Time to promote spaces of learning

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It is very unfortunate that despite various steps, the standard of education cannot be improved across the country. Generally speaking, from higher education to lower strata, the educational institutions are not the ones that prove to be citadel of learning’s. There is no denying that higher education institutes must be the citadels where critical thinking is promoted, and this is simply not possible if an administrator with no background in academia is set to call the shots.

It is precisely because of such administrative handling that our colleges and universities have been reduced to policing zones, rather than spaces for higher learning. A greater role for faculty and students in campus governance is required.

Experts say that a national debate is urgently needed on the purpose of higher education. If we want to transform our colleges and universities from mass-production units to places that produce critical thinkers, we have to revive our humanities and social sciences departments etc.

As a matter of fact, there is no shortage of qualified personnel who’d be willing to volunteer their services for this noble task.

The authorities must engage these voices, and begin the process of transformation of our higher education institutions. We’re in the second decade of the full-blown privatisation of the higher education sector. It has been a downhill journey ever since.

In a handful of cases where they’re delivering quality education, in public as well as in private sectors, higher education institutes act little better than mass-production units insofar as they merely produce technicians for the market. In fact, the many of the institutes aren’t even capable of that, leaving graduates who pay hefty sums in tuition fee either underemployed or unemployed. A related issue is that of the (lack of) affiliation and certification of many of these private institutions with higher education departments in provinces. In recent weeks, there have been several instances of students from such private institutions resorting to protests to highlight their plight.

The irony is that that the issue emerges only when an institution has awarded degrees.

And the government must take swift action against them, meaning an independent audit must immediately be conducted to evaluate all private sector institutions. Those failing the audit should immediately be closed so that they cannot embezzle any student of their precious time as well as these families’ earnings.

While this may be a quick-fix solution, for the long-run, we ought to urgently reconsider our approach towards higher education goal.

To begin with, it is absolutely necessary that access is made easier for students from marginalised regions, and lower-income households. While affirmative action has been taken in the past, it must continue to be a policy priority for equitable distribution of higher education dividends.

On the other hand, the conditions in lower education instructions, i,e, primary schools  is also not up to mark.

According to the Registrar Private Institutions Sindh at least 60 to 70 percent of private schools in the city of Karachi are functioning without basic facilities. Many of these institutions are located in 80-yard houses with classroom sizes averaging 6 x 8 feet. Into this cloistered space 40 to 50 students are being cramped. No air circulates in these spaces – some of which lack windows – and there is an absence of playground, canteen, library or even drinking water facilities.

The classrooms are often dimly lit and the children must pore over their books for hours in these conditions.

These private schools, set up in every locality in Karachi, are violating Sindh government laws which lay down certain conditions for their registration. However, the registrar has said that registration cannot be cancelled immediately as this would leave thousands of children out of school.

Primary schools everywhere and at every tier in the country are effectively extorting whatever fee they can often without providing the basic needs for education.

In addition to the lack of facilities, teachers are untrained and poorly paid. The purpose of these schools is to make a profit for owners without any regard for educational standards or the welfare of their pupils. Steps need to be taken to remedy this situation, which exists not only in Karachi but also in other cities and towns across the country. While in theory laws exist to regulate private schools, they are simply not enforced. In many cases, lower-income families seeking a better education for their children by moving away from the collapsing public sector suffer worst.

An immediate solution will be hard to find but for the future we need to ensure that every child in the country is able to receive an education of some value to his or her future.

The focus should be on implementing the existing laws within higher and lower educational institutions across the country and in provinces so that the overall quality of education is ensured.

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