Category Archives: Educational-Issues

The Politics of Education

The conservative paradigm of education believes in the fixity of knowledge and focuses on its transmission from one generation to the next generation. The major assumption underlying this paradigm is that the learners are just clean slates or empty vessels and the teacher’s job is to write on these ‘clean slates’ and fill the ‘empty vessels’ with the fixed body of knowledge.

Education in Hunza

Dr Shahid Siddiqui



Monday, 17 Aug, 2009,  published in Dawn



No doubt Hunza, known for its fruit orchards, lofty mountains, panoramic meadows and breathtaking beauty, is a major tourist attraction, but it is equally interesting to explore the educational initiatives that have empowered the local community there and set an example for other areas.



Hunza’s success story shows that difficulties can be overcome if the leadership 
has political will.

Those who are familiar with the difficult terrain and relatively scarce resources in Hunza would be pleasantly surprised to know that the literacy rate in Hunza is around 77 per cent. This must have been unthinkable when the first primary school was established there in 1913 by the British in India. The single-most important factor that transformed the educational scene in Hunza was the contribution of Aga Khan III, Sir Sultan Muhammad Shah, who convinced the then Mirs of Hunza state to place greater emphasis on education.



It was in 1946 that some 16 schools were established. They were called the Diamond Jubilee schools and they set the right momentum for bringing changes to education in Hunza.
The second important initiative came when the Pakistan government started opening public schools in the Northern Areas, including Hunza. The demand for education grew but the number of schools did not meet educational requirements. With people finding that schooling was accessible two more problems were becoming visible: the quality of education and education for girls.
The third important initiative in Hunza was the establishment of a quality school for girls whose sole criterion of admission was merit. The Academy, with hostel facilities, was founded in 1983 when Karim Aga Khan laid the foundation of the academy. He said he hoped that the Academy would, 'provide a genuine foundation for self-generating progress in the future'. The establishment of the Academy was a strong motivation for the opening of private schools focusing on the quality of education.
The fourth initiative to have an impact on educational life in Hunza was the establishment of community schools. These schools were a welcome addition as they gave the local community a sense of participation and ownership. In 1991 a model community school, Al-Amyn Model School, was established in Gulmit, a beautiful village of Hunza. This school helped re-establish the broken linkage between school and home. Here parents and grandparents are invited to share their wisdom with the younger generation. Parents come to know that their knowledge is not obsolete and that the younger generation can benefit from it. The success of Al-Amyn heralded the establishment of a number of community schools over the years.
The fifth initiative was the establishment of the Karakoram University in Gilgit. A number of students of Hunza are benefiting. The university may also create jobs for the local population.
The sixth factor contributing to the quality of education is the role of the different Aga Khan organisations that have played an effective role in the improvement of education by establishing schools and empowering them through capacity-building measures, and by facilitating students through scholarship. One initiative was the establishment of the Professional Development Centre in Gilgit. The centre helped train a number of teachers from Hunza by offering short- and long-term courses.
The seventh factor is the rising awareness among the local people who have come to view education as the passport to enhanced opportunities in life. There seems to be urgency in terms of acquiring education. Parents in Hunza are convinced that the best thing they can do for their children is to help them get a good education. There is a growing interest in higher education for girls. Parents are willing to send their daughters to distant cities e.g. Karachi, Lahore, Peshawar etc. for quality education. It is an approach that distinguishes Hunza from the rest of the Northern Areas.
Lastly, there is a cordial relationship among the different stakeholders. There seems to be a good working relationship between the directorate of education, the Aga Khan organisations, the local community and foreign funding agencies. It is this collaborative approach that makes things happen.
Hunza’s educational story has many lessons for other areas of Pakistan where talent is not properly exploited. It shows us that difficulties and challenges can be overcome if the leadership has political will and if the community is trusted and involved in planning and the execution of educational plans.
The writer is Professor and Head, Department of Social Sciences, Lahore School of Economics. He can be reached at









