Equal Opportunity? Yes, it’s our birthright.

by Aanya F Niaz

Equal opportunity. Yes, a concept much foreign to majority of the population in Pakistan. Rights. Yes, another concept that exists as a stranger to most dwellers of our struggling nation. Truth is, rights to equal opportunity can change everything. In my heart and mind, equal access to education can change mindsets, perspectives and play a leading role in shaping public thought and policies of Pakistan.

There are three major denominations of Education systems that currently exist: Private, Public and Religious. Neither can relate with one another and are finding it increasingly difficult to coexist. The standard and quality of life each is exposed to differs so greatly that their visions vary on an extreme level and our nation finds it hard to identify itself with unity. What is missing is a link – a connection on equal grounds, recognition of one’s birthright not just to water, food and shelter, but also to education.

If Pakistan can take the enormous risk of eradicating the numerous educational systems and offer a singular academic curriculum, that could, with years and generous acceptance lead to evenly educated generations which can lead our nation out of misery and into light. Undoubtedly, this task is, for most, unacceptable and naïve. In order to defend the positive impacts of such a system of education, first and foremost we must find common ground between citizens who want a secular education for their children and those who deem religion as a requisite for any grooming of their child. This is a task not easy in any respect but attainable. By instituting religious studies course throughout school years, be it Islamic or Christian, if the majority of the population of Pakistan chooses to incorporate religion into school systems, it should be offered as a window of education, not of suppression and extremism. These classes should not be made compulsory but should be offered extensively to all interested students and families. The matter then rests in the hands of individual families as to whether they want their child to enroll in the religious studies course. The government of Pakistan’s job is to provide what a smoothly functioning system of academics where all have access to equal opportunity, but are in no way, obliged to attain a religious education.

For many, in fact, for most it is inconceivable to attend the same school with the children of the family that works in their house. This unjust reality needs to change and the only way we can do it is by bringing a revolutionary transformation of incurring a singular academic system in all schools for everyone. It does not have to be privately, publicly or religiously run. It does not have to adopt British or American models. We should take our very own India as an example who have their own board of examinations and compete internationally. The purpose of our view of education should be to be provide the very best so that those who have the opportunity, do not hastily exit the country in search for better standards of life. Pakistan should take the responsibility of providing an equal quality of life.

Second, textbook boards should consistently compete internationally in providing the most updated and neutral books to all students. Despite the various boards monitoring teachers skills, their professionalism should be regularly tested and no uncertified teacher should take up such a roll. Indeed, that may lead to a shortage of teachers but this will also encourage various students to recognize the equality, respect and honor given for taking up this career path. Eventually, all teachers will be of the same level and be able to offer students full academic and social support. Such monitoring boards should be regularly checked by Education department leaders of each province.

Since the birth of Pakistan, the national language has been Urdu. Taking pride in our national language should be inculcated. In the past we have seen great uprisings in our very own province of Sindh where the provincial language has remained close to their hearts. To respond to this request, the schools should offer provincial languages, as per their province, along with Urdu to students up to middle school as a requirement, after which they can choose to pursue the language in accordance with their interest. The reality of English being the lingua franca of the world should be acknowledged and benefited from. Our citizens should be able to speak Urdu and English fluently if they want to succeed and excel in this globally connected and fast advancing world. Not only will these students emerge as native Urdu and English speakers, but will be trilingual with their mastery over their respective provincial language.

If we can provide our upcoming generations with safe studying space, trained teachers, affordable books (by incorporating much of national and foreign budgets into this department), identical language offers and the opportunity to attend a school with same curriculum as their counterparts in the other end of the country, we can diminish the need of poor students to attend extremist madrassahs and ungoverned Public schools.

Most importantly, we need to realize that the majority of the population needs help, not just the few percentage of elite. We need to address their issues just as much as we need to address our own. This is only a glimpse into the focus that should be laid onto education. In fact, Governor of Punjab Salmaan Taseer stated that there should be no reason for our Pakistani students to want to leave and study abroad, we should provide them better-equipped facilities so they do not feel such a need. He also added that English should be incorporated in all schools in order for us to make any progress in contrast with the world. Emphasis on encouragement of female education plays a vital role in the positive transformation of Pakistan. If our men and women can speak their minds on the same footing, think what good we could do with ourselves and our nation!