Aug 21, 2010

Examining education

By Ather Naqvi

Shaping a Nation
Edited by Stephen Lyon, Iain R. Edgar
Series Editor: Ali Khan
Pages: 302
Price Rs: 695
Published by Oxford
University Press, 2010

The number of books on the subject of education in Pakistan may not be very low, but the ones which offer an in-depth analysis of what ails the education sector in Pakistan in a socio-political and historical context must be very few. One such book is Shaping a Nation, an Examination of Education in Pakistan.

The book sees the issue in its entirety and adopts an eclectic approach in identifying areas that have impacted formulation of education policy or the absence of one. The book forms an essential part of Oxford in Pakistan Readings in Sociology and Social Anthropology series. It offers a valuable reference work on the subject for students, policy-makers and researchers.

What adds to the value of the book is the fact that its contributors are all accomplished academics who have undertaken deep research on societies and the impact of education on them or vice versa. That is why, when they look at education in Pakistan, or any other society for that matter, they don’t just take into account policy-making but what has actually led to that policy framework. Names like Barbara Metcalf, Professor at the University of Michigan, Stephen Lyon, Senior Lecturer in Anthropology at the University of Durham, England, and Rubina Saigol who holds a PhD in Educational Sociology from the University of Rochester, among others make the book worth reading.

The chapters connect the dots to draw a picture that shows a link between demography, local economy, history and politics of a certain area that combine to shape contours of education policy on the national level. The chapters trace the history of education in the subcontinent, especially Pakistan, from the nineteenth century upto modern times. A couple of chapters on madrasa education, which also focus on Deoband Madrasas, attempt to dissect the role madrasas played in educating people of the subcontinent, for example if there is a clear link between madrasa education and violence, etc.

The behind-the-obvious research of the book is the underlying theme that points to a complete negation of the importance of education as a harbinger of change in a society, especially our society.

Two very obvious influences on education in Pakistan have been identified as the Islamisation of education by General Zia-ul Haq during much of the 1980s and the later emergence of the private sector in the backdrop of a crumbling public sector in education. The book also covers the role of private public partnership in the rural areas, among other seemingly complex but very significant aspects of education.

The underlying message of the book not just reiterates the fact that education has been very low on the priority list of the government, if at all, but pinpoints factors that have deformed the very idea of constituting a modern approach to dealing with illiteracy.

The book is divided into 12 chapters, each dealing with one particular aspect of education policy in Pakistan. The book very rightly points to the fact that the provision of education to a number of people is not the only, or perhaps the right, criteria to judge the quality of education but what is actually being taught to children, i.e, syllabus. It is quite alarming to note that, as the book states, a certain type of education has given way to social fragmentation and dissatisfaction among the society.

The state of education and the factors that caused the level of education to remain low has been amply reflected in each of the articles as they dig deep into an aspect of education. The link between the martial law years, the call to Afghan jihad, and the cropping up of madrasas in areas close to Pak-Afghan border and later in other parts of the country, set the stage for barren years in the education sector. Bad governance, absence of funds, and the subsequent lack of political eventually led us to the present situation where getting quality education is asking for the moon.

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