Two Paradigms of Learning

by Dr Shahid Siddiqui 
Monday, 26 Apr, 2010
THERE has always been a difference of opinion about the goals, dynamics, and assessment of education. This difference has its roots in competing philosophical positions that construct, justify and rationalise particular educational approaches. These positions also inform, inspire, shape and defend the notions of education, pedagogy and assessment. One major paradigm that emerged as a powerful position and swayed the educational systems of many countries in the past was behaviourism. The attractive aspect of this paradigm was its doable dynamics and measurable performance techniques. The behaviouristic paradigm of education is now a part of history as there are other positions, e.g. cognitivism, constructivism and humanism, etc. that have attracted the attention of educationists. But it is still in vogue in most Pakistani mainstream schools. 
Before laying out the reasons and repercussions of this paradigm we need to briefly define the theoretical framework of behaviourism. Some important names that are associated with this paradigm include Pavlov, Thorndike, Watson and Skinner. Pavlov experimented with a dog about ‘conditioned stimulus’ whereas Skinner carried out his experiments on rats and pigeons. Skinner popularised the notion of ‘operant conditioning’ of which stimulus, response, reinforcement and repetition were important components. Skinner claimed that learning is also a kind of habit formation. 
The behaviouristic notion of learning and education entails acts of imitation, drilling (repetition) and measurable assessment practices. Since the ‘drilling’ principle is used as a driving force in the paradigm, in most mainstream public schools memorising through drilling is an integral part of education. 
Most of this drilling and repetition does not involve any conscious thinking, and students reproduce information without making sense of it and manage to score good marks. One of the essential points of the behaviouristic paradigm is its ‘predictability’. It became popular with school managements because of its simple transmission in which teachers ‘tell’ the students, instead of facilitating them to participate in the teaching/learning process. 
Lectures are perhaps the ‘safest’ way of teaching. The teacher tries to teach students by ‘telling’ them. The students in this paradigm act as passive recipients. Thinking of a higher order and the application of knowledge are not tested. 

Though apparently students, teachers, parents and educational managers are happy with the arrangements proposed by the paradigm, the broader goals of education, e.g. socio-economic development, social justice and individual freedom are not achieved. The basic flaw in the paradigm is that results of experiments on animals were applied to human beings without considering the fact that there is a huge difference in their intellectual makeup, especially with regard to their linguistic repertoires.



If we want to use education for broader goals we need to go beyond the behaviouristic paradigm. This would give us an opportunity to revisit the goals of education. We also need to rethink the process of learning where the role of teachers and students must be determined. The learning process has to be built on what the students know and what they need to know. This means that meaningful learning can only take place if students are actively engaged in the classroom, their opinions are sought and their experiences shared. 
This kind of learning is based on the principle of constructivist learning, where teachers and students are engaged together in the construction of knowledge in the classroom. In this vibrant paradigm of learning the learners have to make the effort as the ‘learning’ doesn’t come to them in a passive mode. Teaching in this mode focuses on exploring the knowledge of students and throwing at them the intellectual challenge to move slightly above the existing level. This pedagogy is inspired by Vygotsky’s idea of ‘zone of proximal development’. 
The constructivist paradigm has direct implications for teachers and their style of teaching. In this paradigm they need to move away from transmission mode to critical pedagogy by facilitating the students’ active participation. This would also mean creating an enabling environment for students to express their ideas freely. This teaching style is certainly more challenging as compared to the teacher-fronted ‘lecture mode’, but is essential in order to imbue confidence in the students and reinforce a positive self-image so that they can become independent thinkers. 
In this paradigm learning is viewed as a vibrant phenomenon and sources of learning are not confined to a teacher as students themselves can act as a source of knowledge. That is why this paradigm encourages collaborative learning through group work and problem-solving activities. 
In the constructivist paradigm of learning the assessment needs to be taken out of the confines of the memorisation of isolated facts. It should be used to tap higher-order thinking skills by requiring students to apply knowledge. The task of moving away from the comfort zone of the behaviouristic paradigm to the constructivist paradigm is challenging but if we really want to produce thinking human beings we have to take up this challenge. 

