system in other parts of Pakistan particularly in Sindh. We must realize that education is like blood for all systems. If it becomes affected then nobody can prevent the society from corruption. We must learn good practices from other provinces but should avoid the malpractices rather we should make endeavor to provide good example for others.
Despite the above mentioned challenges of education, GB has the potential to be model for other parts of the country. Building on the strengths, some serious steps needs to be taken to develop a quality education system.
First, realizing it constitutional responsibility, the GB government needs to show it full will/comment for education. After the 18th amendment the education has become business of provincial government. Hence taking the advantage of this opportunity the GB government should think seriously about education and take conscious steps to improve the education system in the areas. For example, to highlight the cause of education legally/conditionally, a bill should be passed by the assembly which must reflect the vision of the government for education. To fulfill the basic need of the educational institutions budget needs to be increased for education.
Second, a comprehensive strategic plan with clear goals needs to be developed by involving all stockholders in education. There are individuals as well as institutions in GB, who have the capacity and skills in educational planning and management. Hence they must be engaged informing the policy and developing comprehensive plan.
Third, an effective monitoring and evaluation system is crucial in order to execute the initiations in education. For example, for the last couple of years,salary of teachers has been increasing however the accountability/performance aspect is overlooked.The teacher must be paid higher salary however;the increment needs to be linked with their performance. Fund must be provided directly to schools based on their performance.
Fourth, research needs to be base for any decision and action in education. In this regard the department of education in Karakorum International University and other teacher education institutions should be involved in the research process for providing credible information for educational initiatives.
Furthermore, a strong coordination is needed between the public and private educational institutions. They should not be considered rivals rather view them sources to achieve the same goal. There is required to develop such environment and mechanism that the two systems can learn from each other.
In addition, educational policy and initiatives must be gender sensitive in order to deal with the existing gender gap in education.
Finally, the curriculum and textbook must be reviewed in order to make it relevant to the students by incorporating contextual and cultural related content. The curriculum/textbooks must reflect the plurality of cultures exists in the area. It should be encouraged to respect, appreciate and celebrate the multifaceted diversity of the area in order to create harmony for coexistence.
In short, keeping in view the unique cultural, economic, geographical needs of GB, quality education can be the only way for the meaningful development of the area. The education sector of GB has the potential to be nurtured as a model for the country. However, efforts are needed at multiple levels to strive for the cause of education.
The writer is an educator.