Education finds place in NAs-I

 

(original version published in The Muslim dated July 12, 1998)

UNEXAGGERATEDLY, Gilgit-Baltistan abounds in talent notwithstanding the fact that this part of the country lagged far behind the rest of the regions in socio economic context and ipso facto in the field of education as well due to past neglects. Regardless of the erstwhile snags, this fertile soil has thrown up many onto the literary and poetical firmaments who made a niche in their respective spheres by what may be called ‘burning the proverbial midnight oil’. Precisely, the fertility of this soil gets well testified by a fair number of eminent writers, journalists, authors, poets, intellectuals, historiographers, mountaineers and climber in addition to a great many who aspired to high ranking positions in both civil and military service of the country with still many more who became top professionals - doctors, engineers etc.

To put it succinctly, the region has overtime, been humming with brisk literary activities as witnessed now-a-days. It is to be noted that the rate of literacy until eighties quite dismally remained at the lowest ebb which became all ascribable to lack of educational facilities prior to the emergence of Pakistan and those lackadaisically planned afterwards. But nevertheless, establishment of educational institutions remained underway after the independence of the country followed by the liberation of this area that assuaged the situation to a great extent, the lot of the people no matter in quantitative terms. 

In the olden times, the students belonging to this region used to traverse long distances to reach Srinagar for getting what was then called the higher education id est matric and beyond, in the pre-independence period. The educational landscape here until the seventies, was such that there used to be one high school each at Gilgit and Skardu with the former having been established in 1892 during the colonial period. The students from the adjoining areas those days would take to this singular institution to seek education after primary and middle school level education in their respective villages and tracts. This scribe too hailing from a tract abutting Gilgit, got admission in high school Gilgit in class sixth in 1966 after attaining primary level education at his native village and did SSC in 1970. 

But this difficulty came to be gradually alleviated with the upgradation of the old institutions to higher level besides establishment of many more to maximize the opportunities albeit quantitatively in keeping with the growing needs of the multiplying populace. In short, two degree colleges one each at Skardu (1966) and Gilgit (1970) - both later upgraded to degree college on September 1975 preceded by establishment of inter college at Chilas in simultaneous with inter college for women at Gilgit to afford educational opportunities to the local students. 
Going by a statistics, the number of primary schools by then was 397 bolstered by an institute for imparting training to teachers called ‘government training institute of teachers’ established at Gilgit in 1974. There were then in all five girls high schools, seven middle schools and fifty eight girls primary school all across the region. Public schools and colleges Jutial Gilgit was established in 1980 which envisaged English-medium education here for the first time. Another significant development was indeed the establishment of regional office of Allama Iqbal Open University (AIOU) at Gilgit in 1983 which facilitated a large number of such students who were otherwise not in a position to seek regular admission in any educational institution to slake thirst. An institution by the name of Al Azhar model school too was brought into being in private sector which was founded by late Ghulam Muhammad Baig. 
It is noteworthy that the school-buildings in place were all in a shambles until seventies despite periodical renovations as all these were constructed during the colonial era while newer ones contemplated in the post-liberation era at places lacked shelter let alone other basic facilities. This scribe remembers well how the students at primary school of his village were ill-sheltered where in summers they would huddle under groves of shady trees while a shelter in the chilly winters was desperately sought. 

What nonetheless characterized the education of olden days was the profound dedication, devotion and missionary zeal with which the teaching staff then used to impart education to their pupils despite dearth of the facilities and inspite of being paid less remuneration when compared to the present day teaching staff receiving hefty amounts in monthly salary together with a well guaranteed vertical mobility – something nonexistent previously. It has an axiomatic validity it is not a building but the dwellers that matter comes to the fore here. The medium of instructions then was across the board Urdu with English only to be taught as a compulsory subject from sixth class onward. In design, it was akin to and equated with what may currently taught at nursery of prep level in an ordinary English medium school these days. 
In short, education and enlightenment of those days solely became ascribable to the tremendous dedication and earnest strivings of the teachers. The students of these characteristically primitive institutions, as they appropriately be called, would emerge quite promisingly. The teachers though paid for incompatibly would consider it a sacred duty to transmit knowledge to their students and thus would unswervingly impart education enthusiastically to the best of their ability and proficiency within the institution itself without paring down the transmission with any ulterior motive i.e, to wean the students on to their ‘coaching centres’ after school hours as is the wont of the present crop of teachers quite inconceivable.

In short, the people of those days were even quite oblivious to the existence of quality education in the country id est its having been halved into Urdu and English medium as the latter was quite unknown to them nor was there any school even of kindergarten type established here for any discriminatory dispensation to the children of the elites or the bureaucratic circle. Whatever be the educational system then, the majority coming out of the Urdu-medium school would flock downwards in the quest of higher education and mostly those belonging to families not well-off would take straight to Karachi where the poor souls would get education in an evening or morning college while toiling for the rest of the time, to make a living as well to cater to their educational expenses. 