The writer is Professor and Head of Department of Social Sciences at the Lahore School of Economics.  He can be reached at

Concepts of quality in edcuation

Concepts of quality

By Dr Shahid Siddiqui,

Dawn, 30 August, 2010

Quality has become a buzzword in the domain of education. Various forums propose a number of measures that can be used to enhance quality in the sector. Yet part of the problem is the lack of clarity in educational institutions and amongst their managers about the concepts of quality. A related concern, especially for managers of educational institutions, is how to measure quality. In pursuit of some workable strategies for ensuring, sustaining and measuring quality, a number of methods and techniques have been explored by the corporate world, which conveniently defined the notion of quality in terms of efficiency and productivity. This definition may encompass the requirements of a business organisation, where the emphasis is on maximum productivity and efficiency. But the meaning of quality that used to refer to individuals has become linked with systems and processes.

A successful organisation needs to have efficient and effective systems, but the dominance of inflexible systems has reduced individual freedom and the space for creativity. There is a problem with this definition of quality, i.e. efficiency and productivity, when it is applied as it is to educational institutions for the simple reason that schools are different from factories and businesses. According to leading UK educationist Stephen Ball, “Schools are complex, contradictory, sometimes incoherent organisations.” In schools we deal with knowledge and human beings. Knowledge, unlike the products of a factory, is tentative, subjective, relative and variable. By contrast, in factories consistent efforts are made to ensure that the product is identical regardless of the unit where they are manufactured. Interestingly, during the past two decades in Pakistan, education has been turned into a growing industry where quality is viewed only in terms of efficiency and productivity.

A number of commonalities can be found between schools and corporate organisations in the wake of the ‘corporatisation’ of education. The criteria of success and quality are also borrowed from the corporate world. For instance, lately total quality management (TQM), which is purely a business strategy to implement and ensure quality, has been applied to educational institutions. In keeping with similar jargon, TQM has become a socially desirable requirement and many educational institutions have rushed to implement it. The obvious attraction for managers of schools was that systems would dominate individuals and their performance could be measured in quantitative terms. The annual reports of teachers revolved around the quantification of their performance. In doing so, it was forgotten that there are certain aspects of quality that cannot be measured quantitatively. The quantitative evaluation of performance forces teachers to document every single job they do and over-represent themselves by making their performance reports more convincing. In doing this, the real essence of quality gets lost in the ‘noise’ of meaningless numbers. Curiously, the success of schools is also measured through its visible features. Stephen Ball rightly observes that, “procedures and techniques which are intended to make schools more visible and accountable paradoxically encourage opacity and the manipulation of representations.” Many of the jobs performed by labour in a factory can be carried out by machines and robots since factory products are predictable, uniform and visible.

However, this cannot be done in an educational institution where a teacher deals with living human beings with individual sentiments, passions, likes and dislikes.Unfortunately, in some educational institutions, technical gadgetry such as multimedia machines and overhead projectors has taken over the teaching process and the role of the teacher has been reduced to that of an operator pressing the button. Such classrooms are devoid of vibrant knowledge and lack the dynamic process of critical thinking. As systems and processes dominate the working of a corporate organisation, schools are also impacted by this trend. Now, teachers are reduced to mere implementers who use a textbook and are provided lesson plans and assessment questions. Thus the thinking part of the job is done by others and teachers act as mere consumers. In some cases teachers of different branches of a chain of schools are given lesson plans designed by the secretariat. Such a highly centralised system views teachers as mere actors who do not, cannot and should not think or reflect on their own. Interestingly, the evaluation of faculty performance does not require a teacher to think or reflect before, during and after on his/her teaching.

