Education Models and Northern Areas: Comment Published in DAWN dated August 8, 2002
Quality education is vital to progress because lack of it creates distortions in society. It, therefore, forms the bedrock of societal development and this is more importantly so in the case of a backward people.
In the Northern Areas, the history of education is quite chequered and warped in that the facility here had been non-existent before the liberation of these areas.
Then, getting education was practically unthinkable. There was not a single secondary school across the whole region though there were a few primary schools, with one or two middle schools. Nevertheless, education beyond this stage was non-existent. Thus a very few would embark on the onerous task of traversing all the way from Gilgit or Skardu to Srinagar for getting what was then called the higher education, ie secondary school stage.
With the liberation of Northern Areas, a new era dawned but again only secondary education befarivailable until the seventies when the first college for boys and another for girls were established in Gilgit.
Over the preceding two-and-a-half decades, the region has witnessed a prolific growth of educational institutions, mostly up to secondary level, in both public and private sectors. This is in addition to upgradation of the colleges and creation of many more. Moreover, there have emerged pioneering institutions to ensure English-medium education in the region. But despite all this, no significant change seems to have been brought about to make any crop of regional students very well poised to compete for federal jobs in the course of CSS examinations to avail themselves of what may be called the ‘quota posts’.
The outcome still remains as appalling as before because the posts getting earmarked for the Northern Areas, the form of the amalgamated quota scheme, are availed of by the examinees from the Federally Administered Tribal Areas. This points to educational backwardness - and the consequential pathetic plight - of the regional educated class in terms of quality education, hampering any positive transformation.
A look at the educational records of the CSS in so far as the Northern Areas is concerned makes a dismal picture in seeing that a fairly good number of those from Hazara, Fata, etc, have not simply been able to avail themselves of their respective quota earmarked every year but also did well on the basis of merit on all-Pakistan basis. This enabled them and a good number from Azad Jammu and Kashmir candidates to get inducted into the much coveted service groups.
Not simply this but that the remaining posts in the puniest service cadres in the federal service mostly went unavailed. A very few from this area who were somehow able to get low-echelon positions in the federal organizations suffered from vertical immobility not worth their salt. By this, it is meant to refer to the said plight of the few self-made hailing from the North who are squeezed against incompatible and negligible positions after attaining life-long service since their inductions decades ago.
Their growth was allowed to stunt because of an apparent apathy remaining underway and being unnoticed. This is indeed a source of great disillusionment when the state fails to provide a mechanism for identifying ‘talent’ at these levels for befitting exploitation of one’s capabilities.
The people of Northern Areas need a succor so direly needed at this juncture. This would be the veritable grooming and sprucing of its youth by way of imparting quality education - an opportunity available quite untrammeled in other regions.
This writer recently came across a student of ‘higher secondary’ level from an adjoining village of Gilgit who was educated in Abbottbad right from class V onwards, in an English-medium institution. It was quite heartening that he could speak English fluently - a phenomenon hardly visible in the English-medium institutions here. Nevertheless, a positive change is now expected because the Agha Khan Education Board has established what they call it the Agha Khan Secondary School in Gilgit which, as far as this writer has elicited, is employing modern teaching technique and striving to set new positive paradigms here.
Since its establishment in 1998, it has gone into the fifth academic session. It offers education from VIII onward to the intermediate level. Admissions to this institutions are given strictly on merits. This means that they extract talent from the existing schools across the region and Chitral.
However, the real test could have been if at all they were to prepare students for themselves from the primary level. Notwithstanding this, its presence here with endeavours to give quality education to the regional students augurs well. What is significant in their case is their soft-corner in considering the financial condition of individual students and making remission in fees on requests.
Another significant development is the establishment of Cadet College in Skardu - the only of its kind in the region. It has hardly gone into its second session. Its pioneers would be appearing in the SSC examination in Spring 2004, which would be the chief determinant of the kind of quality they offer and the sprucing up of the students taking place there.