What’s Wrong – Pakistan’s Higher Education System

Issues in Pakistan’s Education System: A Focus on Higher Education

Scientia Potentia Est, or “For also knowledge itself is power”, is a very popular Latin maxim that all of us will have heard or read quite a few times throughout our school days. In the fast-paced, rapidly growing information age, it could not be any truer.

The concept of knowledge economy hovers around the utilization of knowledge and information as a productive asset. All the sectors, be it services related or manufacturing related all rely on knowledge and information for productivity; be it a groundbreaking piece of code for a software, or the schematics of a new prototype car.

Knowledge is gained through two methods; one is experience, the other is formal education and training. Experience can only come with time; however, we still need to understand our experiences. That is where education comes in.

Education is a building block of life as we know it, without which, we would not have the world we see now. It is widely understood that a country with a good education infrastructure has everything it needs to become a successful, highly developed nation. Over the next few paragraphs, we’ll try to see where Pakistan’s education system stands, what challenges it faces, and what possible solutions we might have.

The Current System:

Pakistan’s education system is split up into five levels. The first level starting from grade one and going up to grade five, is Primary Schooling. This education varies from school to school with some private schools offering exceptional schooling but at a very high price, and public schools often being termed mediocre; we’ll talk about the issues later on through this article.

The second level, Middle Schooling, starts at grade six and continues up to the eighth grade. Again, the curriculum and schooling criteria varies from school to school, but the same conception applies here as well. Public schools are generally considered lackluster as compared to some private schools and the elitist schools offer the best schooling, at exorbitant fee structures.

The third level consists of grades nine and ten, and is called Highschooling. This level is followed by Matriculation or Secondary School Certification (SSC) Exams. These exams are conducted on a provincial or district level. Once again, the quality of schooling varies from school to school with some schools following the Cambridge system of education.

The fourth level consists of the eleventh and twelfth grades, and is called Intermediate Level Schooling. These two years of schooling are offered at several schools and also at several colleges, and are followed by Higher Secondary School Certification (HSSC) or Intermediate Exams. Like the SSC Exams, these are also conducted at the provincial level, as well as the federal level.

Though these two years are the foundation for students as they determine a direction that they take for their career, students often change their career paths after their intermediate education and certification. There seems to be a growing need for student career-path counseling.

The fifth level is composed of Undergraduate and Post-Graduate degree programs. The Undergraduate or Bachelors degree programs range from a Bachelors’ in Arts to Bachelors’ in Law, covering several different programs. The duration of these programs varies according to the nature of the specialization or course, from two to four years. There are several private and public universities spread out across the country that offer such bachelors degree programs.

The Undergraduate or Bachelors’ programs are of two types; Pass and Honors. The Pass system comprises of twelve subjects, ranging from compulsory Language, History, and Religion based courses, to optional courses that cover specific areas with a duration of two years. The Honors system constitutes specialization courses in addition to select compulsory courses over three to four years.

The Post-Graduate degree programs consist of Masters and PhDs in various subjects, ranging from philosophy and education to business administration and engineering subjects. The Masters programs are of around 2 years, and consist of specialization courses in a chosen subject. The PhD programs are a further extension of specialization and are of around three to five years.

With several public and private universities and degree awarding institutes offering these programs, the quality of education varies profoundly, with select institutes given preference over others. The reason for such a vast difference in the quality of education is primarily the curriculum used, and the faculty of that institute. Once again, we’ll talk about the issues in more detail a little later on through the story.

The Issues:

Though Pakistan has a very high number of private and public sector schools, the quality of education leaves a lot to be desired. Some private sector schools do offer excellent quality, but have such a high fee that the lower middle income group can hardly afford them. Additionally, most public sector schools lack enough competent teachers to cater to the high demands of this age group.

The most critical aspect of the earlier stages of formal education is the development of an inquisitive and active mind. If a child is encouraged to think out of the box from such an early age, not only would his learning experience be a lot more productive, he would grow into a prodigious professional.

Additionally, another common complaint of parents of public-sector school students is poor English vocational skill. This once again, falls under the umbrella of ineffective and unskilled teachers.

A very critical issue our intermediate level students face is a feeling of general mayhem and incertitude of their direction in life. Though some students have a fairly good idea of where they want to go, most do not, and this is why they end up changing their career paths during their higher education.

Analysts and critiques argue that the reason for this irresolution lies in the fact that our current education system does not seed curiosity nor does it encourage further research. The reason behind this, they point out, is an ill-planned examination system that is graded according to a student’s ability to memorize selective topics in their curriculum, and to rewrite them onto paper. Our education system is in dire need of rejuvenation, and though it has already started, there is still indeed a long way to go.