The expectations of the management from teachers influence, shape and determine their practices. Schools need to wean themselves away from the visible aspect of quality to the invisible part of it, i.e. the quality of learning processes in classrooms. The visible part of quality would prompt teachers to gear up all resources to demonstrate their performance in terms of numbers. The problem with this method of assessment, however, is that there are certain aspects of quality that cannot be broken down into small units that can be measured and thus cannot be assessed through numerical criteria. It is important to understand that business organisations and schools are very different entities. One deals with commodities and the other with living beings; one believes in the uniformity of products and the other should encourage diversity; one encourages mechanical implementation and the other should advocate reflective practice. Applying the quality criteria used by corporate organisations to schools may draw a misleading picture.

The writer is Professor and Head Department of Social Sciences at the Lahore School of Economics.  He can be reached at his website:

Death of Public Sector Schools

Dr Shahid Siddiqui
Pakistantoday 24 July, 2011

In a recent move, thousands of public schools are being closed down or merged in the different provinces of Pakistan as a result of the rationalisation process of schools. The enormity of the exercise raises certain questions regarding the factors that led to this major decision by the government, especially when the education emergency report came out with startling figures about the educational status in Pakistan. According to this report, about seven million children are out of school and about 20 percent of students drop out before they reach class five. These figures should not be unexpected as the education has never been on the government priorities in Pakistan.
Despite the global realisation of the crucial role of education in economic and social development, we don’t find some serious, holistic, coordinated, and sustainable efforts to improve education in Pakistan. In the era of knowledge economy, the amount Pakistan spends on public sector education is embarrassing, a mere 2.1 percent – the least in the region.
The closure of a number of public sector schools is a matter of concern in this backdrop. Some major reasons given for this exercise include ghost schools, schools as a result of political pressures, schools with very low number of students, and multiple schools in the same vicinity. These reasons may have some weight but another very important factor which has led to this situation has not been taken up in the discussion. It is the emergence of private sector schools which have played a role in depleting the strength of public sector schools and as a result a number of public sector schools turned into sick units falling prey to the process of rationalisation. The public sector schools which were known for their quality education have now turned into deserted places.
It is important for policy makers and researchers to understand the real reasons of the plight of public sector schools. I am referring to some of the reasons here:
a. An important factor is the impact of neo-liberalism on education which can be seen in Pakistan in the last three decades. Some of the attributes of neo-liberalism include open competition, no interference of state, maximisation of profit and exploitation of labour. We see private sector schools enjoying free competition without any interference of the state. This kind of freedom is unthinkable in public sector schools.
b. In the wake of globalisation, a number of multinational companies and business opened their outlets in Pakistan. This situation led to the realisation of the vital role of English language as a prerequisite for getting a good job. This led to the popularity of English medium schools that mushroomed in all nooks and corners of urban Pakistan and are now spreading into rural areas as well.
c. The situation of the public sector schools deteriorated over the period of time due to the shortage of teachers, teachers’ absenteeism, and lack of accountability, etc.
d. The private sector was well equipped with the skills of marketing and showcasing. They cashed in on the need of English language.
e. The parents found a special attraction in English medium private schools, as besides the claims of the provision of fluent English, these schools offered the opportunity of social status and prestige.
f. The role of state is crucial in this regard. The government, instead of strengthening the public sector schools, gave up on them and started encouraging NGOs to adopt sick schools and run them.
g. It was this callous attitude of the state that gave last blow to the public sector schools. The poor funding, lack of patronage, and conservative management rules and regulations are speeding the death of public sector education.
The private sector’s pull together with the government’s ineffective policies is depleting the public sector schools. The rationalisation process in the coming years will be closing down more public sector schools. To meet the educational requirement of Pakistan we cannot have an either/or approach as private sector should complement the public sector to cope with the enormous challenges of access and quality in education. The government needs to have trust in the public schools and should provide them space for innovation and creativity together with an effective system of monitoring and accountability.
The writer is Professor & Director of Centre for Humanities and Social Sciences at Lahore School of Economics and author of Rethinking Education in Pakistan. E-mail: