When Expanding Education

Children and youth spend too much time in the classroom learning theoretical things, and much of it will soon be outdated.

When we talk about getting the out-of-school children into ordinary schools or giving them some other kind of basic education, we need to be realistic about the expansion and consider alternative ways to the standard ways of doing it. The number of out-of-school children in Pakistan is very high; it is estimated that as many as 26 million are out-of-school; worldwide the number is over 60 million, and the number of children who actually attend school is about 700 million. I question if the number of out-of-school children in Pakistan can really be as high as 26 million, even if children who drop out before completing the full primary school cycle are included. But then if we add youth and young adults, who have not had an opportunity to go to school, the number would be much higher – and they, too, need a second chance of literacy and general basic education to cope better in their lives.

I have in a couple of earlier articles said that we must think of alternative ways of providing literacy and other basic education for most of the out-of-school children, and I repeat it in today’s article. Some children can be enrolled in ordinary private and government schools, but it will take very long to expand the system to include all, and the number will keep growing, too. I am suggesting we begin talking about some form of massive education campaign. I also believe that we should make ordinary school time shorter for all students, thus freeing facilities, classrooms, teachers, and more, so that shifts can be introduced. Furthermore, children could go to school every other day, or in other time blocks, especially in rural areas, where there could be adjustments to the agricultural seasons and weather changes. Children could help out in their spare time. It is important that education is not only seen as something bookish and theoretical but also related to the children’s and parents’ practical life and culture Also, the term ‘work school’ was earlier used, notably that children learned theory and practice together. NGOs and CBOs should help organize practical activities.

Let me underline that I am of the opinion that in the world today, children and youth spend too much time in the classroom learning theoretical things, and much of it will soon be outdated, nowadays, information and knowledge can easily be looked up on the Internet, and AI is coming. Children should learn things that are important, and they should learn work methods for how to learn and consider information. But I cannot in this short article say what it is that is most valuable and what is not, yet, I can draw attention to the issue of the overcrowded and often irrelevant curricula, especially at the secondary level. This is a serious issue, not only in Pakistan but in all countries. In Pakistan and other poor countries, though, since there are so many out-of-school children, now termed an ‘Education Emergency’, we have a particular reason for addressing the issue, yes, of ‘over-education’ and wasting time, energy, and resources on things that are not essential.

When I argue for less education, but good, quality education for all, it is at the same time for education. Organized education is probably more important than ever, but not any type of education and not to be overdone. That is why I argue for a New Education for All in Pakistan and in all countries. Some of the reasons for having schools are that they are places for children and youth to be ‘stored’, to be kept out of the way for the parents and the community, in quite safe places, even if they learn little important things. Sadly, for some students, especially boys, the school is not a happy place to be. But I must hasten to add that the school has always taught a good number of important and valuable, indeed literacy and the 3 R’s, as it is called, and general knowledge, and moral education, too.

In last week’s article, I stressed that one key reason why the West has done very well in their democratic, labour, human rights and democratic development, is because they have had compulsory education for centuries. Some achievements, though, have only come in the last fifty or a hundred years, such as women’s emancipation and other equality, labour issues, democracy, and recently, environmental and climate change issues. Today, we should more directly also include issues regarding health and life issues, so that children can learn how to look better after themselves throughout life and be integrated into society.

The content of basic education, including education campaigns for youth and adults, should to a large extent be common to all, but also with some variations. For children, many things will be pre-planned, but not all. For older learners, the principles of the famous educationist and philosopher Paulo Freire (1921-1997) are examples of important thinking, notably to base much of the content, especially in literacy, on the vocabulary and topics the learners are familiar with from work and life. For example, instead of giving the children a ‘primer’, with pre-planned content, the children and adult learners could, with their teacher, make their own basic book.

In Tanzania, where they had famous adult education campaigns in the 1970s, built on ideas by the country’s first president, Julius K. Nyerere (1922-1999), with Canada and the Scandinavian donors, many lessons can be learned about how to organize such education, yet, taking today’s new technologies into account. I have in earlier articles stressed that it is not rocket science to implement this kind of education, but it is a matter of deciding on doing it and being serious about how to organize and implement it. Indeed, overall charismatic and practical leadership is needed.

As for funding, I have earlier said that foreign donors must play a major role. They speak about the importance of education – for all girls and boys, and for other learners – not only to be kind to them, but because of the results that can be reached in all sectors, and that also includes awareness so that children and early marriages will be avoided, spacing of children and planning of smaller families will take place, and more. We know that if women are educated, they will encourage and ensure their girls’ and boys’ education. We know this and now it is time to use it to facilitate Pakistan’s great leap forward.

The PM has already said that he wants a major increase in the allocation of funds for education, including raising the share of GDP to go from two percent to four percent, as is UNESCO’s minimum advice, by 2029, and take urgent actions for the out-of-school children. If and when Pakistan really does this, everyone will enjoy the results, with the private and social return effecting development and modernization.

In conclusion today, let me recall a few things that Quaid-e-Azam Ali Jinnah said about education for all. He said it should be offered “at the earliest possible time”. In conferences at Independence in 1947, Quaid-e-Azam emphasized technical and vocational education and that it should be progressive and utilitarian. Already at that time, the vision was that elementary education should be compulsory and free, and Quaid-e-Azam said that ‘education is the foundation of every nation’, and it also includes character-building.

Atle Hetland
The writer is a senior Norwegian social scientist with experience from university, diplomacy and development aid. He can be reached at atlehetland@yahoo.com

The writer is a senior Norwegian social scientist with experience in research, diplomacy and development aid

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