Also, another reason for this uncertainty is a lack of guidance and counseling. Due to our social setup, most students need constant feedback and guidance to steer themselves into the right career. This can only be done if all schools set up student counselors who would help students decide a particular field they wish to enter.

At the university level, a major challenge is the lack of skilled and competent teachers. According to Pervez Hoodbhoy, “There are far too few qualified Pakistanis who can teach modern engineering subjects at an international professional level. There may be no more than two to three dozen suitable engineering professors in all of Pakistan’s engineering universities.” He further points out that the current number of engineering professors is minuscule if you look at the number of professors needed by the several international engineering universities being set up throughout the country.

Another very major concern is the development of a suitable curriculum and examination system. Though the Higher Education Commission is currently developing a standardized curriculum for all public and private sector universities and institutes, the development of existing and new faculty will take quite some time.

Possible Solutions:

One possible solution to these problems is already under way. The restructuring of the entire system has already started and it is gradually being reworked into a more coherent and encouraging system for all. The system needs to be transformed so that it cultivates curiosity and research, instead of just going through a selection of notoriously irksome books.

Moreover, we need to train our teachers to be more receptive of their students, instead of just being receptive of the books of their curriculum. With formal training, teachers can improve their language skills, as well as their direction and teaching skills. In simple words, we need to train them to be more open-minded and curious, so they in turn pass on that trait to their students.

As for the lack of qualified Pakistani teachers and professors, one possible solution is to set up mandatory training courses for all teachers, as well as suitable experience and educational qualifications before allowing them to become teachers at higher education institutions. As for the immediate need, we need to hire foreign faculty for all our educational institutes while the currently employed teachers undergo mandatory training.

As said in the beginning of this story, education is a building block of life as we know it and it is the primary thing that makes us human. As a child grows, he learns, and what he learns, he must be given the freedom to practice, and to grow. Without this freedom, he will confine himself to a cocoon, yet he will not transcended beyond that stage, and he will not turn into a butterfly.

A child’s mind is like a blank canvas; use the right combination of colors, and it turns into a Van Gogh or a Michelangelo, use the wrong combination and it turns into muck. The development of a child determines his outlook and standing in life.

I came across a very famous dialogue from a blockbuster Hollywood movie, “Truly wonderful, the mind of a child is”, and it truly is!

How Can Cloud Computing Impact Higher Education Positively in Africa?

One could define cloud computing as an internet based computing where by shared resources, software and information are provided for computers and devices on demand. A lot of people have talked about cloud computing. Their ideas have summed up the basic task of cloud computing. Steve Jobs, late chairman of Apple (1997) said “I don’t need a hard disk in my computer if I can get to the server faster… carrying around these non-connected computers is byzantine by comparison.”

Currently, cloud computing has become a significant and major trend both big and small businesses, governments, individuals use cloud computing to make everyday life less complicated. One aspect of society which is strongly influenced by the concept of cloud computing is Education. Nelson Mandela once said that ‘Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.’ Education is one essential tool which every individual is entitled to.

Before the introduction of cloud computing, the process of gaining Higher education was tedious and stressful one. Students and faculty were both faced with all sorts of dreary tasks like… ‘I WONT DO ALL THE WORK FOR YOU. Go look for said tasks’.

This is where the benefits of cloud computing comes in to make education less stressful on both to students and teachers. Since this paper is targeting higher education in Africa, let us discuss the roots of education in Africa. Africa is a continent that is in the process of figuring out its path in education in relation to advanced technology.

Cloud computing has the potential to change the face of Education in Africa while ensuring that everyone gets access to said education. Africa is made up of a lot of countries, some being much developed than others in terms of technology in education. But the baseline is ‘how can cloud computing effectively benefit and impact higher education in Africa?’

• It allows students to have access to learning materials from any location
• It facilitates the day to day operations of institutions that provide this service
• It helps teachers easily keep track of student progress
• Allows for easy identification and authentication meaning only those supposed to have access to materials and other stuff will as opposed to books and paper records where anyone can have access

With the integration of cloud computing services into higher education in Africa, the use of textbooks, hard copy papers on journals and handwritten notes will be at its minimal. Notes, articles and all other soft copy documents can be retrieved from the cloud server at any time to use. Students do not have to carry heavy books around any more. All reading material that has a soft copy can be uploaded to the cloud.

