Saturday, February 12, 2005

Dumb and Dumber

A bunch of us were invited by the US Ambassador to Pakistan to hear Stephen Cohen speak about his new book "The Idea of Pakistan." The exchange was intriguing enough for me to buy the book - and (eventually) read it. Some of it makes for disturbing reading. Apart from the usual platitudes about Pakistan, India, Kashmir, democratisation, nuclear power etc. the most incisive comments are about the deplorable state of education in Pakistan.

On University education Cohen says (and I quote)

"Pakistan's public universities and colleges, once quite promising, have fallen into such an abject state that some reputable scholars claim that they are beyond redemption in their present form and should be transformed or abolished. Even numerically their output is minimal.Pakistan now has just over 100,000 students in tertiary institutions. In constrast, Iran, with half of Pakistan's population has over 700,000 students enrolled at this level, Bangladesh has approximately 878,537, Turkey 1,607,388 and India 9,404,460."

Hang on. Does this mean Bangladesh has eight times as many university students as Pakistan ? Depressingly still, the numbers tell only half the story. What about the quality of the education being imparted to so few ?

Back to Cohen. In a footnote (quoting Parvez Hoodbhoy)

"In another instance, in the 1980s, 120 students from all over Pakistan tok a standardized five hour test designed to test competence in physics, with a scholarship to MIT as the reward for the best student. Not one student passed the exam, and the results were supressed by the educational authorities."

Seeing as we can't do it ourselves, a contract worth sixty million dollars has been given to a North Carolina company (RTI) to improve our primary education system over a four year period.

Maybe we should just outsource the Ministry of Education.


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