By Syed Jamil Uddin
EXPRESSIVE OF its firm commitment and unshakable determination as attuned to its agenda to give a genuine boost to education in Pakistan, the present government has made consecutive announcement to turn the state-owned magnificent buildings and mansions – all last vestiges of regal style of governance in existence from the colonial days across the country, into prestigious institutions of higher learning – something augurs well insofar as G-B is concerned. Even the PBC and PTV academies are likely to be made part of these institutions. Going by this, it is hoped that the same will mutatis mutandis, to applied in the case of Gilgit-Baltistan where the present governor house in close contiguity to the district headquarters hospital could be an ideal place that suits its immediate conversion into the medical college while the historically palatial residence of governor Ghansara Singh covering a vast area, currently made residence cum office accommodation of the chief secretary, could be converted into an engineering college respectively. Likewise, the historic Fatahbagh, equally having vast area, suits its conversion into ‘women university’ and in the same vein, the PWD guest house in central bazaar can be turned into hostels to house the prospective medical and engineering college students respectively as the exigency demands. It is worth mentioning that conception and implementation of projects like these here in this region always get hamstrung by non-availability or its availability at unbearable market costs.
Change: A Foregone Conclusion:
It synchronizes that KIU has kick-started its mining faculty in the wake of issuance of NOC by Pakistan Engineering Council (PEC) to play its crucial part by broadening its base to be viewed as a landmark development. As emanating from print media recently, it will enroll about a batch of 32 students who are likely to go into session shortly afterwards to get four years course of mining engineering in the very first instance. There can be no gainsaying the fact that according priority to mining sector here in G-B attaches great significance in that the region offers immeasurable mineral deposits which are yet to be tapped.
A cursory look at the region will unfold that it remained an economic backwater all along in the past despite its vast natural resources. Given its backwardness, a positive socio-economic transformation can be brought by way of giving the regional youth modern scientific and technical education geared towards its general and specific needs to put succinctly. It also has to be born in mind that since many problems are beyond technological solutions, efforts are simultaneously needed to explore the human dimension and its intangibles and imponderables through social sciences and behavioral research – something the KIU is very well abreast of and is doing its bit to address holistically in seeing that insights from the latter can sharpen the region’s capability to deal with complex problems of change.
It is worth note that Gilgit-Baltistan gets heretofore uncharitably singled out as a region completely shorn of technical and professional institutions – ranging from medical, engineering and polytechnic institutes – something getting straightaway ascribed to gross insensitivity displayed by the planners all along in the past in the context of such a direly needed institutional development save however, that there has been a scant allocation of seats for GB students in such institutions across the country against which students fulfilling the conditionalities are nominated annually but this arrangement does not suffice the genuine needs and as such is completely out sync when viewed in terms of mounting demographic changes being witnessed here. Moreover, the aspirants usually complain of a lackadaisical approach adopted by the concerned colleges or universities in matters like holding the entry tests the same day.
One such case was reported by an affected medical student that the tests of medical colleges of Punjab and KPK were held the same day which precluded the G-B candidates from participating in the other. There is yet another genuine complaint for instance from G-B students studying at National University of Arts or to put it NCA campuses that though admitted against the regional quota seats, they are charged fees exorbitantly and unnecessarily which they are otherwise, unable to meet obviously because of their poor backgrounds. For example, the semester fee included in their case, sixty four thousand rupees plus twelve thousand. The former was quite justified in that the fee bill indicated this colossal charge for the miscellaneous materials supplied to them while in fact, no such thing ever happened. This needs be taken up with the respective management at the earliest in order to address the plight of G-B students and mitigate their financial woes.
The present century is called as the ‘century of knowledge’ while progress in the economically backward regions becomes quite inconceivable sans scientific and technological knowledge attuned to the imperatives of the present era. This is something that calls for every possible effort to fill the scientific and technological gap between such backward regions and the developed parts of the country as early as possible in that they are provided with unhindered opportunities in order to pave the way for a meaningful change.
Needless to say that the KIU having been established early this century, is on its part, very well poised to play its due role in the region and hence making great strivings to diversify the faculties to offer maximal tertiary education in this region. But nonetheless, in the technological field, its ongoing efforts could be bolstered by establishment of specific institutions aimed at offering technical/professional studies. Thus is in view of the fact that there is completely nonexistence of any single institution in the public sector, across the region even for giving elementary technical education id est what is called the DAE courses let alone tertiary when juxtaposed to AJK, where such institutes or institutions literally mushroom. It transpires that a scheme for the establishment of the first polytechnic institute was contemplated long ago which was followed by its materialization but its completion is not yet visible. Given its demography, Gilgit-Baltistan should have at least one such institute in each district headquarter to be further bolstered by an engineering university in the region so far but quite sadly, no attention was ever given to this otherwise, crucial educational sector albeit the area has overtime, witnessed a proliferation in terms of other public sector institutions (primary, middle, secondary and higher secondary schools etc.)
WHILE referring to the general educational scene spanning last seven decades after emergence of Pakistan, it is profitable to bear in mind how Singapore once hardly able to get two meals a day and ipso facto, with majority of Singaporeans unable to find enough food to feed themselves brought about a prosperous transformation. From those seamy days, it emerged as a major economic force and stand out as in Southeast Asia as a model for others to emulate. What in a nutshell it did was to reflect on its ways and means. The country realized that it did not have any resources and therefore, decided to develop its human resource – which was something a daunting task then. In the process, it took care of its entire spectrum of education, from the toddlers to the graduates.
Today, it genuinely boasts of university education second to none in the contemporary world. That all becomes straightaway ascribable to its leadership that made the goals achievable by strong will and determination. The other was that it had the commitment to work in the sector based on established principles. Fairplay and equity were the important aspect strict adherence to which catapulted that nation. The country established its credibility on the basis of truth and honesty.
As Macauly’s famous statements come to mind especially the two strong ones he made: (1) Out of a hovel, only a pig will come out. Thereby stating in no uncertain terms how infrastructure is fundamental to and creates an impression on young minds. (2) That anyone who has a right to hanging has a right to education. This, in other words, puts the blame squarely on the policy-makers for not creating a civic society. The nature of the civic society is not education by the use of force but by the judicious use of reason.
The trauma of our schools must give way to the pleasantness of the teaching system. Students who are cared for respond to and go the way of the scholars.
The tragedy is that in our system, power rather than reason had had the upper hand. The consequences of power are that opinions and not clout take over the reason. The options then are one of favoritism and crony behavior. The error of the time becomes the error of generations. It may seem to the right thing to do at that particular time but it carried with it the seeds of poison. The system breaks down and the worst comes forth. The promise of a better future gives way to a deterioration of the system.
WHAT else did Singapore do which can be generically followed? Well went in for equity and fairplay. All those who did well stood to gain. Caste or creed did not matter. Relationships were out. What then are the lessons from the political economy of Singapore? How are they germane to the Pakistani scene? First and foremost is the educational system. The third rate teachers will give us third rate students and third rate human material.
The exactly is the case of neighboring China getting independence two years later than us, who made unimaginable strides especially over the past three and a half decades and successfully brought revolutionary changes thereby emerging as an economic giant by dint of technological advancement an cumulative educational progress.
There was a time when teacher could only take on assignments when they were qualified. Unfortunately then came a seeming rush to get anyone and everyone into a job without realizing that the adventures of this kind fail and create a reverse trend. And these reverse trends develop a psyche which is difficult to break. Equity and efficiency are both lost. Efficacy does not enter the picture.
The writer is a Gilgit-based freelance contributor. He can be reached at Email: firstname.lastname@example.org