Also, the use of floppy disk, external hard drives, pen drives will be used less or possibly not all. Instead of carrying around these items that will contain your important documents, you can easily access it from your cloud provider. Currently almost all software supports the cloud. Adobe and others like Microsoft have made provision for these services and it is so convenient for individual use. So, you forgetting your flash drive somewhere and not having access to your documents will not be happening any more or your document being corrupted. You can have access to your documents anywhere at any time. Also, it will save a student’s money… You don’t need to spend money on a flash drive or an external.

To the benefit of both the teacher and the student, issuing assignments have become really simple and every student is assured of having access to it. The problem with copying assignments from friends is that the information is not always accurate. There is something always missing. So now, whether you are in class or not, a student is assured of having access to assignments in its original correct form. There is no need for a stack of printed assignments to be distributed to over a hundred students for instance.

It is not just the staff and the student body that can enjoy from the cloud. Administration of the school can also benefit from the cloud. School administration can send notices concerning the students via the cloud. Instead of pasting papers and postures on the notice boards, it can be uploaded to the cloud for easy access. How easy is that?

Technically, everyone benefits from the cloud. Last but not the least; virtual classrooms have become realistic in the African higher institutions using the cloud. On-line courses can now be put in full force because every activity, research notes, lecture voice tutorials, assignments and all relevant documents can now be uploaded to the cloud. All students can have full access to the same information at all times. With this, people who cannot attend class like regular students due to day time jobs or other related events can equally have access to information just as a regular student does.

I am concentrating on higher education because that is the level of education in Africa where the cloud concept can be effectively implemented. They have access to technological infrastructure like phones, laptops, tablets etc. that can support the use of the cloud and it is quite feasible to be implemented at this level.

There are still challenges related to implementing the use of the cloud in the higher education but it is a process that looks achievable. As Benjamin Franklin said ‘An investment in knowledge pays the best interest’.

Higher Education Quality – Quality Assurance Ideas For Higher Education

Even in the past, the primary focus not only of the government, but of every family, is basic education.

This means that there must be solid foundation when it comes to the learners’ elementary and middle school years.

However, what is always left as next in line is higher education. Sometimes, the improvement of higher education becomes a sole responsibility of higher education institutions. As such, higher education quality is sacrificed.

Yet, this scenario should not happen. The knowledge acquired by learners during their early school years would all be placed to waste should they get no quality higher education.

There must be a continuous acquisition of knowledge so that learners would turn out to be better and more productive individuals.

In order to assure the quality of higher education institutions as well as of higher education in general, here are some of the steps that must be undertaken.

If these recommendations were be put to practice, not only the students, but the entire education stakeholders, would benefit from the results.

1. Review and revisit each course curriculum. The main reason why some curriculums tend not to be effective anymore is that they are already outdated. Some of the contents only address the needs of the learners in the past.

As education is alive and evolving, so are the needs of the learners. Therefore, each higher education institution must see to it that there are updates to the curriculum.

It must integrate the changes that are currently arising. It must also have corrective feedback on the errors, if there are any, of the previous curriculum.

By this, learners would see the educational process as more relevant and responsive to the call of the times.

2. Check the learners’ ability to apply theories learned. Another issue why higher education quality is always questioned is the learners’ ability to put to life what they have learned in the four corners of the classroom.

Some learners might be mentally capable and excellent when it comes to theories. However, when asked to go to the field, they could hardly practice what they have learned in school.

In short, learners were not prepared for real life tasks. It is therefore another issue that must be given priority. The content of the courses they are taking must have practical applications. By this, even in school, students can already anticipate what might probably happen in the real scenario.

The students however, should be assessed individually. At the end of the day, there must be an assurance that people who need to learn at a different pace are given that opportunity.

3. Give focus on faculty development. Sometimes, the success of every curriculum also depends on the teacher. No matter how great the planned curriculum is if the teacher could not carry it out well, then it would be useless.

Therefore, along with the updating of the curriculum is the updating of the teacher as well.

This holds true not only to new teachers, but to those who are teaching for quite some time already. Everyone in the academe needs to update themselves with current trends in order to give a better point of view during the discussion of the lesson.

The worst part is if students know more than teachers do. As such, faculty development must also be one of the targets.

4. Stop rewarding poor student performance with the theory that no one is left behind. It’s ridiculous to assume that every single student should move forward with their class if they are flunking out of school.

Let those that need to be held back, GET HELD BACK. Perhaps the stigma attached to doing better in school would be reaffirmed if students themselves were held to higher level of accountability.

These four are only some of the steps that must be undertaken to ensure quality higher education.

There are definitely a lot more things to be done to come up with only the best environment conducive for higher education.

This must be a constant battle to be done not only by one, but the entire learning environment.