Diane Ravitch on improving Higher Education in Pakistan

American historian of education, and now NYU professor, was called upon to make a comment on higher education in Pakistan in 2005.  The comment is just as relevant today as it was when made. Her complete article is given at http://dianeravitch.com/improvingstandards.html

Below, I quote from her main observations/conclusions:

The educational system of a nation is inevitably shaped like a pyramid, with the highest and narrowest point—higher education—at the top of the pyramid. In Pakistan, the top of the pyramid is very narrow (with less than 3% of young people ages 17–24 enrolled in college or university) as compared to developed nations (where 50–75% of this age group are so enrolled). If Pakistan seeks to have the very substantial benefits that flow from having a highly educated population, if it seeks to create an educational system that will contribute to the nation’s economic and social development, then it must sharply improve the quantity and quality of elementary and secondary education so that a far larger portion of the population, including both boys and girls, are prepared to enter institutions of higher education.

But the state has, for whatever myriad reasons, failed to improve the quantity and quality of elementary and secondary education for a far larger portion of the population,  For a few, it continues to rely on the private sector.  The top of the pyramid remains where it was in 1995 if not deteriorated further.  A narrow pyramid top obviously reflects a diminished capacity of the great majority of the members of young generation for productive pursuits, and thus a highly inequitable society.

The question is, is Diane right?  Can Pakistan turn around without taking solid steps to ensure that the  top of the pyramid is widened to levels comparable with other decent societies? If she is, and I do think that to be the case, then there is no way Pakistan can change the current state of its society without making the delivery of education more and more equitable.

Diane is also perhaps right that the top of pyramid cannot be widened without first raising the quality of the secondary and elementary schools?  But the quality of schools, however, cannot be raised without improving the quality of teachers as a professional group.  And the teachers in Pakistan are prepared a step below the university, in the two-year colleges and in the professional pre-service teacher education programs.  Perhaps, the strategic place to begin the crucial education reforms is the college?  After all, a decade of efforts focussing on schools and teachers alone have not improved the public schools.



About Irfan

I am an independent researcher and blogger interested in everything under the sun, but more so in the philosophy and history of education and education reform generally, and specifically in the so-called post colonial contexts

5 Responses to “Diane Ravitch on improving Higher Education in Pakistan”

  1. It would be good to get some reaction to your question regarding the college level as the strategic site for education quality reform. (pushing in both directions–downwards to the school and upwards to the university). I certainly agree and as you know we have argued this position for sometime now from the CQE platform. Subject content deficit is a major problem among teachers and a good college education can go a long way in addressing this. For years, however, colleges were effectively ignored by the federal Higher Education Commission (which focused in universities) as well as the provincial authorities (that focused on schools).

  2. I agree that teacher education is important….but do not know if it is the crucial first thrust point for school education reform. We have evidence that public school teachers are better trained, better compensated, better educated than low fee private sector counterparts. But there is also evidence that the low fee private sector teachers do as well or better…in terms of student results, teacher attendance and so on. And in the higher fee private sector, though teachers are compensated better, they are not trained teachers…at least in Pakistan…they are just youngsters with BA/BSc from better institutions or have better English accent etc.

    It is hard to write long replies/emails….so I will cut corners and speak briefly…running the risk of being misunderstood. I am not saying teacher education is unimportant by any means. But I think as important or more important as a thrust point is the monitoring/evaluation/support and incentive system that is put in place for teachers and in schools. Reform, at least in public system, I think has to start from there. And take teacher education in step.

    Would be nice to develop some projects on these alternative and mixed lines and try to implement them at Tehsil or sub-tehsil level….only if we could.

    • The point is not about teacher education alone. There is evidence that it does not work, and there is evidence that minimal amount of teacher qualification, as in the case of private schools that you mention, appears to work. This evidence, I think supports the argument that Diane is making, and that I agree with, which is that teacher education or any other supply driven reforms will fail if the society doesn’t desire quality education.

  3. I wish issues of quality required that one dimensional solution such as ‘improve teachers first’ to broaden flatten the pyramid particularly at elementary and secondary levels for a greater flow of students to higher education. Within the context of Pakistan where do we focus to ‘fix’ the system that seems to flush out more students than it can retain? Something is definitely not right for sure, but it is not just teachers alone. So the private sector seems to mushroom into a mega industry in Pakistan proportionately or disproportionately to the collapsing public sector schooling system. What is that ‘right’ may be marginally better than public sector (as shown by ASER 2010 results across different schooling systems), but certainly there is consumer satisfaction; you pay for you get ethos which is acceptable to citizens and households alike.

    Citizens in Pakistan have still not figured out that the public sector too thrives on their taxes, that the State is not giving them a service as a largesse but it is their hard earned resources Questions are not piling up to sort out the conundrum, such as :Why is a six grades school only a two room two teacher school? Why does a primary school not have a principal/head anywhere in Pakistan? Why do we not have a pre school/katchi teacher which is the most critical building block of learning where the largest number of children enrol? Why was a National Curriculum 2096 introduced but no teacher training was offered country wide to understand and implement it? Why is there no monitoring and support available to schools anywhere in Pakistan? Why are the School Boards (BISE) across the country so disconnected with the national curriculum, learning outcomes, textbook production, teacher education, classroom transactions? Why are a large number of 420 odd schools in Islamabad under the Federal Directorate of Education (FDE) performing so well that children of federal secretaries end up enrolling in the public sector schools but what is working well in FDE is not replicated anywhere in any district or province?

    So if we collected these essential questions then we could begin to connect the dots of the malaise and blocks which are inhibiting a large number of students from finishing higher secondary education for moving on to professional degrees in universities or tertiary levels. Then we can ascertain do we fix the teachers, fix colleges, fix a tehsil /sub-district or a district ? Fixing a system requires far more than a one dimensional measure especially where the historical baggage is so deeply layered and the design so derivative.

    Baela Raza Jamil
    Director Programs ITA


  1. Reform Society First? | Just questions! - 14/06/2011

    […] reform for the last two decades will, I am certain, loudly say, “YES!”  In a previous post, I had thought the place to start school reform may be colleges.  But I also seem to agree with […]

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