There is no doubt that a few financially sound alone would seek admission in the colleges of other cities in the down country whilst another segment would strive to improve education as private students. Surprisingly, there is a fair number constituting the latter segment who became stupendously successful in life while serving in both federal as well as the provincial service. Even today, most of the local educated people most of whom having emerged politically or retiring from senior bureaucratic or judicial positions as this scribe knows - constitute this class of students. Education these days, has undoubtedly been eased in strict quantitative terms obviously with the proliferation of public sector institutions across the region but nevertheless, the prime objective of administering with a missionary spirit remains wanting. This is fundamentally because there is dearth of teachers in the real sense as opposed to those of the olden times. Moreover the current system has along side, spawned the menace ‘unfair means’. 

As pointed out earlier, such obnoxious trends could hardly be witnessed until seventies when the teachers of the respective institutions would honestly discharge their responsibilities. They would inculcate into the students the sense of imbibing well whatever was being taught to them with a sincerity and tenacity of purpose. Since this remained underway in a selfless manner, the students of those days too, would reciprocate positively as the dedication and devotion of the respective teachers could not in any way to be called into question. 

Unlike this, the present appalling state in public sector education seems to have largely stemmed from the lukewarmness and lackadaisical approach being displayed by the respective authorities with a naked exhibition of a grotesque irresponsibility and nonchalance. 

With the commercialization of education, a mushroom growth of ‘coaching centres’ seen everywhere. More time is devoted by a teachers to the latter than the institution where they are basically employed. This rat-race coming to the centre-stage did an irreparable harm to the system. 

Since all the students cannot at all afford to pay tuition fees in addition to the heavy charges accruing from their institutions, most of them, do not therefore, get themselves enrolled in the coaching centres where teachers tutor. This system obviously halves the students into those being tutored and the rest comprising those not financially sound to get that. 

This in effect, engenders a sort of disparity where the other segment of students takes to unfair means during the course of examinations in utter despondency. It has also come to the fore that during an academic year, the syllabus set for a class is not got covered fully nor is a teacher proficient in the subject entrusted with the task of teaching the same during the academic year. This is being resorted to regardless of protests by the concerned students. 

The capricious change of books at the fag end of the academic year is yet another vagary that further compounds the difficulties at such a critical juncture when the common man can hardly keep his body and soul together in the teeth of spiraling dearness which in fact, has turned everything beyond reach of the common man. On the top of all this is the whimsical ‘fine’ being imposed by some of the so-called English-medium institutions to bolster their budget when there is a bit delay in the payment of the monthly fee. In some of them, a student shall have to pay ‘double fee’ in case if he or she fails to deposit the same by the targeted date. Earlier these institutions would observe certain regulations whereby there would be a concessionary fee in case if there were more than one siblings studying there but this has now been discontinued for unknown reasons. 

Let us now cast a glance over the emergence and evolution of the so-called English-medium institutions in Gilgit-Baltistan. It is almost a decade and a half or say, a couple of years ago that the pioneering institution of the kind was brought into being in Gilgit town envisaging a form commitment to impart English-medium education here. 

With the passage of time, a flurry of activity ensued and many more embarked on this scheme. The proliferation of such schools at present is such that these have reached almost every nook and corner of the adjoining areas. Exorbitant fees are charged there except lesser amounts comparatively being received by a very few. The trend underway in the context of English-medium education is indeed, highly commendable in that it assumes the centrality being the need of the hour but what is worth pondering is the quality they deliver vis a vis high tuition fees etcetera they charge from each student. 

There is dire need of employing fitting teaching methodology - something very few bothering to do in the current scenario. In a nutshell, rusticity in teaching is required to be done away with at once by assigning each subject to teacher who may have sound knowledge of the same. There must be a strict adherence to a systematic evaluation of at least the annual results of each class and each subject being taught to ensure that the syllabi gets periodically updated to keep pace with the attainable stages of each academic year quite meticulously. 

In the teaching domain, there is a very simple way forward to make it result-oriented. The annual increment and so on the vertical mobility of teachers be made conditional to the result they deliver in the annual examination especially when it comes to the board results. 

Moreover, it must be made binding on all teachers and those at the helm of affairs to teach their children in public sector institutions if at all the education is to be made result-oriented. 

Undeniably, talent is an endowment diffused across all segments of society. It is not the preserve of a few. Given this, educational progress can be made at the national level if at all the same is made accessible to the overwhelming population comprising and mega poor in the country unlike Lord Macaulay’s scheme of constricting it to the upper stratum of the Indian populace and that too aimed at producing clerks and interpreters alone. Talent like any other natural resources lay diffused across the length and breadth of the country. It becomes the fundamental responsibility of the state to harvest it if real national progress is to be made attainable. 

The objective of quality education can easily be made achievable if annual increments of the faculty including the head of the respective institutions are made subject to the results of annual examinations being held by the respective boards every year. This mechanism can further be bolstered by introducing a transparent and consistent evaluation of intra-institution performance record of the faculty quarterly by those whose responsibility it is to remain wary over the functioning of the public sector institutions.

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