There is a wide disparity in attitudes towards education based on gender, urban-rural split, and socio-economic status in Pakistan. The overall national literacy rate is below 60%, and the quality of education offered in government-run schools is highly variable. Although in some rural areas the need for education is still questioned, especially for females, there appears to be an increasing trend of pursuing formal education in urban centers as a means to increase income and social status in society. In large cities such as Lahore, the incoming migrant population from rural areas tends to be mainly illiterate with limited civic senses and technical skills, which places them at the lower end of the societal ladder. Within the long-term resident population of cities, literacy rates tend to be higher due to greater awareness about the need for education and also the availability of good educational institutions. Furthermore, the quality of formal education goes up substantially with increased socio-economic status. One common underpinning amidst all this variation is the pursuit of education primarily for the purpose of obtaining highly paying jobs, increasing income levels, and uplifting socio-economic conditions.
In my grandparents’ generation, there was limited access to educational institutions and hence less focus on formal learning through school or college. Knowledge was passed on by elders in the community and emphasis was placed on religious teachings. A lucky few went on to receive formal education more for the purpose of enlightenment, pursuit of knowledge, and acquisition of technical skills. However, with the decline in the quality of education imparted at government run schools, the proliferation of private schools for middle, upper-middle, and elite classes in the last several decades has spawned a culture where education is now equated with grades and degrees.
In my community, for example, the above mentioned trend is clearly visible in schools where the purpose of education is to excel in examinations, enter a reputable college, and then move on to a well-placed job. Unfortunately, as a result of these pressures, many students fail to cherish the process of learning, getting to the core of concepts, exploring topics of interest, and actually pursuing education for enrichment of knowledge and self-development. Their vision is tunneled within the constraints of the curriculum syllabi and the immediate goal of acing the upcoming set of examinations. Parental and peer pressure to reach not just the best national but the best international universities has become the new norm. For many, the label of degrees from the best universities is the ticket to high paying jobs and lucrative careers, while for some it is another way to demonstrate progress up the social ladder.
The more patriotic members of my community, such as my grandparents, view the goal of education as bringing pride and joy to the family and nation by excelling and representing Pakistan at international forums; working on innovations in science, technology, and engineering; promoting the entrepreneurial spirit; or looking for solutions to the socio-economic problems of society. However, these patriotic members tend to represent the minority view. Many students simply perceive the goal of education as getting admitted into a respectable college abroad and then moving on to living and working in a foreign country, thus inadvertently becoming part of the country’s “brain drain.” This problem is not unique to Pakistan and mirrors the trend seen in other developing countries. I think we need to counter this trend by improving access and quality to education for the masses. As summarized by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., “Intelligence plus character — that is the goal of true education.” Thus, ideally, the goal of education should be to expand one’s knowledge and improve morals and ethics, irrespective of societal or communal pressures and expectations. I hope one day I can be part of the solution to bring about this change in the national mindset for the uplift of my country.
Zayna Mian is a 14-year-old from Lahore, Pakistan. She is currently a Year 10 student at Lahore Grammar School Defence. She is a prolific reader who plans to pursue her interest in writing short stories, blogs, and eventually novels. Zayna loves playing the piano and also enjoys squash. She is passionate about scientific research and hopes to become a biophysicist one day.
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