In the ongoing SSC/HSC examinations, the pictures of groups of young men hanging precariously on windows on the first and second floors of the examination centres throwing crumpled pieces of paper containing answers to questions or students copying answers of questions from their cell phones forwarded from outside in the presence of police squads and invigilators, were distressing. It appears that students, teachers, parents, invigilators and police are in solemn fraternity to support, sustain and promote cheating culture in utter disregard of the horrified consequences this chicanery is going to have on the intellectual growth of the society. They are all leading the funeral procession of education for solemn burial.
This cheating culture has played havoc with the education system. The more painful dimension of this cancerous affliction is that no stakeholder – public representatives, administrators, parents, students, teachers and conscious citizens – has been realising the disastrous repercussions this vain system has on the standing of the province in the country. The education in Sindh has been sliding into a farce since decades. The warnings and admonitions of the conscious sons and daughters of the land have been falling on deaf ears. The halfhearted steps taken by the administration only added insult to the injury. No one has come forward to wage a real battle against this plague.
Over the years, the swamp has been poisoned by a complex and multi-form affliction. The plunder, corruption and cronyism in the education department, unchallenged cheating in the examination centres and forgery in the marking of answer sheets, open sale of grades and seats in medical and technical universities, shameless trade in fake degrees and employment of half lettered and fake degree holders as teachers, unprecedented growth of ghost schools and ghost teachers, slow death of professionalism, competence and commitment in the teaching field, menacing strength of teachers’ unions, ruthless commercialisation of the sector resulting in flourishing private schools, coaching and tuition centers, are just a few crippling facets of the fatal affliction.
I wonder whether this diseased education system would bring forth true custodians of our intellectual heritage, cultural strength, collective wisdom as well as scholars of the caliber of Hassanali Effendi, Mirza Qaleech Beg, Omar Daudpota, Allama I.I. Qazi, Syed Ghulam Mustafa Shah, Dr. N.A. Baloch and the other educationists, researchers, writers our land has always been proud of. Would the crop of leaders and administrators thrown up by this sick system effectively represent Sindh in the complex, modern and competitive economic, financial, technological, technical and scientific world? More than anything else, Sindh needs scientists, information technology wizards, financial experts, economists, bankers, jurists, PhDs, professors, researchers, engineers, doctors, industrialists, traders and administrators of high caliber to take the charge. What the current vain system of education is throwing forth could even not be calibrated as the mediocre reflection of the scholars I dared to name.
The schooling over the past four decades has been reduced to a vain system that, with a few exceptions, has been creating half lettered young degree holders, unable to compete and carve out a career for themselves thereby promoting the culture of ‘sifarish’ or swelling the already huge crowd of unemployed youth who are ultimately sucked into the vortex of street crime. The scourge of sifarish is not only depriving the limited number of our able graduates of their fundamental right to a career, it is also filling up the administrative structure of the province with pygmies and notoriously corrupt, incompetent and inhuman officials, glimpses of which we can observe from the cruel mindset of police, revenue, treasury, local council and judiciary officials at the district and tehsil levels.
This sifarish culture has also introduced a new narrative which has gripped the impressionable minds of the youth that when one can get a lucrative job through a connection to rulers, then why one should spend the precious years of life with books. They have reduced their aim to getting a lucrative job by hook or crook rather than the loftier purpose of learning and research. They have thousands of examples to quote. This misplaced notion is dangerous that would further destroy education. Our political leadership and ruling clique, by doling out jobs for mundane considerations other than merit, have been knowingly promoting this disastrous trend. Our share in the bureaucracy of the federation, armed forces, autonomous bodies, corporations and financial sectors has drastically reduced over the years and is currently much lower than KP.
Sindh is faced with an outmoded and suffocating tribalism; the debilitating ethnic and linguistic division; the growing institutional decay; the crumbling educational structure and endemic corruption that have sealed the fate of its populace and hampered their advance to progress and prosperity. Battles against all these scourges could be fought by the young generation armed with education, fired by patriotism and motivated by the spirit of paying their debt to the land and not by the half tutored nationalists and leaders created by such a diseased system of education that we have today.
Regrettably, the political and bureaucratic moguls of the province have turned into carnivorous animals trying to devour the last morsel of the flesh of their people. They have shut their eyes to the thickening dark clouds of misery, poverty and ignorance hovering over the picturesque landscape of Sindh. There is no one to whisper a word of caution and wisdom in their blocked ears that the predators of modern times, with more swift and strategic minds would be quicker to exploit the disastrous consequences of their misdemeanors and the despair and disillusionment of the populace to rob this land of its due place in the federation.
Since 1988, the education department in Sindh has been superintended, more or less, by democratically elected ministers and so-called sons of the soil. The education system has been deteriorating under their watch. Their performance as the guardians of the education system has been utterly disappointing. They are not only unqualified for this portfolio but they are corrupt to the core, too. The tales of their corruption are commonly known. They helped augment the deformity and ugliness of their souls by surrendering themselves to the tight embrace of greed and depravity indulging in illegal appointment of teachers, shoulder-promotions, transfer of teachers to other lucrative departments and swindling of funds from the meager budgetary allocations.
A minister of education in the second PPP administration in the province publicly admitted that some 13,000 unqualified teachers were appointed in his predecessor’s term. Many District Educational officers from all over the province were apprehended and prosecuted for these illegal appointments. They have been dearly paying for the crimes committed at their minister’s behest. The whole lot responsible for teaching and improving the infrastructure in the education department – teachers, supervisors, engineers, administrators – has been complicit in the vulgar crime of destroying the education system and depriving the children of Sindh of this divine light while putting their children in the finest private schools and colleges in the country and abroad.
We should realise that we cannot afford to lag behind in education. The problem is grave. We should strive to transform our muddled today into a better tomorrow for our posterity. We need a real man, a leader of enormous strength who combines in himself the vigour of youth, the spirit of a missionary and the faith of a crusader and is armed with the wisdom of a sage to take cudgels against this cancerous affliction fast consuming the education system in this land. The sons and daughters of Sindh are just looking for this titanic charioteer of destiny to emerge from their land and confront this affliction that is darkening the horizon of their future.
The question is what should be the way forward. First of all, we should accept the unwelcome truth that the cancerous lumps have engulfed the body of the education system. It needs ruthless surgical treatment. The treatment is expensive and needs more money over and above the meager budgetary allocations. The Government of Sindh can put on hold other development projects to spare funds for the treatment of this fast spreading disease. The patient is lying semi-conscious in the operation theatre, waiting for the surgeon who is only interested in saving the life of the patient.
An emergency should be declared in the education department suspending all teachers’ unions; schools and colleges surveyed by a committee of Deputy Commissioner, District Session Judge and Provincial Assembly member of the area and unqualified and ghost teachers struck off; ghost schools closed; crash training programmes for teachers and supervisors carried out; promotion of teachers, lecturers and professors made on performance and not merely on seniority; the list of Chairmen of Boards of Education and Controllers of Examination reviewed; corruption and corrupt practices eradicated from the department; innovative methods of teaching introduced and copy cheating uprooted. This campaign should relentlessly continue for 4-5 years.
All these steps should be taken in tandem with each other and in earnest. No political consideration should be allowed to interfere in this battle. Let the teachers earn respect and not claim it by being in the profession. Let students know the degrees earned through cheating are worthless. Let the parents see the dawn of learning. The conscious citizens should be called upon to come forward to hold seminars in every district and tehsil to drive home the long-term advantages of this purge in the education department. TW
Alam Brohi is former Ambassador of Pakistan and was associated with Foreign Service of Pakistan